Arsenal Football Club’s 2019/20 season was something that wouldn’t have been recommended to a person with pulmonary issues. In fact, it might not even have been recommended if you’re a fan of Arsenal, given how many times they were agonizingly deflating to watch play football. However, with the bad came a stroke of good. Mikel Arteta seems to have the club pointed in a definite direction, and despite lacking qualification for a Champions League spot, the team won the FA Cup. The transfer rumors are blazing a trail through the young offseason and roster shifts seem to be in the making, so I want to take the opportunity to examine every player on the senior payroll and some areas where the clubs could look to improve their quality.
Goalkeepers generally have a longer shelf-life than the average player and can produce at a higher level for a longer period of time. That also means the player can reach a peak later in their career. Leno is still improving. In his first two seasons at Arsenal Leno has posted the two highest save percentages of his career and the highest numbers since his first year as a professional. If there is a gripe with the keeper it’s that his long distribution, anything over 25 yards, has been dropping and now sits at just 50.9%. He’ll likely stay with the club for many years.
For those unfamiliar with the story of the Argentine keeper, Emi Martínez, he lived in poverty with his family until Arsenal made the call for him to join the club in London. Although the departure was bittersweet, it’s paid off in dividends as MarMartíneztinez has proven himself in the restart. Martínez was very impressive in the FA Cup and held his ground against some very tough opponents in the Premier League. If it weren’t for some suspect performances from defenders he could have beaten Manchester City twice to pair with his wins over Liverpool and Chelsea in the past three months. He’s a molded servant of the club and Arsenal should be honored to employ his services.
The towering keeper has made just two appearances for Arsenal in his professional career, once in the Carabao and once in the Europa League, both in the 2017/18 season. With the keeper’s contract set to expire after the 2021 season, it’s likely that Arsenal put him in the window with expectations to let his contract expire.
Iliev joined Arsenal three years ago and has yet to make an appearance. The Macedonian stopper tended net for Polish top division team Ekstraklasa, but only made four appearances. There’s no future as the first team keeper unless a huge breakthrough is made before the end of the 2022 season. The genuine youth academy prospects will get a chance before Iliev so the solution will likely be the same as Matt Macey’s.
Most Arsenal fans will know William Saliba as the potential savior of the club’s defense. Saliba was bought from Saint-Étienne last season, yet was loaned back to the club for the 2019/20 season. Saliba is still a developing player but will be in a “trial by fire” type of scenario to refine his skills. The center back is still working on his tackling ability and although his passing seems to be effective for now, he can improve in that area as well. Many figure on Saliba being a regular fixture in the Arsenal lineup for many years to come.
The World Cup winner Mustafi has played the scapegoat in recent seasons at the back of the formation, and it wasn’t exactly unwarranted. The German showed very poorly at times but cleaned up his play once Arteta took over. Mustafi is a right footed center back which coincides with Saliba, but Mustafi is a high level replacement if he stays with the team. There are rumors of sale but those have died down since Arteta praised the 28 year old. Mustafi’s fee wouldn’t be very hefty so keeping on a very good passer with great experience who also cares for the club seems to be the right move for the moment.
Chambers is a home-grown talent who has played with the first team off and on since he was 18 years old. Various loans and a brief demotion thanks to continued injuries made his time inconsistent, but he’s been an optimistic project for the club for many years now. Another right-footed defender, Chambers’ distribution isn’t as accurate as Mustafi’s, though in a small sample he is a better tackler. Chambers has value in his versatility as well considering he also registers as a right back which may be very important to Arsenal in the next few weeks. It’s likely that Arteta would like to unload either Chambers or Holding to raise some funds for transfers and versatility might be the deciding factor.
Rob Holding is a lot like Chambers in that he’s always been an Arsenal man with inconsistent first team time thanks to injuries and loan spells. Holding split time between the academy side and senior squad this season with six Prem starts on the season. Holding is limited to only playing center back but does play the left of the two in a formation with four defenders. His build-up passing is very consistent and dependable but he does waver in longer distribution. Holding tackles dribblers at a pretty average rate and could end up sticking around despite the need for funds, especially if Sokratis rumors materialize.
There are two men named David Luiz who live in the same body. Generally the good David comes out and plays some decent football. Good David is a decent on-ball defender, a great passer, pumps in a couple of goals per season, and just understands the game on a deep level. Everyone loves that David Luiz and what he brings to the club. But the other, bad David Luiz likes to rear his head sometimes too. He likes to rear his head in the form of defending so poor it literally seems as though he’s playing for the opponent, or a yank of the kit in the box so appalling it makes you wonder if you’re having a bad dream. That David Luiz sometimes overshadows good David Luiz. Arteta signed the aging Brazilian to a new deal so he’ll be with the club at least that long and he’ll often start as the left center back, but he’ll have to limit the field time of bad David. Otherwise he’s a plus defender in Arteta’s system who’s cool with the ball at his feet.
