London – As usual the vast majority of the punters in the Club Level seats that ring all the way round the prime view at the Emirates Stadium took their time to re-emerge into the sunshine after half-time of Arsenal’s game with Manchester United on Sunday. It is a particularly expensive area of the stadium, with plush concourses and refreshments to enjoy at leisure. These are season-ticket holders who are especially important to Arsenal because they generate handsome income, with an outlay roughly between £2,500 and £4,000 per seat, per season.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these executive seats went out for renewal early, giving the marketing team more time for the sales pitch if needed. The pack to sign up for the 2017-18 campaign landed a few weeks ago. Many – both ordinary supporters with a few bob and corporate customers – have thought long and hard about justifying their renewals and have let the deadline lapse. Why? Primarily because they do not know exactly what they are paying for. Will Arsène Wenger still be the manager next season? Will Mesut Özil be there? Will Alexis Sánchez? Will Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? Might they still be able to experience Champions League nights or will it be Europa Thursdays?
As a club Arsenal are operating on two quite different levels at the moment. The visible part is there for all to see and judged on each match day. The less visible part, like the duck’s feet whirring away under the water, is trying to operate the business side. But the trouble is the duck’s legs are tied together. They are struggling to generate momentum because so much is up in the air.
In three weeks the season will be over – possibly with an FA Cup after the final against Chelsea and a snatched top-four Premier League place but very possibly not. It is hard to avoid the feeling that the summer ahead will be a stressful one, with so many influential players coming into the final year of their contracts.
One of them is Sánchez, indisputably Arsenal’s most valuable asset. In a rare interview with Sky Sports over the weekend the Chilean attacker gave an insight into how his frustrations are in part because of his personality but also because he aims higher than the team is capable of reaching at the moment. He talks like a man obsessed with winning.
“I don’t think it has been a very good season for me because I came here to win trophies, to be competing in the Champions League semi-finals and to win the Premier League, and I feel disappointed that we aren’t in a position to win the Premier League or the Champions League,” he said. “We do have the FA Cup final coming up and we’ll give it our all to try to win it.
“When I got here, I thought: ‘I’ll win the title with this squad.’ I feel that we should win more games 3-0 or 4-0. That does sometimes happen when we play very well. I think Arsenal play the best brand of football in England. There have been games when we’ve been in a position to kick on and win, but we’ve made a small mistake and found ourselves 2-0 down. Sometimes that gets to me because winning those points is so important if you want to win the Premier League. I think that, if a player wants to be at the very top, he needs to win the Champions League and league titles. That’s what makes the great players truly great.”
There have been times this season when Sánchez’s body language has tangibly revealed his disillusionment. “As I always say, life is short and a footballer’s career is even shorter,” he said. “I want to win in every training session, I want to win every game I play in. That’s why I sometimes feel powerless when I go home after a bad result.
“It’s very tough, if I’m honest. Every player is very different. There are players who don’t mind. They go out and feel fine about it but the ones that want to win and be champions are the ones that put in the biggest effort, go home and get angry [if it has not gone well]. They lock themselves in and can’t sleep, which is what sometimes happens to me if we’ve lost a key game.”
The risk of losing Sánchez for Arsenal is a double blow in that not only would they be stripped of one of their most talented players, they would also undermine the way they have improved their status in the transfer market in recent seasons. Not so long ago Arsenal were regarded as a selling club whose most important assets could be prised away fairly easily. The summers ruined by the sale of Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie were painful. Putting an end to that, first holding what they have, then stepping forwards boldly enough to recruit elite quality in the shape of Özil and Sánchez, symbolised an enhanced sense of ambition. To lose Sánchez after three years at the club, when he is aged 28 and still very much in his prime, would send a damaging signal.
Will talks on his future hinge on whether Arsenal can get back into the Champions League positions? “It depends,” he said. “What I want to do now is to finish the season well, try to qualify for the Champions League, win the FA Cup and then I’ll sit down with the club to decide what I’m going to do. We’ve said that the two of us [with Wenger] will sit down together to discuss the topic in terms of what will happen, what’s best for the club, what’s best for me, what’s best for him. We’ll speak once the season is over.”
The Guardian Sport