ARSENAL are planning the biggest spending spree in their history – with up to £180million budgeted for summer signings.
Billionaire owner Stan Kroenke is keen to show his faith in manager Mikel Arteta by providing the funds for a major squad upgrade.
Strikers Alexander Isak and Dominic Calvert-Lewin plus midfielder Ruben Neves have all been identified as the hungry young players required to take the Gunners to the next level.
But Arteta knows he will need to secure Champions League qualification this season if he is going to land those top targets.
The shock deadline-day departure of star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Barcelona leaves Arsenal with just 20 senior players for their battle to secure a top-four finish.
Ex-Arsenal skipper Auba, frozen out by Arteta since mid-December following a disciplinary breach, insisted he was “proud and happy” to join the Catalan giants, but admitted his Arsenal goodbye “hurts”.
Arsenal are understood to have paid out a lump sum of around £7m to terminate the Gabon striker’s £350,000-a-week Emirates contract to allow him to move to Barca.
The LaLiga club finally confirmed the deal yesterday, with Aubameyang signing a three-year contract with an 18-month break clause – and a buy-out clause set at £83.4m.
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Auba declared: “I’m very proud, especially because my family is Spanish from my mother’s side.
“I’m really proud and happy to be here and I will try to give everything.”
He had earlier sent a farewell message to Arsenal fans via social media.
He said: “Thank you for making London home for myself and my family these past four years.
“Your support meant everything to me.
“Having the chance to win trophies and the honour of being captain of this club is something I will forever keep in my heart.
“I have always been 100 per cent focused and committed to doing everything I can for this club, which is why leaving without a real goodbye hurts.
“I am sad I didn’t get the chance to help my team-mates in the last few weeks, but I have nothing but respect for this club and truly wish all my guys and fans many successful years in the future.”
Arteta has overseen a massive clear-out during his two years in charge which has helped the club slash their annual wage bill.
Aubameyang’s departure alone will save them around £20m, yet former striker Ian Wright was upset to see him go.
I’m devastated it’s come to this with Auba
He told his Wrighty’s House podcast: “I’m devastated it’s come to this with Auba because he was made for Arsenal.
“I don’t know what’s happened between him and Mikel, but I thought it would be resolved because it was only a year ago that Auba signed that new contract.
“If there was something wrong with what he was doing, there would have been a build-up of misdemeanours for the manager to say ‘let’s not sign him because he’s been doing this or that.’
“If they knew he was doing things they didn’t like, why did they sign him up for so much money and then a year later he’s gone?”
“None of the current players are proven scorers like Aubameyang.”
Arteta has been given the green light to splash the cash again after spending £150m last summer to buy Ben White, Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Albert Sami Lokonga and Nuno Tavares.
The success of those six newcomers has convinced US billionaire Kroenke Arsenal are finally heading in the right direction after a five-year Champions League exile.
But none of the potential recruits will come cheap.
Isak’s Real Sociedad buy-out clause is £75m, Calvert-Lewin is valued at £60m by Everton and Neves is worth £45m to Wolves.
But with Alex Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and Mohamed Elneny all set to leave as free agents at the end of the season, Arsenal are seriously short of numbers.
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They have not completely ruled out the prospect of offering a 12-month contract extension to Lacazette, but are aware that Lyon are preparing to offer their former striker a long-term deal.
William Saliba, Pablo Mari and Folarin Balogun are expected to return to the club when their current loan deals expire at the end of the season.
But they are hoping to raise around £70m by selling other on-loan players such as Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Alex Runarsson and Konstantinos Mavropanos.