It’s a great week to be Carl Jenkinson. Not only has he been handed his first call-up to the England squad, forsaking Finland in the process, but he’s agreed a new five-year contract with Arsenal worth more than £30,000 p/ week. It’s just reward for a player whose career has not so much taken strides forward as giant leaps and bounds. Little more than two years ago he was on loan in the non-league; now he’s on the verge of his international debut. It shows, too, just how quietly and quickly a deal can be agreed when both parties are willing to come to an agreement.
In the meantime, several other players continue to run their contracts towards conclusion with worryingly little news on potential agreements. I’ve made plain my stated belief that Theo Walcott will not sign a new deal, and I expect the club will make every effort to move him on at a reduced price in January rather than lose him for nothing. Theo, who has picked up a glute muscle strain, has been replaced in the England squad by Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. It would not surprise me too greatly to see the same substitution occur in the Arsenal squad after Christmas.
Whilst I’ve pretty much come to terms with the likelihood of Theo’s departure, I am a little alarmed at the lack of news regarding an extension to Bacary Sagna’s contract. The Frenchman was pretty vocal about the fact he hadn’t yet been approached by Arsenal in the summer. Time has worn on and whilst his youthful deputy has been handed a new deal, Sagna waits for progress. Come next summer, he’ll have just twelve months remaining on his current deal, and we all know that story ends. For me, keeping Sagna is imperative. Jenkinson has been impressive this season, but the Frenchman is one of the best right-backs in the world. If he became available, some of the biggest clubs in football would be queuing up his signature: the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan or even Manchester United. I’d argue he’s one of our few remaining world class talents. Worryingly, that also makes him one of our few remaining saleable assets.
However much Jenkinson improves in the coming months, Arsenal should not contemplate losing an experienced performer like Sagna. Similarly you could argue that Zaha for Walcott would be swapping inexperience and risk for relative consistency – unfortunately in the case of Theo it seems the battle to keep him is already lost. What terrifies me about the Sagna situation is that it seems to stem from our own complacency. There is a willingness to see him enter the last 18 months of his contract, which shows a staggering failure to learn lessons from previous experience.
The talent drain will continue, and no player is immune. Jack Wilshere might profess his loyalty now, but unless Arsenal improve enough to match his ambition then that commitment will be tested by the pounds and prizes on offer elsewhere. Arsenal are unmatched in their ability to lose their best players. Look at Everton: a club with far greater financial restrictions. In recent years, they’ve held on to Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Marouane Fellaini and others, despite interest from some of the country’s biggest clubs. Arsenal themselves were rebuffed in a bid for Jagielka. We did, of course, succeed in prizing away Mikel Arteta, but Everton got a very good fee for a player entering his thirties with a dodgy knee. They’ve also balanced the books by selling Jack Rodwell, receiving £15m for a player who didn’t even regularly make their first team. In the same period of time, Arsenal have lost Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie and Song. Once upon a time, Arsenal sold their stars when their powers were on the wane. Now they lose players as they enter their peak.
Financial Fair Play has long been touted as the antidote to Arsenal’s ailment. However, the fact that Chelsea were able to demonstrate a profit last week is yet another puncture in that once hopeful prospect. Arsenal have held on waiting to reap the rewards of parsimony. In the meantime Chelsea have speculated to accumulate, overtaken us footballistically, and are fast catching up financially. This interlull feels gloomier than most.