Arsenal‘s ruthless squad thinning has continued at pace this week.
Mesut Ozil was put on a plane to join Fenerbahce after the Gunners ended his contract six months early before defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos also had his deal terminated.
Both players had been frozen out the Gunners squad by uncompromising manager Mikel Arteta, with Ozil not playing a single minute of first-team football since July and centre-back Sokratis redundant all season.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has continued his thinning out of his bloated squad this week with Mesut Ozil and Sokratis the latest players to have their contracts terminated
Mesut Ozil left Arsenal six months early and is poised to join the Turkish club Fenerbahce
Defender Sokratis, 32, has also seen his contract terminated and will look for another club
Arsenal’s farewell to Sokratis was a good deal warmer than Ozil’s but it simply continues a theme of the club simply letting go of players for nothing having spent considerable amounts to sign them.
Indeed, in the past three years, Arsenal have seen £160million worth of players – as well as Jack Wilshere and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – leave the Emirates Stadium for not a single penny.
It will seem like a very wasteful business model to many but Arsenal seem more than happy to get big earners off the wage bill even if they don’t receive a fee.
So what has happened to those players and why are Arsenal doing this?
Signed for around £35million from Barcelona in 2014, the Chilean truly was a game-changer for Arsenal during the late years of Arsene Wenger’s long tenure.
Sanchez enjoyed three highly productive seasons, scoring 25, 17 and 30 goals for the club respectively from 2014-15 onwards and helping the club to two FA Cup wins. He was twice named Arsenal’s Player of the Season.
Alexis Sanchez was a star performer for Arsenal for three seasons before leaving for Manchester United in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Perhaps Arsenal started to notice signs of decline as a swap deal was agreed whereby Sanchez moved to Manchester United, where he completely failed to scale such heights, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan coming the other way, in January 2018.
Sanchez would probably have commanded a market value of around £60m had it been a conventional move with United agreeing to an absurd salary to sign him. Having flopped at Old Trafford, he is now at Inter Milan.
The other expensive signing of Wenger’s later years in charge. German star Ozil cost Arsenal £42m to bring in from Real Madrid in September 2013, then a club record.
Ozil’s creative forces peaked around the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons when he supplied assists with remarkable regularity. It didn’t deliver Arsenal the league title but he did win three FA Cups.
Ozil was one of Arsenal’s best players for several seasons but fell out of favour under Arteta
Ozil, while earning £350,000-a-week, was excluded from Arsenal’s squad this season
But when Ozil signed a £350,000-a-week contract extension in January 2018, the rot set in. Injuries and dips in form meant he never recaptured his best and his time with Arsenal ended with his excluded from their Premier League and Europa League squads at the start of this season.
Arsenal released Ozil from his contract six months early, shifting his enormous wages off their balance sheet, and he is poised to take a huge pay cut to sign for Fenerbahce in Turkey.
Having made his breakthrough at Cardiff City, Ramsey seemed like a real steal when Arsenal bought him for just £5m in the summer of 2008.
The midfielder would spend 11 seasons with the Gunners, playing 369 games, and was, for a long time, an integral player for them. He too was twice named the club’s Player of the Year.
Ramsey, who played 11 seasons at Arsenal, was allowed to depart to Juventus on a free
His contract ran down and he left for Juventus on a free at the end of the 2018-19 season, agreeing an extraordinary £400,000-a-week contract that made him the highest-earning British player ever.
His market value at that time was estimated at around £36m.
The cultured Spanish midfielder cost Arsenal £10m when signed from Villarreal in the summer of 2012.
Cazorla was a star performer in his first couple of years – 12 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League in his debut season and seven goals and 11 assists in 2014-15.
Injuries held Cazorla back, however, and he returned to Villarreal when his contract expired at the end of the 2017-18 season. Given his age at the time and injury record, Arsenal probably didn’t lose a great amount.
Arsenal paid £10m for Santi Cazorla but his resale value had diminished when he departed
Arsenal’s seemingly eternal quest to stop their flakiness in defence led to the £18m signing of Sokratis from Borussia Dortmund ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.
Unai Emery valued him, Mikel Arteta less so. The Greece international helped the club to the Europa League final in 2019 and last season’s FA Cup triumph, appearing for a late cameo in the final.