Sokratis is a very strong central defender with many desirable attributes, but his apparent loss of a step and his reduced minutes might indicate a transfer could be incoming. Sokratis is a very good passer and does well in the build up, but he doesn’t have the David Luiz quality of being reliable with the ball at his feet and making good decisions under pressure. The Greek international could still feature in the Premier League, but rumors of a reunion with Bremen could be a better indication of his future. Poor tackling and a different direction could spell the end of Papa’s Arsenal stint.
Marí was featured very sparingly over the course of the season with just three total appearances total. Arteta seems to like the Spaniard as a backup and early tournament game defender and should see more action when some sales inevitably occur. The defender just made a permanent contract official but will probably feature sparingly in the league this season.
Bought from Celtic in the Premiership last summer, Kieran Tierney burst onto the Arsenal scene after a long challenge with injuries. As he adjusts to a higher level of play it’s clear that he’s a quality defender with reliable passing. I expect him to be wearing the armband for years to come.
The situation with Bellerín is a curious one. Playing his minutes as a full back, Bellerín is clearly a subpar defender, but that isn’t his primary role on the pitch. If he can get in front of the ball it’s a plus, but his job is to initiate offense on the wing. He’s got very good speed and crosses the ball well, but he may also be on his way out despite being a vice-captain. The Spaniard has reportedly been offered to Paris and likely has the eyes of other teams on him as well. Offloading Bellerín could be a poor decision if Maitland-Niles moves, but Arteta is a new leader and will want to install the right pieces. Bellerín could fetch a hefty fee to the right buyer.
AMN seemed to be one of the better players for the Gunners since the restart and featured in a variety of positions under Arteta. Unless Maitland-Niles was quietly requesting a move, it’s a bit of a shock that he’s very close to signing for Wolves. Maitland-Niles is extremely versatile and has displayed good defending and alway showed a solid effort. £20 million is a decent tag but he’ll likely be worth much more if his development keeps this same trajectory. His loss would be a big hit for Arsenal and without Bellerín they’d be left very undressed at right back.
Arsenal’s Bosnian Bull and second choice left back is Sead Kolašinac. Kola, for short, joined the Gunners three seasons ago and has produced at a fair clip, attacking the flanks well and tackling hard. An intelligent crosser with some suspect defending, it’s likely that Arteta is looking to loan out the full back. Schalke is keen on taking the Bosnian back on a loan, but rumor has it that they’re only willing to buck up £50,000 per week, a fraction of what Kola is making at Arsenal. It would be ideal for Arteta to offload him but a better price will need to come if he’s not playing at the club.
Soares is a Portuguese midfielder that featured lightly throughout the season as he was loaned from Southampton. Like Pablo Marí, Soares was signed to a permanent deal this offseason and will serve as a backup in most cases. However, since the first choice right backs at Arsenal may be on their way out, Soares might have a bit more time ahead of him. The fact of the matter is that AMN and Bellerín are both better fits and players than Soares, who has illustrated problematic defense and a bit of sub-par passing. His permanent deal has him here so Arteta must have plans, but it’s fair to question the signing.
Torreira seems to be on his way out as well as Arteta hasn’t involved him much since taking over. Despite being just 24 years old and being an excellent passer, his defending and dribbling skills lack a bit which could influence Arteta to sell. There is still plenty of room for Torreira on the pitch even if a deal is done for Torreira so this one is a bit of a head scratcher, but Fiorentina and Torino seem keen on bringing the Uruguayan midfielder back to Italy. The fee could be over £35 million which could be a huge aid to getting more players to fit the system, however I do expect Torreira to be with the team at the start of the season.
Xhaka, despite some very controversial decision making earlier in the season, has worked his way back into the squad and is a key cog in the Arsenal machine. The defensive midfielder captains the team and facilitates the movement around the field, making very good decisions and passing at a high clip. Xhaka is a plus defender and is a very solid free-kick taker, though he has been relieved of those duties as of late. Granit makes the clock tick and it’s doubtful that he’ll be going anywhere, or even relegated to the bench, anytime soon.
Elneny is another interesting case whose future is up in the air. The Egyptian has been out on loan for the season at Beşiktaş and was a staple for their side, appearing 27 times with a goal and three assists. Elneny is truly a very good distributor of the ball and doesn’t do poorly tackling attackers, but his lack of dribbling ability could be an issue. Elneny is still fairly young and has a chance to increase his value, but Arteta may have too many options and plans for the middle of the pitch already. Elneny would bring a fee probably less than five million pounds so it may be worth it to try him for the season and see how he performs.
