Some interesting stuff from Mikel Arteta’s press conference yesterday, which took place to preview our FA Cup third round tie with Nottingham Forest tomorrow. I’m gonna skip straight to the juicy stuff which, obviously, relates to transfers.
Let’s start with the decision to let Ainsley Maitland-Niles leave on loan for Roma, a move which has raised some eyebrows because of the timing. Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are away with AFCON, leaving just two recognised central midfielders in Granit Xhaka and Albert Sambi Lokonga. Arteta explained that when his summer departure to Everton didn’t happen, they agreed to assess things again in December, and that essentially Maitland-Niles came to him when Roma’s interest became clear and asked to go because he thought it would be the best thing for his career.
In spite of the lack of numbers, the manager acquiesced, saying:
“To be fair to the player, that cannot be the only argument to try and keep someone, and a player that has been developed and raised through our Academy. A player who has been patient in many moments to try try to fulfil his dream.
“He was very straight with me and I understood the situation, so I think it’s a good option.”
I have to say I think he explained it well, I think there were shades of Wenger in how the player’s position was taken into account and, perhaps, even given priority. Maitland-Niles played when needed this season, but has only 256 Premier League minutes to his name. Not a single minute of playing time in December, so if he was true to his word about letting him go if he wasn’t getting enough action, then the decision is commendable on that level.
However, his very next sentence after providing that explanation was a reference to the transfer market:
“Obviously we are going to move, and we are going to look for options because we are very short there.”
So, while I think allowing an Academy player who has stagnated a bit the opportunity to go and play is something Arteta deserves some credit for, let’s not ignore the other angle here. He wants better players in his squad, and this lack of depth is a way of impressing that upon the Technical Director and the board, and highlighting the importance of addressing it. For a manager who is usually pretty taciturn when it comes to almost everything, one constant in Arteta’s tenure has been his openness about the transfer market and how important it is to improve the team. I remember quite early on one interview or press conference when he spoke about having to improve with the players he had, but making it clear that the best way to raise the level was via recruitment.
Now, he’s let a player go on loan which leaves us with a lack of depth in a key position, and it feels a bit like he’s trying to fast-track some stuff which was likely to happen in the summer anyway. It’s been clear for some time that Maitland-Niles’ didn’t really have a long-term future at Arsenal, while Elneny’s contract expires in the summer. That would have a created a gap which had to be filled, and here we are in January with that need pressing. The absence of Partey and Elneny might be relatively temporary, but there’s no margin for an injury or a suspension now, and to me at least, sanctioning the loan of Maitland-Niles to Roma is a way of putting some not so subtle pressure on the board to deliver now.
There has also been talk of a striker signing, and we all know why. The contractual situations of Lacazette and Nketiah play a part (as do their goalscoring tallies), and it looks like Aubameyang’s Arsenal goose is cooked unless there’s some serious bridge-building going on behind the scenes. There are strong links to Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic, and when specifically asked about him, Arteta said:
“We have to maximise every window in many different ways. If it’s the right player and we can afford it and we can do what we want to do, we will discuss it and make the best possible decision, we are open.
“Edu and his team are working very hard because we know exactly what we need to do and whether we can accomplish that in January or the summer is a different question and is related to other stuff. But we’re there.”
The other stuff could be financial; it could be making room in the squad for new arrivals which might require some departures; but what’s abundantly clear is that Arteta is pushing for business to be done. The club backed in him a substantial way during the last window, at a time when the pressure on him was quite intense – not least because of the opening three games of the season. Now, with the team in the top four, and things looking up, will they go again and give him the funds and the players he obviously feels are necessary – not just for the rest of this season, but for the longer-term?
Let’s see, but it’s quite exciting to think that we might see a couple of new players this window. Also, as much as Arteta speaking publicly puts some pressure on others to deliver, I also don’t think he’s going rogue just to get what he wants. If he’s speaking this openly about incoming business, it’s because he knows there’s a consensus around him, with Edu, Josh Kroenke, and the rest of the football executive, that this is business we need to do anyway.
Let’s see what happens. For now, have a great Saturday, back tomorrow to preview the FA Cup.