At the end of a season in which we finished 8th, the spotlight shines heavily on Mikel Arteta, and for good reason. As we go into the summer though, working off the assumption that he is the man who will be in charge going forward, we have to examine who else is subject to scrutiny.
The manager is the figurehead, but while he has plenty to prove next season, so too does the Technical Director. I have to say, when Raul Sanllehi departed suddenly last summer, I was a little surprised that Edu stayed, because they worked very closely together, but his relationship with Arteta seemed good and I wonder if losing both the Head of Football and the Technical Director would have been seen as too much upheaval.
Since then he has, reportedly, insisted that he be the ‘point of contact’ on all transfer business. You can view that as positive, in that he’s taking responsibility, and from the outside it provides clarity about who gets the credit and/or blame for the deals that get done. Still there’s always a slight worry when someone assumes that much control, especially if you’re unsure if there are the necessary checks and balances in place.
We can only hope that some lessons learned about last summer’s difficult transfer period, in which our business was very much hit and miss, and the addition of Richard Garlick to the executive team can prove valuable when the window opens on June 9th.
So, on what basis can we judge the work Edu is going to have to do?
Who does he buy?
The most obvious one will be our incoming business. There are gaps in quality all over the squad. From front to back you could make a solid argument that a signing in almost any position is necessary, but there are some key ones I think we need.
At least one central midfield player is an absolute necessity. We have numbers on our books right now, but Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira look surplus to requirements; Xhaka is batting his eyelids at Roma; and beyond that Thomas Partey needs a better partner than Mohamed Elneny who is a decent squad player at best. Depth may be provided by Hale End, with Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles options, but if we want to improve over 38 league games next season, investment is crucial.
Creativity is an issue, hence the desire to make the Martin Odegaard deal permanent, but much will depend on what Real Madrid want to do, and how the Norwegian figures in the plans of a new manager.
We need a right-back; sourcing back-up to Kieran Tierney is important, but also a bit difficult. When he’s fit, the Scottish international is a first name on the teamsheet player, so who do you get to understudy? It’s a genuine challenge, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks. We’re also reportedly after a centre-half which raises questions about the £28m investment we made in William Saliba almost two years ago now. Paying that amount of money for a player who has yet to make an appearance for us is, whatever way you want to look at it, a poor use of substantial resources.
I think we’re relatively well stocked in the attacking end of the pitch, with some exciting young talent, but depending on departures and time waiting for no man/captain, we should at least be thinking about a possible striker purchase.
Who does he buy from?
Relationships with agents are necessary, and can be positive. For me though, Edu’s close association with Kia Joorabchian remains a cloud. This agent’s involvement in the deals for David Luiz (and his renewal), Cedric Soares, and Willian have been excellent for him and his clients, but not so good for us.
Luiz was an aging, error prone defender but very nice and Mr Popular with his colleagues; Cedric fell out of favour and played just 45 of the last 990 minutes of the season but, remarkably – thanks to our generosity – has three years left on his deal; while Willian is, all things considered, very close to being the worst signing in the club’s history.
The optics of signing any more players represented by Joorabchian would be terrible, and do nothing to dispel worries that this particular relationship is unhealthy for Arsenal. We need to get rid of the Kia clients we already have, not add more.
Who can he sell?
In this, I have some sympathy because the market this summer is going to be very challenging. The idea that clubs are going to be banging down our door with lucrative offers for players we don’t want is fanciful, and I suspect we might have to take far less than we might have first thought for some of them. This does work the other way too, in that we could make the most of other clubs’ shaky finances when it comes to buying, but it will apply to our sales.
Loan deals will probably be a significant feature of this summer, but as much as possible we need to sell to generate revenue to invest elsewhere. Perhaps money will be made available via the ownership who could, at best, borrow to fund transfers, but make no mistake, even if that happens it won’t be a gift from KSE. It will be debt that accrues on the club that needs to be serviced. So, as hard as it might be, a big part of Edu’s job is extracting as much value as possible from players in our departure lounge.
Can he make smart decisions?
Change is scary for some people. You hear them talk about how we need to rebuild, but then advocate for hanging onto players who have been here throughout this decline/stagnation. As a club we have lacked decisiveness at times, our contract management is an ongoing issue, and something we need to improve.
Take Alexandre Lacazette, for example. He’s turning 30 with one year left on his contract. If we’re not going to give him a new deal – and I don’t see a good case as to why we should – then we have to sell. Allowing another player we spent a big transfer fee on leave for free is just dumb. It goes back to the last point about getting as much value as possible from this playing squad.
We have Eddie Nketiah, Calum Chambers and Mohamed Elneny with 12 months left on their deals – decision time one way or the other. We have a clutch of players with two years to go, and now is the time to think carefully about their futures. Extend or sell at the time when they will generate the most revenue? It’s not easy, but that’s the job.
We can get by with a smaller squad next season because we don’t have European football but you still have to build a squad that can cope with that in the 2022-23 campaign. That’s not taking anything for granted, but if we’re not in Europe at the end of next season, it will have been a colossal failure.
The manager is responsible for what happens on the pitch, but as Technical Director, Edu has a big part to play in who Arteta can pick and the quality of players he has to choose from. The two will work together, obviously, and I genuinely think if it goes wrong, it’s curtains for both of them. Neither will be able to distance themselves sufficiently from each other, or the much-fabled process, to survive. If things go well, I think Arteta is safer than Edu but what happens this summer may well have a bearing on his job security.
The mid-season arrival of Martin Odegaard was a small step in the right direction for me. It was as good a loan move as we could have made in the circumstances. Edu was also reportedly instrumental in convincing talented young striker Flo Balogun to sign a new deal when it looked more likely that he’d leave for free. Clearing the decks of unwanted players in January wasn’t particularly sophisticated – in that we basically just paid them to go away – but it still needed to be done.
However, there’s still a lot to prove. We can all see the challenges that lie ahead for Arsenal and football in general, but this summer feels like a pivotal one for Edu and there’s not a great deal of margin for error in any aspect of what needs to be done.
I hope he does a great job, because ultimately Arsenal will benefit from that, but it’s all eyes on the Brazilian between now and the end of the transfer window.
James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you a bit later this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @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.
For now, take it easy.