Why Arsenal Face Problems in the Transfer Market Due to Impact of COVID-19

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportApril 22, 2020

Arsenal's Spanish head coach Mikel Arteta (R) speaks with Arsenal's Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium in London on January 1, 2020. (Photo by Ian KINGTON / IKIMAGES / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by IAN KINGTON/IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

The signing of Nicolas Pepe last year gave Arsenal supporters hope of a more exciting future.

With no Premier League title since 2004 and heading into a third season without UEFA Champions League football, the £72 million club-record capture of Ivory Coast international Pepe was seen by many as a signal the club were becoming more ambitious in the transfer market.

Eight months on from that deal, though, Arsenal find themselves facing new difficulties.

This time it's not adapting to a new stadium or failing to deliver on the pitch that is changing the thinking —the club are feeling the financial impact of COVID-19.

Arsenal have just convinced most of their first-team squad to accept a 12.5 per cent pay cut, a measure designed to save them around £25 million at a time when revenue from ticketing and merchandise is at an all-time low.

And sources have indicated to B/R that the situation means Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is almost certain to leave the club, with up to five other players also likely to be made available for transfer.

Signings for next season are going to have to be smart, too.

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Pepe's fee to Lille is being paid in instalments over the duration of his five-year contract, and going forward they will need to negotiate cleverly over fees, or look for bargain purchases.

This all comes, too, at a time when American billionaire owner Stan Kroenke has other issues to deal with.

His new Los Angeles Rams stadium is a reported $2 billion over budget, per a report from 12Up, and faces building delays that mean it is highly unlikely to open in July as planned. Concerts were scheduled, and setbacks are going to hit Kroenke in the pocket.

Where does all of this leave Arsenal? 

The club introduced an incentive of Champions League qualification to reimburse the players who have agreed to the pay cuts, and while they are not the only club to look into such measures, the concept of a cut rather than pay deferral is interesting.

Mesut Ozil is one of the players not to accept the proposal, as he is believed to question exactly why this decision has been taken.

Arsenal's decision to give Ozil a £350,000-a-week contract is one they most likely regret. His output has decreased since signing the deal, and the club have been open to offers for the past year.

But sources say there is a feeling that these pay cuts might be a sign of things to come at the club. This new financial landscape gives the club an opportunity to alter their pay structure for future years.

Stan Kroenke will provide Arsenal with a major cash injection to help ease the club through the coronavirus-induced financial crisis, per Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail.

But while the American businessman has promised privately to help them through this period, it is unclear how far he will dig deep into his own pockets for new contracts and new signings.

SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles had been expected to host its first event on July 25, before NFL teams, the Rams and Chargers, move in. 

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, does not anticipate "large gatherings" in the city anytime this calendar year, though.

And while work on the stadium has continued, their project has made further news due to the fact two workers tested positive for the coronavirus, per Yahoo Sports

Sources in the U.S. told B/R that Kroenke would most likely not start cutting corners financially with Arsenal or the Rams, but it will be interesting to see how the two situations across the Atlantic play off each other in the coming months. 

For now, the big issue for fans to worry about is the situation surrounding top scorer Aubameyang.

He has 17 goals in the Premier League, but as he enters the final year of his contract, there is serious doubt about whether he can stay.

He earns around £200,000 a week and had been seeking an advance on that figure to sign a new deal. The chances of a substantial rise are now very slim.

Sources believe that, with the Gunners trying to lower their wage bill, Aubameyang is now likely to leave before he becomes a free agent in 2021.

Arsenal do not want to find themselves in a situation where he could leave on a free transfer.

Doubts are rising over the future of five other first-team players too.

B/R understands that Alexandre Lacazette, Matteo Guendouzi, Shkodran Mustafi, Ozil and Ainsley Maitland-Niles may all become available for transfer as Arsenal look to rebuild under Mikel Arteta. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also very likely to be loaned out again, though is available for transfer.

On the flip side, we should expect Arteta to continue refining his team—though with a limit on expectations.

The club are looking into potential free agents in Ryan Fraser of Bournemouth and Layvin Kurzawa of PSG, with both considered to be astute pick-ups.

They will also delve into the loan market for interesting options, with Luka Jovic of Real Madrid on the radar if he becomes available.

Names that have been linked, such as Philippe Coutinho, James Rodriguez and Ousmane Dembele, can be pushed to one side for now. 

Though Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid might prove realistic if the La Liga club are genuinely interested in a swap deal with Lacazette. There is an interest in him and a player-exchange could be the best chance of getting such a deal done. 

Listen to Dean on the B/R Football Ranks podcast. New episodes every Wednesday. Subscribe here.

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