Sunday, December 10, 2023

The building blocks

As Mikel Arteta, Edu and whoever else is involved in rebuilding the squad this summer sit down to discuss matters, there will undoubtedly be conversations about who they feel will be key parts of the new team they’re going to have to build. A team that may require more than one transfer window by the way, so that’s another important reason why results next season need to be good – to allow time to carry out this plan.

We have a lot to do this summer, everyone knows it, but realistically there’s only so much we can do. Unless we can do a Monchi, where he brought in 9-10 new players in one window and drove a 4th placed finish for Sevilla in the season after he rejected Arsenal, it is going to take time.

However, there are some fundamental building blocks that this current set-up have to work with, for various reasons. Here are the ones I think are the most important:

William Saliba

He was signed for £28m and has yet to kick a ball competitively for us. There’s no need to re-litigate what happened last season, but not completing paperwork for his loan back to Saint-Etienne was shambolic. He went to Nice in January having missed 3-4 months of football, and has done well there.

The financial investment this football club has made in him requires Arteta to try and make it work. He may have been a signing from a different regime, but managers don’t get to pick every player. He’s just turned 20, his former teammate Wesley Fofana has demonstrated this season age isn’t an issue if you’re good enough and coached well, and with limited funds, Saliba is a player who we need to develop properly. He has all the attributes a modern centre-half needs, he’s our player, make it work.


I have some concerns about his ability on the ball, but again those are things that can be improved with coaching and, dare I say it, a settled system. This season he’s played in the middle of a back three, the left of a back three, and as part of a central defensive duo. He’s only 23, like Saliba we invested a healthy transfer fee in him, and he is a player who arrived when Arteta/Edu had final say, so when you think about the future, he has to be a big part of it.

Kieran Tierney

I don’t even need to explain. Just keep him fit and the rest is obvious.

Thomas Partey

Obviously he’s not a young player, but one we need to get more out of next season. His first campaign with us has been disappointing. Injuries and poor management of injuries haven’t helped, and while we’ve seen flashes of his quality, we haven’t seen enough of it on a consistent basis.

I suspect one of the major talking points at recruitment level will be his partner next season. There are names floating about like Sander Berge and Yves Bissouma, but with regards the latter, there have to be concerns that the African Cup of Nations next January could leave us in a difficult position.

This season he’s had Mohamed Elneny, Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka alongside him; and towards the end the decision to play him as a one man midfield in key games really didn’t work, so ensuring he can operate in a consistent two will be an important piece of the puzzle.

Bukayo Saka

I still don’t quite know where he’s going to end up in the long-term. He was fantastic at times on the right this season; he can be equally effective from the left as all the assists in his first season demonstrated; he’s comfortable in the middle; and I think he could probably do a job as a central midfielder in a 433, a system that Arteta said himself he’s keen to implement once he gets the right players.

This is where the planning has to come in. It feels to me like we’ve made decisions about how to use Saka based on the needs of the team, and perhaps we need to think about how we get the best out of him, and then put in place the pieces we need to support him in that position. If it sounds a bit like building a team around him, it’s more about ensuring we maximise what is clearly one of the most outstanding talents to emerge from our Academy in years.

Emile Smith Rowe

Like his Hale End buddy, his ability and talent is obvious. Four goals and seven assists doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but considering his season basically began on December 26th it’s impressive. Especially as he was asked to play here, there and everywhere. Sometimes a number 10, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right. He doesn’t mind, just give him the ball and he’ll try and do something with it.

I like him a lot from the left, that burst of pace – as we saw in the North London derby – is underrated, but I suspect his future lies more centrally. Arsene Wenger used to say Robert Pires was the oil in our engine, and I wonder if Smith Rowe might be that. Or, at least, the glue that sticks everything together but engine oil is a much smoother analogy.

Gabriel Martinelli

All in all it’s been a disappointing season for the young Brazilian. Having burst onto the scene with 10 goals in his first campaign, he’s only been on the scoresheet once. There have been injuries, but just 20 appearances and 778 minutes is a lot less he would have hoped for, I’m sure, and certainly far less than fans would have liked/predicted.

Mikel Arteta insists he’s a young player he loves, and while there have been some reasons why he’s been a bit marginalised, others don’t stack up quite as much – particularly for a team which has been under-performing throughout the season. If there’s a glass half full outlook it’s that Martinelli has been held back deliberately, perhaps to work on aspects of his game in training and to develop him tactically/physically. The example of Phil Foden at Man City is often cited, but next season Arteta needs to take the shackles off and give this young man a real chance.

For me, these players have to the cornerstones of the next Arsenal team, obviously supported and augmented with some signings this summer. I could obviously mention someone like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who will have to produce more than he did this season too, but as we’re looking to rebuild, these are the main men – and I also think they have enough to help support the captain in the September of his career.

Right, we’ll have all the updates from the manager’s press conference over on Arseblog News later on. For now, I’ll leave you with yesterday’s Arsecast Extra. Happy listening.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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