It is fair to say that Arsenal have not had the most straightforward of summers so far. Defeat by Chelsea in the Europa League final and a failure to finish in the top four in the Premier League last term did not only deny the Gunners Champions League football in 2019/20, but it also further restricted their transfer budget ahead of next season. The fact that Aaron Ramsey’s contract had expired by the time of his official move to Juventus means that the north Londoners were unable to recoup any funds to lessen the blow of losing their star midfielder, while the chances of getting Mesut Ozil’s sizeable wages off the payroll are slim to nil.
As such, Arsenal reportedly have only £45m to spend this summer. Kieran Tierney is a target as Unai Emery looks to upgrade at left-back, while Wilfried Zaha also features prominently on the wish list. Yet with the new campaign now just a month away, Arsenal have yet to strengthen a squad which failed to achieve its objectives last time out. With all that in mind, the club really did not need its longest-serving player to rock the boat.
“Laurent Koscielny has refused to travel to the US for our pre-season tour,” read a statement released on Thursday. “We are very disappointed by Laurent’s actions, which are against our clear instructions. We hope to resolve this matter and will not be providing any further comment at this time.”
The centre-back has been an Arsenal player since 2010, joining from Lorient for a fee of around £8.5m; he has since made 353 appearances for the club in all competitions, winning two FA Cups along the way. A reliable performer who was among the Premier League’s best centre-backs in his peak, Koscielny was still a key player for Emery’s men last term, playing 29 times in all competitions after recovering from an Achilles injury suffered the previous campaign.
Now 33 years old, the Frenchman is reportedly keen to return to France this summer. He only has a year left on his contract at the Emirates Stadium and had hoped that, due to his loyalty to the club and nine years of service, Arsenal would allow him to leave for free before the start of the 2019/20 season.
However, the Gunners do not seem to be prepared to do that, and with suitors such as Lille, Rennes and Bordeaux hitherto unwilling to submit a bid for the defender, Koscielny has responded by taking drastic action. Failing to turn up for a pre-season tour never reflects well on a player, particularly one who is vastly experienced and currently serves as the club captain. Koscielny will hope that his risky move ultimately pays off, but he risks damaging his positive relationship with Arsenal supporters by behaving in this way.
As far as the club are concerned, this is an episode they really could have done without. Already under pressure to improve the squad on a relatively limited budget, Arsenal will now have to handle this situation carefully. While it is often the case that it is better to let a wantaway player leave than risk him bringing a negative mindset to the dressing room, the Gunners will not want to come across as having been bullied by their own captain.
Even more problematic is the fact that Koscielny would almost certainly have been a starter next term if defensive reinforcements were not made. Shkodran Mustafi could yet leave the Emirates this summer, while Rob Holding is set to miss the start of the season through injury. Perhaps the reason Arsenal have been unwilling to waive a transfer fee for Koscielny is that he is still a major part of their plans.
The club have opened disciplinary proceedings against the 33-year-old, who will hope that this gamble does not backfire. Only time will tell in that regard, but this incident is the last thing that Arsenal needed.
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