Unai Emery finds himself in an unenviable position at Arsenal. The Spaniard, last summer, took on the job of transforming a club in transition, of replacing a man who had spent more than 20 years at the helm establishing his ideals.
Arsène Wenger has gone but familiar problems remain. There is a clear need to improve the squad if the Gunners are to challenge for a place in the top four next season, let alone the Premier League title. But, according to a recent report in the Mirror, Emery will be given a transfer budget of just £40million in the summer.
That, put simply, is not enough. Emery is said to be looking for three new players, one of which will be a left back. He will do well to sign any players of great quality, though, with £40million at his disposal. In the current market, one in which West Ham United, Everton and Fulham spend over £100million in one window, that is a modest fee for just one player.
The reasons for the budget limitations are not due to insufficient finances. Arsenal remain one of the richest clubs in world football. They continue – much to the chagrin of their supporters – to charge the most for a home ticket of any Premier League club.
But they have stretched the wage bill to the limit and are now feeling the repercussions. Mesut Özil’s £350,000-a-week contract has left the club in a precarious position, on the cusp of exceeding the Financial Fair Play regulations for wages.
It is little wonder, then, the Gunners are now trying desperately to find a suitor for Özil, who does not appear to be in Emery’s plans for the future. If Arsenal are to have any real clout in the market this summer, they will need to offload several players.
Two departures have already been confirmed: Petr Čech is retiring, while Aaron Ramsey will depart on a free transfer in the summer and join Juventus. Danny Welbeck is another set to leave for nothing come the end of the season.
Poor decision making in the transfer market appears to have cost Arsenal. It is hard not to feel for Emery, who will probably believe he has been left in the lurch.
The ambition at the club remains as high as ever, but it is clear Arsenal can no longer compete with their rivals. Their defeat to Manchester City on Sunday was evidence of that: they looked miles away from the level of Pep Guardiola’s side, and it is not really surprising.
Where once the aim at Arsenal was to win trophies, to compete for the Premier League title and reach the latter stages of the Champions League, the focus now is simply on finding a way back into Europe’s elite competition.
For all of the work Emery has done this season to lay foundations – and the Spaniard deserves credit, given the circumstances, for keeping Arsenal in contention for a top-four spot – he will only be able to take the club so far without substantial backing.
“We need to improve defensively, but we need to continue with our way in doing that. In the balance we are scoring very well with our players in attacking moments,” Emery said before last weekend’s defeat at Manchester City.
“Our statistics with goals are very big and we want to continue like that, and also finding the balance in not conceding a lot of chances. Our way is with timing, passion and progressing every time.
“This transfer window is not easy and it isn’t possible to change a lot of things to help us with a very big performance, and I am very happy with the players we have here.”
How long he will be happy remains to be seen. The circumstances are probably not what he envisaged when taking over a club of Arsenal’s stature.
Emery will hope that unwanted players are sold in the summer to free up more money. The signing of youngster Matteo Guendouzi last summer for £7million was an example of the relatively cheap deals that can be done with the right scouting.
Arsenal will not to rely on such transfers, though. They are some way off the pace domestically and in Europe, and the only way of making up some ground is to invest further in the squad.