The questions for Arsene Wenger yesterday (Tuesday) were almost identical to six years ago, when he faced a similarly defining round of contract negotiations with his star players, but his expectation of a different outcome is clear. For Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, it is easy now to look at Mesut Ozil, Hector Bellerin and Alexis Sanchez.
Three key players who would challenge to start in just about any other team in the world, of whom two are moving towards the final year of their contract and one is sought after by their home-town club of Barcelona.
Wenger does not need any reminding of what happened previously. Fabregas returned to Catalonia and the economic reality of Van Persie and Nasri's refusal to sign a new deal meant that they were also eventually sold before entering the last year of their contracts. That meant the disintegration of a team who were arguably again ready to challenge for the Premier League title and, as negotiations continue with Ozil, Sanchez and Bellerin, a huge looming challenge for Arsenal is to make it different this time.
Ozil and Sanchez are both on around pounds 140,000 a week and will be offered deals approaching pounds 200,000 but, according to Wenger, it is Arsenal's on-field progress that will prove decisive.
"I think these kind of players can raise a little bit above the financial aspect of the game because they are not poor and they have to look really on the football side," he said. "Do the club meet their needs on the football front and if 'yes' then a Premier League club can find an agreement with the players."
Arsenal are certainly now in a stronger position on and off the pitch. Their squad have an experience and depth that was ultimately lacking in the Fabregas era while their financial firepower has been enhanced significantly since 2014 following a wave of new commercial deals no longer tied to funding the construction of the Emirates.
Arsenal, then, can get closer to what Europe's absolute elite might offer, although Wenger stressed that there would be a ceiling. "We still keep the values we have and we pay what we can afford," he said. "We have a scale of wages but it has become a bit more individual. It has always been difficult to keep the good players. They are wanted by other clubs and it's normal they try to get the maximum out of their negotiations because they have 10 years to play at the top level if all goes well. My whole life I fight to get the players paid as much as I can."
Although the immediate priorities for Arsenal will be Sanchez and Ozil, there are other more peripheral first-team players who are also out of contract in 2018. The futures of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Mathieu Debuchy, however, are likely to be defined by their likely playing opportunities. There is also less urgency surrounding Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker, who are in their thirties and the final year of their respective contracts.
Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted on Sunday that he was facing a pivotal moment in his Arsenal career when he needed more game time but he is likely to come back into the team for tonight's Champions League group game against Ludogerets Razgrad. "He has said he will consider the situation at the end of the season," said Wenger.
"I can understand but, on the other hand, you buy a young player at 17, you spend a lot of money, then you would like him to stay at the club. I think his place is here. We like him. I personally rate him as a player and I hope that he will show that he can have a stable position in the team until the end of the
David Ospina is also likely to start tonight as Wenger tries to balance squad rotation with his desire to qualify this season as group winners for the last 16 of the Champions League.