Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has proven his worth to the club even if he might be approaching the end of his productive career. Simply put, Arsenal need experience like his to get back to the Champions League. Anyone questioning Arsenal’s wisdom signing two players over the age of 30 is underestimating the seriousness with which Mikel Arteta must take the club to the Champions League.
“Wisdom behind Arsenal’s Aubameyang, Willian signings come to light as time is running out to close Champions League gap.”
Arsenal is expected to announce that leading marksman and captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, 31, has signed a three-year contract to continue his role as the pivot in head coach Mikel Arteta’s rebuild. In the same month, Willian, 32, joined from Chelsea on a free transfer. Even though Aubameyang, these days, enjoys his hero status at Emirates Stadium, having scored an incredible 70 goals in 109 games after arriving from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018, some have perceived such wages on a player who just entered the autumn of his career as a gamble. The Gunners need the prestige and revenues of Champions League football urgently to avoid drifting further away into the wilderness, and signing and retaining proven performers like Aubameyang and Willian is an important step on this journey.
Some time ago, Ivan Gazidis claimed that the gunners budgeted to make it to the Champions League in three of every four seasons. Arsenal retained a healthy cash balance with ring-fenced funds (approximately £30 million) as an insurance policy to preserve their competitiveness if they didn’t make it. A fate Arsene Wenger managed to avoid up until the final throes of his management.
“Wenger kept the Gunners in the top four despite making £180m profit in player sales between 2009 and 2013.”
That is also the reason they had to keep Aubameyang. To date, Gabriel Martinelli has shown tremendous promise, but it would be a massive ask for him to replace Aubameyang. He is expected to miss out for the remainder of the year following his knee surgery. Arsenal FC could not afford to spend more money acquiring a goal scorer of Aubameyang’s kind given a not-so-great budget and the other areas that needed more urgent attention center-back and central midfield.
This also sends a message to the current team and potential new signings. Aubameyang is a certified superstar, a genuine draw for Arsenal’s transfer targets, and a well-liked member of the squad. It’s, therefore, a different circumstance than the difficult contract the club endured with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, two players who were always on the radar of popularity. Suffice it to say, Aubameyang did not have many options to leave because Barcelona was under huge pressure to cut a fat wage, while Chelsea came up with a move but still signed Red Bull Leipzig’s Timo Werner.
Willian’s acquisition falls into a similar category. Arsenal does not need a right-winger; they already spent £72 million to acquire Nicolas Pepe, and Bukayo Saka’s emergence gives them another compelling option. Therefore, it is intriguing that Arteta is considering deploying Willian as a No.10; but regardless, luring him from Chelsea is a coup worth praising. Chelsea FC head coach Frank Lampard wanted Willian to stay desperately, given he has been one of the squad’s most consistent performers and has shown little sign of physical decline despite his advancing years.
Petr Cech highlights the difference between the two clubs when speaking ahead of his final game before retirement last year, the 2019 Europa League Final that saw Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-1. “It will sound strange, but I generally think at Arsenal there is not enough pressure,” he said. “Arsene is a real gentleman. As much as he hates losing, he stays a gentleman. If you lose, you win, you lose, you win, he kind of carries on. That’s something I’ve never experienced before. “At Chelsea, at the times when we drew, it felt like a funeral in the dressing room.”
“It’s not over-30, it’s over-32,” he said. “So when you have a player [who is] 32, he will get a one-year contract. It depends on the positions as well. Suppose a central defender, then no problem to sign them until 34. But a striker is different. After 32, you go from year to year. A midfielder as well — after 32, you go from year-to-year.”
Arsenal would almost certainly not have signed Wilian or Aubameyang on the terms they agreed this month in this light. However, times change. The Gunners would prioritize planning for the future back then, accepting that some players would go to excel elsewhere while depending on the genius of a celebrated manager afforded time. The gap between them and the top mustn’t get any wider.
The Gunners desperately need Champions League football to handle their financial and sporting decline. Reinforcements are needed urgently, but Aubameyang can lead from the front, and Willian should hit the ground running. There is no time to waste.