Sunday, July 21, 2024

Friday round-up: Academy decisions, keeper linked, Mikel Merino

Morning all.

There’s no Euro 2024 to write about and very little going in terms of substantive Arsenal news, but let’s see what bits and pieces we can dig up.

It’s been reported that Declan Rice was not training with the main group ahead of England’s Round of 16 game against Slovakia on Sunday, but working to an individual programme to manage his workload apparently. It remains to be seen how far England go in this tournament, but when it ends, I hope we have invested in some new technology which will allow him and Bukayo Saka to take 6 weeks holidays in just 2 weeks. Like Microwave vacations, or something.

The pre-season work has already begun for some players, with Ben White, Reiss Nelson, Fabio Vieira, Eddie Nketiah, Jurrien Timber and Emile Smith Rowe summoned to Marbella by Mikel Arteta for some fitness work. Other players, including Martin Odegaard, are set to join over the next few days, and the preparations for next season are underway.

Speaking of Smith Rowe, a player we talk about a bit in the new Arsecast (available now in all the usual podcast places etc), Sky Sports are linking him with moves to Fulham and Crystal Palace. I’m on record many times about how much I like him as a player, but I don’t think we can ignore the reality of his situation. He could stay at Arsenal, but how much will he play? Bar some kind of injury crisis, not much – as last season showed.

I think both he, Eddie, and Nelson, have decisions to make about their futures and their careers. As much as they might been seen as ‘expendable’ by fans, and as much as Arsenal might look at them as pure profit sales in the PSR era because they are Academy graduates, each of them has to seriously consider what’s best for them. Arsenal is a great place to be right now, especially if you’ve grown up a Gooner. A great manager, brilliant players, wonderful atmosphere and connection with fans, and good money too, but footballers have to play, not sit around and enjoy the ambience like it’s some kind of relaxation spa or showroom. I’m really fascinated to see what happens with these guys, and I really want them – if they do leave – to go on and do well, so let’s see how it plays out over the course of the summer.

I saw we were linked to a goalkeeper called Joan Garcia, who currently plays for Espanyol. I know little about him but one of the important measures for any new keeper we bring in has to be how competent they are with the ball at their feet. There’s not a lot of data on fbref, probably because Espanyol are currently in the Spanish second division, but he seems to be fairly well aligned with David Raya in terms of long/medium/short pass completion. Beyond that, I don’t know much more – but Inaki Cana’s recommendations have been hit and miss during his time here, so we’ll have to wait and see.

One incoming rumour for midfield was Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino, a player with some Premier League experience after a period with Newcastle in the early part of his career. At 28 (he turns 29 next year but until then remains 28 because that’s how it works), he doesn’t necessarily fit the age profile of the signings we make these days, but I saw this stat and immediately recognised why Mikel Arteta might be interested: In the 2023–24 campaign, Merino won the most duels for possession in Europe’s top leagues with 326.

You can imagine Arteta sitting in his office, watching Merino win tackles and aerials with gay abandon, before calling Edu and saying: “Bring him to me”. It would make some sense too, he’s a fairly big lad (6’2) so another set-piece threat, and if stories about Saudi interest in Thomas Partey come to fruition (fingers crossed), he could slot into that role well, allowing Declan Rice to be used further forward.

Going the other way, Albert Sambi Lokonga is being linked again with a loan move to Sevilla, which would be a nice thing for him, but I imagine Arsenal would prefer a sale. Perhaps a deal with an obligation might be part of the negotiation, and it’s understandable that the spurious links with Bayern Munich (because of his past association with Vincent Kompany) have died down.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. As I said, there’s a brand new Arsecast available below, more here tomorrow.

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