The pandemic shutdown has thrown a spanner into the works for most Premier League clubs, but for Arsenal, the situation is particularly precarious, with the Gunners facing a potentially tough summer.
Their fortunes on the pitch have picked up since Mikel Arteta took over just before Christmas. They’ve progressed smoothly to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and have lost just once in the Premier League, moving into the top ten, although a string of draws has slowed their progress.
Despite this improvement, there are currently five clubs better positioned than the Gunners to claim the fourth Champions League spot, and punters are not rating their top four chances highly. Departing from the Europa League at the hands of Olympiakos, also closed another potential route to the European top table.
Getting into the top four is a must for all of the top clubs in the Premier League, but Arsenal are particularly desperate to return to the Champions League. The loss of £27 million they recorded for February reflected their predicament of attempting to sustain a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget. This has been exacerbated by the loss of matchday revenue, which makes up around 25% of the Gunners’ budget, the highest proportion for any of the world’s top 25 clubs.
This has led to the Arsenal hierarchy making an ingenious wage cut proposal to the Arsenal squad, following the examples set by Southampton and West Ham, whose players have accepted a deferral of wages while no football is being played. Gunners players were offered a similar proposal, with the caveat that they could avoid a wage cut if they ensured the club reached the Champions League at the end of the season. Unfortunately for the Arsenal board, this proposal did not go down well with players, leaving them in an uneasy stand off while the lockdown continues.
The uncertainty is also likely to further reduce Arsenal’s chances of retaining the services of their most important attacking player. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who moved to North London in February 2018, will be entering the final year of his current contract this summer, and with Real Madrid and Barcelona rumoured to be among the clubs vying for his signature, the combination of a lack of Champions League football and a deteriorating financial situation mean that there is a real prospect of the Gabon star leaving the Emirates in search of honours.
The nightmare summer scenario of finishing outside the Champions League places, losing Aubameyang and being unable to afford new signings is likely to be keeping members of the Arsenal hierarchy up at night, although there are some reasons for optimism.
The first is that Arsenal may be able to who want to remain in the Premier League, but whose future has been thrown into doubt due to the virus shutdown. This is likely to be a more chaotic summer than usual when it comes to transfers, and shrewd dealing could enable the Gunners to strengthen the squad without risking further financial difficulty.
The other potential hope lies in the ongoing legal furore over Manchester City’s Champions League ban. If the ban is upheld, that effectively means that finishing fifth in the Premier League would be enough to reach the Champions League next season. That would still require the Gunners to close a five point gap and beat four other contenders to the prize, including Manchester United and Tottenham, but sneaking into the top five would solve many of the problems looming at the Emirates this summer.