By Christian Evans.
Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta enjoyed a promising start to his managerial career, guiding Arsenal to an FA Cup final and an eighth-place finish in the Premier League.
However, he knows he must improve to steer the club back to the promised land of the Champions League.
Arsenal, who have been absent from the Champions League for the past three years, will spend a fourth successive season outside Europe’s elite competition after enduring a torrid year following Unai Emery’s dismissal before Christmas.
Arteta has already warned the higher-ups that they will need to take a calculated financial risk in order to return to the Champions League. The Gunners will either need to invest in their first-team squad or simply accept their position outside the top four.
Although the view of many is that Stan Kroenke simply needs to pump more money into the team, the club also needs to address several issues off the field.
Few could be more important as the future of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.
Convince Aubameyang to sign a contract extension
Aubameyang, who scored 22 goals in the Premier League this past season is out of contract next summer and is yet to pen an extension with the club.
Arsenal have the option of extending the Gabon international’s deal by a further year, but have opted against doing so.
This is reportedly because Arsenal can’t afford the sizeable wage increase that Aubameyang would receive. There is also a belief that the Gabon international would have more security with a longer-term contract.
The striker would be a huge loss if he was to leave this summer, and his importance to the club cannot be understated.
Aubameyang became the Gunners captain after Granit Xhaka’s outburst in November and is a veteran presence on a young team. He has scored 68 goals since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.
Losing players on big-money deals has become a trend for Arsenal in recent years. Former stars Cesc Fabregas, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie have left in the past due to the club’s failure to extend their deals. Arsenal can simply not continue this trend if they wish to contend again.
End the Ozil saga
The next problem Arsenal need to solve is what to do with Mesut Ozil.
The club could cut nearly £20m off their wage bill by getting rid of Ozil this summer. However, his agent has repeatedly insisted his player would like to see out the end of his contract at the Emirates.
Ozil has languished in Arsenal’s reserves for much of the season and has failed to feature since play resumed. The club reportedly want to get his £350,000 wages off the books to fund future signings.
The German World Cup winner has one year remaining on his deal and Arsenal have struggled to find any takers so far due to his massive wages, despite interest from Fenerbache.
Ozil played a mere 18 games last season and has cut largely a divisive figure at the Emirates in recent years amid a perceived lack of work rate. By freeing themselves of the German’s contract, the club would be free up wages to re-sign Aubameyang.
More consistency in defence
Lastly, Arsenal will need to find more consistency in their defence if they’re to once again compete against Europe’s elite.
The Gunners shipped 48 goals last season, more than any top-eight team aside from Chelsea, although much of that can be attributed to a lack of continuity and fitness at the back.
Arteta has struggled to find any consistency in the defence throughout the season. Full-backs Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin missed much of the campaign due to injury, and Arsenal struggled to replace both, while it was also difficult to find a consistent centre-back pairing.
Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Pablo Mari, David Luiz, Calum Chambers and Sokratis were all tried together at some point. Despite the struggles, Arsenal did show improvement in this area towards the end of the season, and Arteta looks to have found a solution in the shape of William Saliba.
Saliba will arrive from St-Etienne during this transfer window and is expected to make an immediate impact. Luiz penned a one-year extension in July to remain at the club. Holding made an impact after returning to fitness and the Gunners have already signed January acquisition Mari, permanently.
Champions League football might not be too far away for Arsenal… if they can rectify these three issues.