Arsenal have been here before, but not quite like this.
The Gunners have previously experienced games like the one they lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday, but this was an end-game. This is a club on the brink of a fundamental shift, a change in the course of its future. Arsene Wenger, it would seem, won’t be a part of that future.
The 5-1 thrashing at the Allianz Arena was just the latest episode in what is now soccer’s most tediously tragic soap opera, with even the most level-headed Arsenal fans longing for the series finale. Moving Wenger on is the first necessary change, but as Wednesday’s performance in Bavaria proved, that must only be the start.
If Arsenal are to once again compete at the very top level of English and European soccer this summer must mark an overhaul of the club’s identity. A certain softness has come to define the Gunners over the past decade, illustrated by their second half capitulation vs. Bayern. Their squad is at its strongest for years, yet psychological decay has nonetheless set in. Moves must be taken to shift it.
Moving Wenger upstairs into a boardroom position would be the most symbolic of changes, an emblematic end of an era, but without a revamp of the team, culture and everything surrounding Arsenal to accompany it, it will count for nothing. For this reason, Arsenal should make Sergio Aguero their number one transfer target this summer.
Of course, Aguero has fallen out of favour at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola this season, losing his place in the starting lineup to January signing Gabriel Jesus.
“Sergio knows the intention of his manager and the club,” Guardiola said earlier this month after leaving Aguero on the bench for the second successive match.
“I don’t want to sell him. I want him to stay here for a long time until he decides. The reason he’s not played the last two games is because Leroy, Gabriel and Raheem have played amazing. That’s the only reason why. If I can change the model and play all four… but I am a guy who likes to play midfield players to have more control. What I feel now is that if Leroy, Gabriel or Raheem don’t play, then he will be in for them.”
And so Aguero will be on the market this summer, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid already reported to be lining up a move for the 28-year-old. Arsenal, however, must make the strongest play for the striker. His arrival at the Emirates Stadium could be the catalyst for the kind of philosophical and mental change that Wenger has for so long failed to deliver.
Arsenal need winners and Aguero is most certainly a winner. With one swish of his right foot the Argentine completely altered the landscape of English soccer five years ago, and the Gunners could use him to change the landscape once more.
Some may argue that Aguero and Alexis Sanchez would occupy similar positions on the field, but with those two leading the line Arsenal would boast one of the most irrepressible, high-intensity frontlines in the European game. The same arguments were made before Carlos Tevez joined Manchester United, and he went on to form the most intuitive, natural partnership with Wayne Rooney.
In the post-Wenger age Arsenal will need a statement signing in the same way Manchester United needed one following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Aguero fits the bill in this sense, while also filling what has been a problem area for the Gunners ever since the exit of Robin van Persie.
There have been false dawns for Arsenal in the transfer market before. Like when they made the club record signing of Mesut Ozil in 2013 or when they captured Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona the following year. But those signings turned out to be exceptions rather than the implementation of a new rule. This has to change.
In financial terms, a move for Aguero would push Arsenal to their limits. While the Gunners have paid big money for big name players before, their wage structure still leaves them lagging severely behind their rivals. Ozil is their highest earner, but the £140,000 he receives per week pales in comparison to the £300,000 a week United pay Rooney, or the £220,000 a week Chelsea pay Cesc Fabregas.
Aguero is Manchester City’s joint-highest earner on £240,000 a week, and so Arsenal wouldn’t just have to fracture their wage structure, but smash through it. This is the kind of commitment the Gunners must make if they are to truly break their tedious cycle. It starts with Wenger standing down, but it mustn’t end there.