Arsene Wenger clearly hasn’t given up on his British core yet. The Arsenal boss made it abundantly clear over the weekend that he wants to keep the trio of British midfielders — Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey — at the club for the long term.
“We have to keep them all… All these players, we have to make decisions and manage to keep them together,” Wenger told reporters ahead of Monday’s visit to Crystal Palace, also adding left-back Kieran Gibbs (but not Carl Jenkinson) to a group set for contract negotiations this summer.
Doing so would certainly bring an added sense of stability to the team at a time when the future of so many players — and Wenger himself — is still uncertain. But is it really the right decision, either for Arsenal or the players themselves?
Even if the club can find enough money to satisfy all three midfielders, can Wenger find enough playing time to keep them happy? Arsenal’s midfield is already too crowded to fit in more than one — if that — when everyone else is healthy. And that’s before any potential reinforcements are brought in this summer.
If Arsenal can convince Mesut Ozil to stay, he’ll keep hold of the No. 10 role that Wilshere and Ramsey both covet. If Santi Cazorla returns to full fitness before August, he’ll occupy one of the two deeper-lying central roles where any of the three Brits can play. If Granit Xhaka continues to develop, he’ll most likely stay in the second of those positions (with Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny as defensive options). And if Alex Iwobi continues to develop, he could be a better option to fill whatever temporary gaps may pop up in Arsenal’s midfield.
Wenger clearly has sentimental reasons for wanting to keep hold of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere and Ramsey. He has coached all three since they were teenagers, seen them grow as players and individuals. But the fact is that neither of them has turned into the player Wenger was hoping for, and this summer could be the time to make a tough decision on at least one of them.
So who will stay and who will go? Here is a look at how likely each player is to remain at the club.
The England international seems the most likely to test other clubs’ interest in the transfer market. A source told ESPN FC in March that Oxlade-Chamberlain is ready to move away from the Emirates after failing to lock down a regular role in Wenger’s side. If he does, one can hardly blame him.
After six years at Arsenal, he is still used mainly as an injury replacement and keeps switching between the wing and central midfield depending on where there is a need. But then again, would he be a regular starter at the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City or Manchester United?
Former club Southampton or perhaps Everton could be options but would be a step down, including in salary terms. With that in mind, there’s still a decent chance he’ll still be at the Emirates next season and beyond.
Wilshere has already had a taste of life away from the Emirates on loan and now has to decide whether to stay at Bournemouth, return to Arsenal, or move somewhere else entirely — with Man City’s Pep Guardiola a fan.
The midfielder is an Arsenal man through and through after coming up through the club’s academy, and there is no doubt he would prefer to spend his entire career as a Gunner. But as long as Ozil is blocking his path to the No. 10 position, he has to ask himself if he wouldn’t be better off going somewhere else.
His season on loan at Bournemouth has allowed him to play regular football for the first time in years, and it’s doubtful he’d settle for a role on the bench again. At this point, it seems Wilshere’s future could be directly tied to Ozil’s. If the German signs a new deal with Arsenal, Wilshere may opt not to. If Ozil goes, Wilshere will probably stay.
After his stellar 2013-14 season, Ramsey was reportedly a target for clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid. But his form and fitness since then have been far from convincing, and it’s unclear what kind of appeal the Wales international would have on today’s transfer market.
At his best, he’s a goal scoring midfielder in the mould of Frank Lampard. At his worst, he’s a peripheral figure who drifts in an out of games without much of an impact. Wenger remains a big fan, though, and tries to shoehorn Ramsey into his lineup as often as possible — even on the right wing when there are more defensive duties to perform. And Ramsey hasn’t given any indication that he is considering his options. Chances are he won’t.
Who should Arsenal keep this or let go this summer?