But Arteta then left him out of Arsenal’s Premier League and Europa League squads, as with Ozil, and the 32-year-old is now looking for a new club. Again, Arsenal probably haven’t lost out on a huge transfer fee for him.
Sokratis last played for Arsenal in the FA Cup final in August with Arteta leaving him out
Another pretty dear centre-back purchase, Germany international Mustafi cost Arsenal over £35m when signed from Valencia in 2016.
Like so many others, he was a mainstay in the side for his first three seasons but seemed to get fewer chances to play in the post-Wenger era.
At least Arteta has involved him this season, almost exclusively in the UEFA Europa League, but with his contract set to expire in the summer, Mustafi will be another expensive purchase let go for nothing.
Shkodran Mustafi, a £35m signing in 2016, is likely to leave Arsenal for free in the summer
Welbeck certainly caused a stir when he left Louis van Gaal’s under-achieving Man United for Arsenal in a deal worth £16m on deadline day in 2014.
The England forward spent five seasons withe the club, scoring 32 goals in 126 matches without ever really hitting the heights anticipated.
His contract ran down and Welbeck joined Watford on a free in August 2019 when Arsenal might have got £10m for him had they sold him earlier. Welbeck is now a Brighton player.
Danny Welbeck cost Arsenal £16m when he signed but left to join Watford for nothing in 2019
A slightly different example as Wilshere cost Arsenal only a nominal amount when signed into their academy from Luton at the age of nine.
We all know Wilshere’s story of immense potential and injury misery though let’s not forget he did win the FA Cup twice while at Arsenal and produced some glimpses of real class.
His contract was allowed to run down and Wilshere departed to West Ham on a free. His injury issues make it hard to judge an accurate transfer fee but surely Arsenal could have got something for him.
Jack Wilshere’s injury record makes it hard to judge a value but Arsenal let him leave for free
Coming round full circle from Sanchez, the man who moved the other way from Old Trafford to Arsenal failed to make much of an impact.
Mkhitaryan made 59 appearances for Arsenal over an 18-month spell before being allowed to join Roma on a free transfer.
The Armenian may not have been Arsenal’s greatest hit but he had an estimated market value of around £18m when he left for Italy.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan spent 18 months with Arsenal after joining as part of the Sanchez deal
So why are so many players leaving Arsenal for nothing?
There are several factors at play here to explain what, at surface value, appears to be a not very sensible policy of letting talented players depart for nothing.
Arsenal’s bloated wage bill has dragged Arsenal down for a good time now. It was put at £230million-a-year at the latest estimate and with Covid-19 biting hard at the club’s finances, this was simply not sustainable.
Arsenal may not have received any transfer fee for letting Ozil leave six months early but saving on at least some of his extortionate £350,000-a-week wages will more than compensate.
It is simply not good sense to have such high earners who aren’t actually playing any football or even in the squad.
Bukayo Saka (left) and Emile Smith Rowe (right) are two youngsters Arteta has trust in
Arteta said on Thursday that his 31-man squad had become ‘unmanageable’ which explains some of the more recent departures. Though it’s a hectic fixture list this season, it is simply impossible to keep everyone happy in an oversized squad.
There’s also Arteta’s desire to put more trust in Arsenal’s younger players, as seen by the great performances of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe this season.
But it also points to the changes behind the scenes in what has been a difficult post-Wenger era at the Emirates Stadium.
It’s not only the upheaval of managers, with Arteta wanting to bring some more discipline to the club after the Emery era, but of recruitment staff too.
Raul Sanllehi came and went as the man responsible for recruitment after some questionable signings like Nicolas Pepe, Willian, David Luiz and Cedric Soares.
Raul Sanllehi came in as Arsenal’s Head of Football in 2018 but left again two years later
Before that, the much-vaunted talent spotter Sven Mislintat had come in, made plenty of poor decisions and then left, replaced in effect by technical director Edu.
Huss Fahmy, who was in charge of contract negotiations, also left the club in November as part of a restructure behind the scenes.
All this change behind the scenes has certainly contributed to Arsenal taking their eye off the ball when it comes to ensuring they receive something for players whose contracts are nearly up.