Why Arsenal can afford to lose Alexis Sanchez for nothing next summer

As Arsene Wenger’s public resolve to keep Alexis Sanchez this summer has grown, talk of him staying beyond 2018 seems to have diminished. It seems there is a growing acceptance at Arsenal that even if Alexis stays, he will walk away from the club for nothing next summer. So be it—the way football is going, Arsenal need revenue from transfers less than ever.

Despite what Wenger might have said publicly, it’s far from “ideal” for Alexis’ contract to be so close to expiry. Arsenal have become victims of the uncertainty over Wenger’s own contract situation—as long as the manager’s future was in doubt, players had an excellent excuse for delaying negotiations. However, it’s not the disaster it’s been painted as elsewhere, especially from a financial point of view.

There was a time when Arsenal’s revenue was largely influenced by player sales. They had debts to meet in order to pay for the Emirates Stadium, and it seemed as if one major star would be sold off every summer to help them balance the books.

That’s no longer necessary. Much of that debt has been lifted, and Arsenal are now propped up by huge commercial deals with Emirates and Puma. The club can afford to spend £100 million or more in any given summer without suffering significant strain.

The same is true for most Premier League clubs. In fact, that idea of weighing up acquisitions against players sells (or ‘selling to buy’) has become somewhat antiquated. There is widespread consternation at Tottenham’s transfer policy—one surely informed by the fact they too are now having to build a new ground.

The second thing for Arsenal to consider is: what is Alexis really worth to them? Fees for certain players might be rising higher than ever—the £198 million buyout for Neymar effectively doubles the existing transfer record—and yet arguably the value and significance of transfer fees is decreasing.

Speaking about the Neymar deal specifically, Wenger said: “You don’t look at the numbers in their absolute value any more. It was already out of context of society so, after, it just becomes a bit extra. You cannot calculate what it brings in anymore. It’s just a number.”

“Today, a player is worth what the club can afford to spend and I would say that the price of a player depends on the identity of the buyer. You cannot put it in the context of the market. It is the financial potential of the buyer that decides the price of the player.”

Wenger is right. No real sense of equitable value exists in the market anymore. Arsenal know that better than anyone. We live in a world where Wojciech Szczesny costs half the price of Jordan Pickford, or where Sampdoria value Jack Wilshere at £6 million while Swansea reject £40 million bids for Gylfi Sigurdsson. The balance between a player’s ability and his financial worth seems irrevocably broken.

In a world where “a player is worth what the club can afford to spend”, Alexis is certainly worth a £50 million hit to Arsenal. With the market so treacherous, Alexis is as close as it gets to a sure thing. If he performs anything like he did in 2016/17, when he racked up 30 goals and a further 15 assists, he’ll have comfortably delivered a £50 million campaign.

Wenger insists that with fees spiralling, players and club will soon look to use the Bosman market as a workaround more frequently. That may be true, but Arsenal fans could be forgiven for wondering why their club must be the guinea pig in this particular experiment. 

However, Wenger’s plain speaking about the Alexis situation shows that it is a relatively straightforward one for Arsenal this summer. The team need the player, and the club can afford to write off any realistic sum they would receive for him. Even if it’s only for this season, Alexis has to stay.