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For the rest of this season, or at least until the January transfer window, Arsenal’s star player would rather be elsewhere.
Alexis Sanchez wanted out. But his move to Manchester City on Thursday’s transfer deadline day collapsed when Arsenal’s recruitment of AS Monaco’s Thomas Lemar fell apart.
Lemar, it seems, decided against joining Arsenal.
Or the Gunners didn’t leave themselves enough time to sign him – possibly because Lemar was busy thrashing the Netherlands 4-0 with France an hour before the transfer deadline.
As if to press his thumb into Arsenal fans’ misery about the whole thing, Lemar gave a stellar performance for Les Blues as this all went down, scoring a sumptuous goal.
But however the deal for the 21-year-old Lemar fell apart, it was all very Arsenal.
Either he simply made up his mind that he’d rather play for someone else or stay with Monaco, a further humiliation for the humbled club. Or the Gunners yet again mishandled their transfer business. After all, there are several months to get these deals done – there’s no rule against setting up a transfer before the two-month summer transfer window opens and then pushing it through when it begins. Yet somehow Arsenal always seems to run out of time.
Anyway, Sanchez is stuck in North London. And he’ll likely spend another season pouting and posting not-so-subtle Instagram posts after big defeats.
Which all just emphasized that Arsenal is in one of the slowest tailspins on record in the history of team sports. If it were a boat, it would take months for it to sink, water seeping in so slowly that only a longer sweep of time would reveal that the whole thing is definitely going down. Arsenal is in a slow-moving crisis. It’s been going on for months, or maybe years, or maybe as long as a decade.
Arsenal’s problems grew a little bigger still on Thursday. Just four days after the calamitous 4-0 surrender to Liverpool, the Gunners lost several key pieces — albeit not immediately.
We’ve known for some time that when it comes down to it, Arsene Wenger’s team is a selling club – in spite of enormous revenues that should theoretically allow it to hold onto anybody and indeed strengthen most windows. But never before were so many major players in such a rush to leave – to abandon ship, if you will.
The departures of Wojciech Szczesny, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs were all tolerable. They were useful pieces but their absence won’t be felt much. The same is not true for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who refused a new contract with Arsenal and left for Liverpool, spurning Chelsea. The 24-year-old winger’s defection hurts, as he was entering a very promising prime.
Alexis Sanchez, in the end, did not leave. But the Chilean might as well have. The fact that he’s still in London is probably down to Arsenal’s enormous transfer fee valuation and his own staggering salary demands – 400,000 pounds a week, apparently. He remains a Gunner because while PSG was fine with Arsenal’s fee, it balked at his salary. And while Manchester City was eventually willing to pay it, the collapse of the Lemar deal killed it. Because for some reason the sale of a striker was conditional on the purchase of a midfielder.
The Chilean star striker’s contract will run out at the end of the season and he will leave. And in the meantime, he will be unhappy. And quite possibly toxic, oozing the negativity his body language has broadcast since late last season.
Mesut Ozil, the lynchpin playmaker, will likely follow him out the door. His contract, too, is expiring. Arsenal hasn’t shown the German that it’s serious about winning things. And soccer players understand very well that teams who aren’t strengthening don’t just stand still — they get weaker. Because everybody else is upgrading in the eternal arms race. When you stop buying, you’re regressing relative to the competition.
Ozil is no fool. He sees that under Wenger, inexplicably retained after last season’s abhorrent failure to reach the Champions League, not even the status quo is guaranteed. With Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez (surely) gone, he’ll have no appetite for playing on what might very well be a mid-table team. In a way, Arsenal has already lost Sanchez and Ozil, even as they stick around for a few more months.
And yet, the transfer window had started promisingly enough for Arsenal. Signing striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon was a major get – in spite of his club-record fee – even if Wenger may not have considered very carefully how he would actually use him. Defender Sead Kolasinac coming over from Schalke on a free transfer might be a coup as well.
But on the whole, the ledger turned out negatively. Once again, more talent left North London than entered it. If not exactly physically, then in spirit. Barring some miraculous title run, Alexis and Ozil will sift through the rich offers they’ll doubtlessly have over the coming year and pick one from some other club.
There likely won’t be a miraculous title run. Arsenal salvaged an improbable win from its opener against Leicester City before going down to Stoke City and the Reds. From the present looks of it, this team will be fortunate to even reach Europe next year, let alone get back into the Champions League. And without being able to dangle the Champions League carrot, it’s hard to lure the best players.
This crisis is getting worse. Arsenal is now not only underperforming, but quickly bleeding talent. Its best players have always left. But only one or two per year. That feels like it’s accelerating. And that’s the trouble with a tailspin. At some point, the momentum becomes so great that you can’t stop it.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.