Good morning all. The Premier League table looked a lot nicer before yesterday’s games which saw Chelsea thrash Everton and Man Utd beat Man City.

It means there’s now 5 points to fifth, and 8 points to fourth. Still not ridiculous margins, but more difficult. I also worry that with a trip to Manchester on Wednesday, we’ll be facing a wounded animal, a City side that will be extra motivated to bounce back from a derby defeat – something which always stings. There will be plenty more to say about that game, the return of Mikel Arteta to his former club, him versus Pep, and all that over the coming days, and we’ll do that here and on Arseblog News.

In the meantime, some snippets of blog fodder to spark the conversations this morning. First up, links to a move for Chelsea’s Willian who is out of contract this summer at Stamford Bridge and is reportedly keen on staying in London. That makes Arsenal an attractive destination for him, and the rumours are given some credibility by the fact he’s represented by Sports Invest UK.

That’s a company run by a certain Kia Joorabchian, someone very closely linked with Edu our Technical Director. He is also the agent of Cedric Soares, the defender with knackered knee ligaments we loaned from Southampton in January, and Layvin Kurzawa, the PSG left-back who was strongly linked with us during the January transfer window.

He is one of the so-called ‘super agents’, and he now watches games from the Arsenal Director’s Box – which is where he was on Saturday as we beat West Ham. He’s an Arsenal fan by all accounts, so that must be very nice for him, the plush surroundings, the heated seats, and the ear of Edu and our Head of Football Raul Sanllehi. For those concerned that our recruitment strategy is far more agent-influenced than it should be, not so much, but there you go. Some people have more of an issue with that kind of thing than others, and I’m not telling anyone how to feel about it – but it does worry me a bit.

For more on him, James wrote a fantastic piece for The Athletic (£) which is well worth a read. As for Willian, he’s 31 now and turns 32 in August but until then remains 31 because that’s how it works. When you look at the squad we have, I think we’ve got enough players around that age-group to contend with this summer. Sokratis, Ozil, Luiz, Aubameyang, the returning Henrikh Mkhitaryan – most of whom require some kind of decision to be made about them.

We also have a £72m record signing we’re struggling to get the most out of, and that’s not the kind of transfer Arsenal can afford to just give up on. Reiss Nelson is making some progress under Arteta, and while you might argue an experienced option wouldn’t be a bad thing – and I do think Willian is a decent player – the Bosman wages he’d demand don’t add up to the best use of our resources in my opinion.

Speaking of Mkhitaryan, there were some comments from Arteta about him over the weekend. He said:

He is the kind of player who can fit in any team when he is at his best, he needs to do it consistently and that’s what we need to assess. It’s a possibility that we have and will consider.

Again, here’s a 31 year old player heading into the final year of his contract. Are we going to give him a new deal? There’s absolutely no case to be made for that whatsoever. Nothing he has ever done in an Arsenal shirt, or during his loan spell at Roma, suggests that would be a good idea. Therefore, the only option we have is to sell him and get as much as possible to help the summer rebuild.

He’s had a little upturn in form in the last few weeks, scoring three goals and providing two assists in the last three games. That is good for Roma, obviously, but even better for us, because it might mean a better transfer fee when we move him on. Those recent contributions have basically doubled his tally in both stats for the season, so it’s not as if he’s been tearing it up in Italy since he moved there.

Might he have been useful for us this season? Possibly. However, he’s a player whose form was never consistent, he tended to match that of the team itself, so when we were in the doldrums and then the pits of despair under Emery, I think he’d have been consumed by that. He’s not the kind of player who single-handedly drags you through games, and there were long spells in his Arsenal career when he brought very little to the side.

I think Arteta’s comments are simply a way of trying to ensure his market value remains as high as possible. When you tell the world a player is unwanted or damaged goods, you’re going to struggle. Either the fee you get is much lower than it should be, or you actually scare off potential suitors because you’ve told them he’s essentially useless. That’s pretty much what happened with Mustafi last summer, and I’m glad he’s playing well again for a spell because it should make it easier to get find him the new club he needs to be at by the start of next season.

This summer’s transfer business requires us to be as smart as possible, and as ruthless as ruthless can be. Mkhitaryan, Mustafi, Sokratis … few will shed too many tears if we move them on with a year left on their contracts and get what money we can. Aubameyang, who says he’s happy at Arsenal, is a different case but demands similar conviction in the wider context of a rebuild. Let’s hope the people making those decisions are of similar mind, and not unduly influenced by outside factors. Or factors that should be outside but are rather comfortably on the inside.

James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra this morning. As ever if you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

The podcast will be out for you before lunch. Until then.