Just last week, Arsenal were in the process of finalizing Mikel Arteta’s plans to strengthen their roster with Mykhailo Mudryk and Joao Felix. There was complete consensus within the club that Arteta needed more striker options, especially after Gabriel Jesus’ injury, and these are the players they wanted.
Careful planning can only get you so far, but only if an opponent down the road is willing to throw more money at the same targets. First Felix went to Chelsea due to Arsenal’s reluctance to meet Atletico Madrid’s financial demands and now the Mudryk move has also been missed by the managers at Stamford Bridge.
The loss of Mudryk, which is expected to be officially confirmed in the coming hours after a deal was reached in dramatic circumstances on Saturday afternoon, is particularly distressing for Arsenal. Even when Chelsea appeared to be interested earlier this month, there was confidence in north London that Mudryk was looking forward to a move to Emirates Stadium.
While Chelsea are happy to offer Shakhtar a more affordable financial package, the situation has changed. And now, assuming there are no other unexpected surprises, Arsenal must endure the sight of their two most important goals in blue shirts as Arsenal continue to seek reinforcements elsewhere.
So where is Arsenal going from there? The first point to mention is that they always have backup options in every transfer period. But there’s a reason Arsenal don’t usually like to do business in January, and there’s an acknowledgment within the club that it won’t be easy to head for a different goal at this time of the season.
Another problem is that the whole football world knows Arsenal has money to spend. Their latest offering for Mudryk was worth over £50m in starting fees and millions of pounds in possible add-ons. Any sane football manager will charge similar sums for his club’s player should Arsenal come.
There will be frustrated fans who feel that Arsenal should meet Chelsea’s offer, which differs in structure and crucial additions. But Arsenal would never be able to go higher than Mudryk’s worth, and as Telegraph Sport reported earlier this month, they had no intention of getting involved in a bidding war.
Arsenal is living a dream on the pitch this season. Unfortunately for them, the usual financial realities still apply. If they’re going to pay extra for Mudryk now, that means changing their plans for the summer, when squad rebuilding under Arteta will continue apace.
It should be noted that Arsenal was in a similar position last January. They wanted to sign a striker, but at the time could not find a deal that suited their financial capabilities. Instead they chose to wait and eventually bought Jesus from Manchester City a few months later.
Dissident supporters’ argument is that their lack of a striker cost Arsenal a Champions League spot when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left the club last winter.
The counter-argument is that if they had gambled on a new striker this time last year, they wouldn’t have bought Jesus this summer. Would the team be better off without Jesus now? Was there anyone there last year who could have been better in the long run than the Brazilian?
None of this means that Mudryk’s loss will not hurt Arsenal and Arteta. Considerable time and effort went into this deal, and it’s clear that the 22-year-old is a player with enormous potential.
The scale of Arsenal’s depth problem was highlighted during the Manchester derby earlier in the day. Manchester United managed to freshen up their offense by knocking Antony, a £82m winger off the bench. Manchester City did the same for Jack Grealish, who cost £100m.
On Sunday in a key north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, Arteta won’t have such quality on the bench. In Arsenal’s three league games since Christmas, only one striker has been accepted among the reserve players: Marquinhos, a Brazilian youth who cost £3m.
At least Emile Smith Rowe is back after a long term injury. But he’s not exactly in form and alone won’t be enough for Arsenal. They know they need more strikers, more goals and more options. After Chelsea beat them to their two most wanted players, now their problem is to find them in time.