One of the many consequences of poor squad building is that bad decisions are the midwife to further bad, rushed decisions. After a hectic January of cleaning out some clutter from the Arsenal closet, the summer is going to be even more hectic for Mikel Arteta, Arsenal and Edu. Just skimming the squad and their respective contract situations is dizzying.
Firstly, in goal, Bernd Leno has two years to run on his deal this summer, while back-up goalie Mat Ryan is only on loan. I think Leno is a good goalkeeper, in an ideal world Arsenal would have an outstanding goalkeeper to take the team to the next level. Leno is not a problem for Arsenal, per se, however and with the amount of more urgent positions they have to address, it seems likely that he will be offered a new deal.
He is currently 29, his next contract locks him into Arsenal beyond his prime years when his value as a saleable asset reduces. Leno is not a problem for Arsenal now but another contract likely blocks any attempt at an upgrade in the near future. (It is reasonable to assume he will improve as he enters his prime years, of course).
Ideally, Arsenal would extend Leno’s terms and buy an up and coming young deputy to challenge him in the years to come but how likely is that with the volume of more important work the club needs to do this summer? Arsenal do look reasonably settled at centre-half, in fairness, with Holding, Gabriel and Mari all on good contracts and at good ages.
William Saliba will arrive another year older and wiser from his loan spell at Nice and, as I detailed a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Luiz was handed another one-year extension to smooth that transition over. There is still talk that Arteta would like another right-sided centre-half, which would essentially curtail the club’s interest in developing William Saliba.
If those rumours are to be believed, I hope that Edu takes a firm hand with Arteta and tells him that Saliba is who the club have invested (significantly) in and that’s what Arteta is going to have to work with. Saliba is 20 next season, there is plenty of scope for a good coach to work with him and mould him into the type of defender that the coach really wants. Arsenal have bigger fish to fry elsewhere.
Schalke will be relegated from the Bundesliga and are therefore unlikely to be able to take on Sead Kolasinac’s salary. His Arsenal contract expires in 2022 so even if the club are able to move him on, they are unlikely to extract much of a fee. Then he will need replacing and buying someone to shine Kieran Tierney’s shoes is going to be difficult. I don’t imagine that Ainsley Maitland-Niles will want to do that job having tasted some of the midfield action he so craves at West Brom. Maitland-Niles ought to have decent value on the market and should be sold to raise funds in any case.
At right-back, Hector Bellerin has two years remaining on his deal so we are in “renew or sell” territory. He has fallen out of favour recently, which suggests that the latter is the most likely scenario. Hector also sits in the rare category of “player Arsenal wouldn’t mind selling that buying clubs wouldn’t mind paying cash money for.”
Then you have to replace him. Arsenal have locked themselves into Cedric Soares but he should only ever be considered a solid rotation / back-up option. Calum Chambers has played well enough at right-back recently but, again, the club needs a quality, first choice option and Chambers, who has one year left on his deal, is not going to be that player.
That is a lot of work already and we haven’t even got to midfield and attack yet. The second year of Dani Ceballos’ loan has not really worked out and he is likely to leave. Granit Xhaka is in the exact same sweet spot as Bernd Leno. He has two years remaining on his deal and, for now, remains an integral part of the team.
Ideally, Arsenal would be able to kick the Xhaka can down the road for one more year when there might be more time to consider a long-term upgrade. His contract situation demands a decision this summer, however. That means he is likely to be offered a deal and, as with Leno, a new deal locks Arsenal into their Xhaka marriage past his prime years.
Thomas Partey is the midfield piece that Arteta will want to build around, the Xhaka and Partey combination has looked promising but Arsenal have to consider where they are now and where they want to be in four years’ time- contract decisions on Bellerin, Leno and Xhaka have to consider the next stage of the team’s evolution. Do Arsenal trust these players to take Arsenal to the next level in the medium term?
It’s also why talk of a new contract for Mohamed Elneny does not surprise me at all. He is a low cost squad option Arteta likes and he seems happy enough to play a squad role. Elneny has one year on his deal and selling him means replacing during a summer where Ceballos will also need replacing.
Edu and Arteta will also be tasked with sweet talking Martin Odegaard and Real Madrid into a permanent deal, which will cost a pretty penny. If they are unsuccessful in that endeavour, then someone else needs to be found. This is probably where most of Arsenal’s tight budget will go this summer.
There are three central midfielders out on loan in Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock. Arsenal might find a place for Willock or Torreira out of expedience but really ought to be open to selling all three. Willock might be the easiest to move on of those three, Guendouzi has one year left on his deal and is not exactly high on the manager’s Christmas card list. Torreira has never truly settled in England and his style is at odds with what the manager wants.
The wide forward positions seem to be relatively secure. Saka and Martinelli are tied to long-term deals, as is Willian (!). I’ve a feeling Arsenal would be open to offers for Nicolas Pepe if one came along but, again, I don’t think that will be seen as any sort of priority. The situation at centre-forward is knotty too.
The club have already committed to Aubameyang. Lacazette and Nketiah both have a year left on their deals. I simply cannot believe that Arteta publicly declared Nketiah not to be for sale in January before (rightly, in my view) determining that he is no longer good enough to make the match day squad.
January is an excellent time to sell an unneeded striker with clubs near the bottom of the league desperate for a goal scorer. This is where Edu needs to demonstrate a much firmer hand and explain to the manager that you cannot declare a player unsaleable and then not play him. It also adds to Arsenal’s workload this summer and, in the meantime, Nketiah is losing market value watching games on his sofa.
Reiss Nelson has two years remaining on his deal and ought to be an easy enough sale though his value will be diminished by his recent exile too. Alex Lacazette’s contract expires in 2022 and it should be a no brainer to say “thank you very much” and sell on to raise funds for a younger model. However, the club were unable to shift him last summer due to the impact of covid on football’s economy.
He turns 30 in May and given the state of football’s economy, value is more important than ever- which means 30-year old strikers on good salaries are not enormously sought after- particularly when clubs know they can get the 31-year old version for free with 12 months patience. Edu’s in-tray looks gargantuan.
Purchasing clubs will be well aware of the rather desperate position that Arsenal are in and will be happy to string the club along in pursuit of lower prices. Paying players to leave in January was necessary but it also illustrates your desperation. The jury is still out on Edu’s capability as a Technical Director for the time being. Come September, we will have a much firmer grasp of his skills. Boa sorte, cara.