When Arsene Wenger signed a two-year contract extension at the end of last season, it flew in the face of growing fan hostility.
The primary condition on which supporters were prepared to accept Wenger continuing was the promise of “change” – the idea that despite the same man continuing at the helm, the club would fundamentally alter the way it conducted its business.
So far, Wenger and the board have made good on that pledge, and in no case is that more clear than in their stance on Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal deserve significant credit for finally taking a position that is based on footballing principles rather than financial ones.
Arsenal’s message, with Wenger as the mouthpiece, has been remarkably consistent. Since the summer started, the club have continually communicated their desire to hold Alexis to the remaining year on his contract.
Speculation has linked him with moves to Manchester City and more recently Paris Saint-Germain, but Wenger has not flinched.
Wenger simply states that the “decision has been taken”: the player will not be sold. It almost feels as if the Gunners boss is on a one-man crusade to restore some sanctity to football contracts.
With transfer feels spiralling so absurdly as to become almost meaningless, he seems determined to buck the trend of panicked negotiations after just a year or two of any agreement.
It’s an admirable attempt to restore some power to the paymasters – as far as Wenger is concerned, the club has paid for four years of Alexis, so they’ll get four years of Alexis.
There is a degree of financial sense to that too. For now, keeping Alexis is certainly cheaper than replacing him. As wages inflate dramatically, Alexis currently remains on a relatively affordable salary.
Selling him would necessitate buying a replacement who would cost in excess of any fee they’d receive for the Chilean, and immediately putting him on a higher pay-packet.
However, this isn’t about money. It’s a recognition of the fact that allowing Alexis to leave would be absolutely disastrous for Arsenal. Stars have been sold off before, but never when the atmosphere has been quite so delicate.
Ivan Gazidis spoke of Wenger being a “catalyst for change” this summer – sanctioning Alexis’ sale would more likely make him a catalyst for civil war at the Emirates Stadium.
The confidence with which Wenger speaks suggests he knows he has the backing of the board and, crucially, the owner.
Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke is a notoriously stubborn businessman – just look at how he has resisted Alisher Usmanov’s attempts to wrest control of the club. If he doesn’t want to sell Alexis, he won’t sell Alexis.
That will delight most Gunners fans. It’s a simple fact that Arsenal are better off with Alexis than without. Wenger knows that – hence why when he dropped him after a training ground tantrum before the Liverpool game last season, he kept him on the bench in case of emergency.
If the club have genuine aspirations of challenging for major silverware next season, they stand a better chance of achieving that goal with Alexis in their ranks.
Yes, they might well lose him in 12 months—but by that time they’ll hopefully be back in the Champions League, with the adequate pulling power to acquire an appropriate replacement.
There’s also an element of Wenger acting with some overdue selfishness. He knows this next two years could be a defining period for his own legacy, and he’d rather spend half that time with Alexis than none at all. His own ambitions are now coming before the club’s financial health.
As ever in football, there’s some wriggle room here. Nothing is ever truly definitive in the transfer market, and if Alexis chooses to make his situation untenable with strikes and media statements than there is a chance that Arsenal may relent and do a deal.
However, if that happens, the blame will certainly lie with the player and not the club.
Arsenal’s position here is one to admire. At long last they are acting like a football club, not a business. It’s an indication that they’re more interested in raising trophies than the bank balance.
Too often in the past the Gunners have rolled over and given into players wishes – finally Arsenal are behaving like a big club, and putting football first.