Two of the most important pieces of business for Arsenal in the upcoming summer transfer window have nothing to do with buying players. The Gunners are preparing to offer Bukayo Saka a new contract to keep him at the club beyond 2024, with a pay rise that reflects his importance. The club is also looking extent Mikel Arteta, who is entering the final 18-months of the three and a half year deal he signed when he took over the club in December 2019.
The Gunners shed nearly £650K in weekly wages during the January transfer window. The club also has Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah coming off the books at the end of this season, freeing up an additional £225K per week. The highest earner at the club was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on £350K wages. Now, it’s Thomas Partey on £200K a week. Arsenal are well on the way to resetting the wage structure, saving money, and hopefully spending big to keep the players they need and buy the ones they don’t have.
In years past, Arsenal have talked a big game about not letting players enter the final year of their contracts. We’ve seen how that worked out. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey left for free. Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leveraged massive contracts from the club and wound up frozen out.
The Gunners will be keen to avoid a similar situation with Bukayo Saka. Not to mention that given his age and stature, he will undoubtedly have the biggest clubs in Europe sniffing around should his contract get close to the end. Hopefully the Gunners work a massive release clause into the deal as well. Something like £100M should do the trick.
As for Arteta, it seems that the plan was always to see whether he had the chops to be a manager and to start to turn the club around. Apparently Arsenal are happy with what they’ve seen. The results on the pitch have been mixed, but he did win an FA Cup and has finally established a youth movement supported by a clear transfer strategy.
I would have preferred to have next season’s results with another transfer window’s worth of rebuild players before pulling the trigger on keeping Arteta around, but the timing didn’t work out. With rumors that Pep Guardiola might be ready to leave Manchester City, the last thing the Gunners want is their head coach, who was an assistant under Pep, winding down his contract when that job comes open.
There is also something to be said for the show of faith in Arteta and his plan signified by a new contract. Having a manager on the hot seat in a win-now situation is incongruous with a multi-year rebuild. One requires bringing in expensive, establish players who are going to win games immediately. The other requires buying young, developing players, and patience with short-term pain for long-term gain.
I think Mikel has done enough to earn the extension. He clearly can set up a solid defensive structure that can grind out matches and win a decent number of points. But I’m not 100% convinced that he can coach an attack capable of challenging for a title over a 38-game season. That’s where Stan Kroenke and the Board expect the club to be (I think), regardless of whether that is a realistic goal.
Fortunately, the reports are that Arsenal are only offering him a two-year extension. So if it turns out that he can’t get the job done with a full squad of “his” guys, Arsenal won’t be on the hook for too long. And if it doesn’t work out, at least Mikel will leave behind a solid, young roster with a reasonable wage structure rather than a disjointed, overpaid one.
So what do you think, will Bukayo Saka become Arsenal’s highest earner? Should Mikel Arteta get a contract extension?