Things have changed at Arsenal Football Club. There is no sense in denying it. Some may be so bold to say that things have changed for the better. I wouldn’t blame people for trying to see the glass half full. I mean, hey, we’ve got Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and Ozil has signed a new contract. These are good things!
Yes, they are all good in a vacuum. If you don’t take the performance of the team into account then, things are looking up in the personnel department at the very least. However, we don’t live in a world where performance doesn’t matter. This isn’t FIFA Ultimate Team, where we are just trying to collect as many rare cards as we possibly can. The performances will eventually effect Arsenal’s ability to attract top players…or even keep them around. I could point to Alexis as an example, but I think an even greater (and more upsetting) case to look at is the Jack Wilshere contract dilemma. This is troubling for two reasons.
The first reason, is more of an emotional response. Jack has been at Arsenal since he was a child. He is Arsenal to his core, he literally bleeds red. He has been one of the few constants through multiple rough patches for Arsenal fans. He emerged in the first team just before the mass exodus that saw the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy, etc… leave the club. He was a beacon of hope while the rest were abandoning ship.
As Arsenal fans, we all were able to see him grow up at the club. From that night against Barcelona that goal against Norwich, Jack has made his mark here.
He has made himself a cult hero and I don’t know a single Arsenal fan that doesn’t want to see him stay. So, reason number one is purely sentimental…he’s ours and we want to see him thrive with that canon on his chest.
Reason number two is more…serious. This contract standoff looks horrible for the club. Last year, Wilshere was sent on loan to Bournemouth in order to get a run of games together without breaking something in his body. The arrival of Granit Xhaka paired with Wilshere’s injury problems left the Englishman on the outside looking in. It seemed as if Wenger was moving on from Wilshere. Then, to put an extra nail in the coffin, Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture that saw him miss the end of the 2016-17 campaign. It was widely reported that last summer, Wenger had told Wilshere if he found a new club…he was free to leave.
On the surface, this appeared to be growth on Arsenal’s part. As much as it hurt to be moving on from Jack, it was most certainly in the club’s interest to not pin their hopes on an injury prone midfielder who hadn’t fulfilled his potential. That being said…things have changed since last summer. Arsenal fans went into the season feeling mostly optimistic. The FA Cup victory over Chelsea was a huge morale boost and most were confident on the Ozil contract subject (rightly so). But, the reality of Arsenal’s situation smacked everyone in the face. Sanchez didn’t get the move he wanted and it left the team in limbo for the first half of the season, until he joined Manchester United and caused a mini-rebuild in January. Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup and were beaten in the League Cup final by Manchester City. Arsenal have essentially no chance at finishing in the top 4, and now need to rely on a Europa League trophy (without the help of the club’s record signing due to cup tie complications) in order to gain entry into next season’s Champions League.
Although this hasn’t been a great season for Arsenal, it has been one of Wilshere’s best seasons in recent memory. He has avoided long-term injury and shown some flashes of true greatness throughout this rough patch. The real problem with Wilshere refusing to sign a new deal, is that it highlights Arsenal’s steep decline. Take away Jack’s name, status, history, etc…and what we have is a player who was written off by the club and is now refusing to sign. It’s not because he can’t get minutes at Arsenal, he has proven himself to be valuable this year. He now thinks that he may be able to have a better chance at winning somewhere else. Someone that Wenger shipped to Bournemouth now has no faith in Arsenal’s ability to succeed. Some may point to the fact that Wilshere is being offered less money, which is true, but this is another mistake by the club…not Wilshere misjudging his own worth. To offer Wilshere a pay cut after the season he has been having is an insult. Fans may debate the specific number that they think Wilshere is worth, but it certainly should not be lower than what he is making now.
The tables have turned on the club and the way they are handling this has been sub-par. If Arsenal fail to secure Wilshere signature, it does not bode well for negotiations with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, who is only on the books until next summer. Arsenal should suck it up and pay Wilshere. If this season ends with Europa League disappointment and Wilshere’s exit, it will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It will leave the midfield with a man down and an expiring contract in Aaron Ramsey, and without Champions League it will make it that much more difficult to find a replacement for a man that we shouldn’t let go of in the first place.