LONDON -- Arsene Wenger has defended Arsenal's decision to shatter the club's wage structure to keep Mesut Ozil, calling it "the cheapest option" compared to letting him leave.
Ozil signed a new three-and-a-half year contract worth £350,000 a week, making him the Premier League's second-highest paid player behind Alexis Sanchez -- who left Arsenal for Manchester United in January.
The deal obliterates Arsenal's carefully managed wage structure, where Sanchez and Ozil were the best-paid players on around £140,000 a week last season. But Wenger said it makes financial sense at a time when transfer fees are skyrocketing, given Ozil would have been able to leave on a free transfer in the summer.
"First of all, when we let a player go we have to buy somebody of the same calibre. And if you add the transfer needed -- the wages [for the new player] will be similar, but on top of that we have to pay a transfer [fee]. So overall, Ozil was for us the cheapest option," Wenger said.
New January signings Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both signed deals reportedly worth £180,000 a week, which was an Arsenal record until Ozil penned his new deal. But Wenger insisted that he had no problem with paying such high salaries, as long as it is within the club's means.
"I never put a limit on that. I just think that at the end of the day, what I never wanted to do was spend 12 when we earn 10. As long as we earn what we can pay, it's not a problem," Wenger said.
"I did fight my whole life to pay the players good wages. So I'm not against that. I just am against the fact that you live on credit."
Ozil's deal could cause problems when trying to negotiate deals for other players, though. Jack Wilshere has yet to agree a new contract while Aaron Ramsey is among a handful of players whose deals expire in the summer of 2019. But Wenger wasn't worried that Ozil's teammates will suddenly start demanding much higher salaries.
"All our players are well paid. Very well paid," Wenger said. "So to feel sorry for them is very [unnecessary]. I'm not sure that it is the most objective assessment."
There is no doubt that Ozil's new pay packet will increase the demands on the playmaker, though. The German has been Arsenal's best player in recent months after a slow start to the season, and Wenger called on him to "be the technical leader of the team going forward."
But he wouldn't go as far as to say he will build the team around Ozil.
"I never understood completely what that means. Because I think a team goes naturally through its strong points. So you cannot artificially create that," Wenger said.
"A team has quite a subconscious intelligence and chooses a way in the game that is most efficient. And normally when you say build a team around [a player], I will not decide that. It's the team on the pitch that decides that. And he is naturally a focal point because they give him naturally the ball."