Arsenal simply cannot afford to lose a striker who has scored 70 goals in the last two and a half years, including the two strikes that won the FA Cup final for the Gunners to ensure the season ended with a major trophy and European qualification.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has carried a worsening Arsenal team on his back virtually ever since he joined the club. With a squad overhaul and several transitional years now ahead, persuading him to sign a new contract is crucial to the Gunners surviving as an elite club.
That new deal now looks to be in the pipelines – a three-year contract worth a reported £250,000 per week plus bonuses. Without an agreement in place, Arsenal would have had to entertain selling the prolific 31-year-old at a knockdown price or lose him for free in 12 months.
Even selling this summer to at least raise some money would have been a disaster, because it would have been impossible to find a replacement who can do what he does for that money – potentially not much more than £20m had the Gunners gone down that route.
Arsenal are not going to challenge for the title next season just because Aubameyang is staying put. But what it gives manager Mikel Arteta is a world class player to lean on, one who has proven he can win games on his own, while other areas of the squad are addressed.
But at what ethical cost? Can Arsenal fans freely celebrate a huge new contract for such a crucial player while the club has simultaneously proposed to make 55 of its employees redundant? That is 55 people who will now have to find new jobs.
Arsenal’s financial concerns pre-date the coronavirus crisis because they have been without the additional riches that Champions League qualification brings since 2017. But the current financial climate has made it worse and the Gunners were the only Premier League club to agree an actual pay cut (not simply a deferral as others did) with the majority of their players.
Arsenal players agreed to that cut on the assurance that jobs would be protected. Mesut Ozil didn’t accept it because he is thought to have been sceptical over what might happen to the funds that were saved. Now that jobs losses are coming anyway, he was possibly correct.
The Athletic has already reported that sources close to some of the Arsenal players expect them to be feeling betrayed in light of the club’s statement on the redundancies. They now want answers from those making the decisions and are set to raise it with officials.
The club has argued that a reduction in costs will ensure that things are run in a more sustainable and responsible way, but also to allow investment in the team. That means new contracts and new signings – Willian is still expected to arrive from Chelsea.
Arsenal have tied down their new striker and will bring in others that might give them a chance of improving on a poor 2019/20 season. But 55 people will lose their jobs and that doesn’t feel okay.
It’s not the fault of Aubameyang for accepting a fair wage in the current market, nor others like Ozil for taking home what the club has offered to pay them – whether they are actually worth it or not. The responsibility is higher and the Gunners hierarchy have plenty to answer for.