A quick Friday blog for you ahead of Mikel Arteta’s press conference this afternoon. The big question for me on the fitness/injury front is about Bukayo Saka who had to come off against Man Utd last week. I’ve seen some suggestions he’s going to be available, but it’s one of those I need confirmed from an official source.
Given that there were some concerns about him pre-game, it would make some sense if his substitution was precautionary, but you can’t help but worry at this point of the season. Especially when you consider how important his contributions have been in the last two games. Adding penalty taking to his repertoire isn’t necessarily an unexpected thing, we saw him take that responsibility for England when the stakes were almost as high as they could get at international level, but it’s another little string to his already impressive bow.
Next season, he could be the main man in that regard. Alexandre Lacazette will more than likely leave during the summer, and the next senior man on the penalty taking list is Nicolas Pepe, and it’s fair to say there’s a cloud of uncertainty over his future too. He has started just five games all season, the last of which was the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on October 18th. He’s obviously suffering because he plays in the same position as Saka, but it also says something about how he’s viewed by the manager.
He’ll be 27 at the end of May, and with two years left on his contract, I’m certain that both he and the club will be seeking a parting of the ways when the transfer window opens. From the player’s perspective, he will want to go somewhere and play with more regularity than he has for us. From the club’s, recouping as much of that £72m transfer fee as possible will be part of Edu’s job this summer. We focus primarily on what we’re going to do to bring players in, but there’s a lot to do in the departure lounge too.
We still have work to do this season, but if there’s European football next time out, we need a bigger squad, no two ways about it. Arteta laid out what he’d like, saying:
If you ask me what I want it’s 22 outfield players and three goalkeepers.
Three goalkeepers, no problem. There’s Aaron Ramsdale, incoming US international Matt Turner who is likely to replace the departing Bernd Leno, and a young keeper like Arthur Okonkwo or Karl Hein. Where it starts to get tricky is the outfield positions.
As it stands, we have 18 senior players, so you add 4 and it’s job done. Except we know players are going to leave. We’ve already spoken about Lacazette and Pepe, so that takes you down to 16. Eddie Nketiah is another whose future is in doubt, while Mohamed Elneny’s contract expires in June. That leaves you with 14. On that basis, it’s easy to understand why the club might seek to extend their deals, even if they’re not the kind of contract renewals that would excite people. However, I’d say any possible frustration over deals like that wouldn’t be as intense as having, you know, nobody to pick when we’ve got three games in a week.
‘But what about the loan players?’, I hear people ask. Which is a fair point. There are 10 players out on loan, so they could be used to add depth. Except there are issues with some of them too.
Alex Runarsson: No
Hector Bellerin: Seems happy in Seville with Real Betis, suspect a permanent deal will be done there.
William Saliba: The most obvious addition to the squad from this group for next season. Has had a good loan spell at Marseille and his developing extremely well. Does he want to come and fight for a place though? I hope so.
Pablo Mari: Potentially a squad depth player, but has made noises about wanting to stay in Italy as he’s getting regular playing time.
Dinos Mavropanos: There’s some suggestion this deal is arranged on a permanent basis already, but may well depend on whether Stuttgart avoid relegation. One to keep an eye on.
Lucas Torreira: Never settled in England, is happy in Italy. Can’t see him returning. One year left on his contract too.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Certainly someone who could add depth, but heading into the final year of his contract means we should be looking to sell (assuming we’re not going to extend).
Matteo Guendouzi: His loan to Marseille included an obligation for them to buy him. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t seem to understand the word obligation.
Reiss Nelson: Loan spell with Feyenoord has been so-so, but better of late. However, like AMN has a contractual status that suggests sale and if he stays playing time is bound to be short with the likes of Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli and any summer signings ahead of him in the pecking order.
Flo Balogun: Getting some good experience at Boro, and could definitely add depth to the forward line, but it’s about trying to find the balance between his continued development as a player and our need for him to do that.
So, when you look at the various contractual scenarios with the players we have and some of the players out on loan, plus the suitability of some of the loanees, there’s going to be a lot of Edu in his role as Technical Director to take care of this summer. The key positions, up front and potentially central midfield, may need real investment, but I wonder if fleshing out the squad might have to be done in a more interesting way. Some free transfers? There are some interesting players available this summer.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. That’s all to do this summer. Back to the task at hand and that’s this weekend against West Ham.
Just a quick reminder that tickets for the Arsecast Extra & Arsenal Vision live podcast went on general sale yesterday, and there aren’t many left at this point. So, if you want to come along, follow this link and good luck!
Right, I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast, chatting to Art de Roche about Tomiyasu, Tavares and lots more. Enjoy!