Guendouzi seems like he could be just the player that Arsenal needs: a fiery defensive midfielder who is truly passionate about winning and plays like it. Guendouzi is a very good passer with solid defending skills and loves to set attacks off with long balls and intricate thru passes. He loves dribbling in space and fights for his teammates. All of those seem like redeeming attributes, but Arteta seems keen on selling the young Frenchman because of attitude problems. Were I Arteta, I would be doing everything I could to get Guendouzi on board and in the system because he seems very promising. Arsenal have reportedly offered the midfielder to Paris and many other European powerhouses have checked in on the player which should be an indication. Maybe it’s my own sentimentality but a sale of Guendouzi seems like a bad decision.
Willock is one of many young, developmental projects in the attacking third for Arsenal. The 19 year old just played his first full season with the senior squad and was able to hold his own, a good sign. His passing is becoming better and attacking distribution needs to improve, but with more playing time it will. Willock will get plenty of chances in the first team next season which will help us get a better gauge of his career trajectory.
This one is a sadder state of affairs. Özil is one of the longest standing members of Arsenal and now may be one of the more discontent on the roster. Özil signed on to a massive contract extension and since that time his production has fallen. The facilitator was once a world class set-up man but has fallen off a cliff and out of favor. Many hope that the departure of Raul Sanllehi could coincide with Özil returning to the first team, but that doesn’t seem too likely. Ideally the club could offload him to a willing team, but his extreme wage demands make it more likely that his contract runs the course.
Saka is a project who is already paying dividends as the 18 year old has burst onto the scene for the Gunners. The winger was one of the best assist men in Europe over all competitions and only got better with Arteta at the helm. Moving up from a wing back position to a full-time winger, Saka can play any position on the left side with pace and precision. Inking a new deal ought to be paramount for Arsenal as the youngster could be a career Gunner with greatness in his future. Letting him slip away would be a disaster.
Martinelli is another youngster to rave about as the Brazilian made big splashes in his inaugural season. The attacker can play on the left wing or as a striker and has an eye for goal. A stunning solo goal against Chelsea shot him into the faces of English football fans before an injury sidelined him for the season and until December. The youngster has been labelled the “next Ronaldo” which may be optimistic, but why let another team find out?
Pépé was the record signing of the summer for the Gunners and despite a slow start, he’s burst onto the scene as Arsenal’s most consistent player and scores and assists at a very solid clip. He’s a solid passer, a very good crosser, and very good at taking free kicks, and he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite on the right wing. He’s the top option on that side and he’ll man that position for a good many years.
Arsenal have swooped in for another Chelsea player on a free as Willian joins the club from Stamford Bridge. Willian’s wage demands fell as he came to Arsenal which is the main reason why the deal was done, plus the Brazilian has done some of the best goal and assist numbers in his career last season. It’s a short term deal but the experience and production will be valued as he mentors Pépé on the right side.
Nelson is tagged as another development. His ability to play centrally and on the wing makes him a bit more valuable and his development could be key to Arsenal’s success in the future if another player isn’t bought to pass in the midfield. He’s a promising passer and knows how to get at the goal, but he has a long way to go before he becomes a true Prem starter.
There’s not much to say about the Gabonese striker and winger other than he’s a true star scorer. Aubameyang nearly won the Golden Boot again and he’s a true leader of the offense and club. Getting a new contract with Aubameyang ought to be at the top of the list of priorities for the club.
Laca is a bit of a controversial topic among fans. Many are proud fans and believe that he ought to stay despite not getting the playing time or scoring at the rate his wages demand. The quality sub is a good enough role for them and that’s a fair assessment. The other view is that he should be sold for a high fee and used to get a new playmaker of some sort. Also a valid critique. The fact of the matter is that Lacazette is a consummate professional and will probably excel on the pitch with more playing time. He’s a good player to keep, but if Aubameyang keeps playing in his form and the youngsters grow well, the time to sell might be now. I’m okay with either course of action for the club and Lacazette has been a great addition and dons the patch well.
Nketiah might be the reason to ship the Lacazette, if there is one. Both play the same position and Nketiah seems to be showing some great promise in front of goal. Both are simply scorers and if Nketiah can grow into what Lacazette already is, then it seems pointless to keep the older and more valuable of the two. Getting some sort of compensation is better than getting nothing and Nketiah seems like a player who could be a true Premier League striker in the future. Nketiah is staying no matter what.
So it’s clear that Arsenal have a wealth of players in some positions and are desperately light in others. The plans are always foggy from the outside so I’ll decipher what Arsenal ought to be doing in my mind. Starting from the back, I believe that the goalkeeper situation is fine with Leno and Martínez. Moving to central defender, there needs to be a sale. Whether it’s Holding, Chambers, Sokratis, some combination, or all three, it doesn’t matter, but there’s too much replacement level talent there already. Rumors have it that Gabriel Magalhães will be signing for the club in the next few days, but either way a stud center back is needed. If there’s a position to splurge on, it’s there.
If either Bellerín or AMN are on the way out, the other needs to stay. Good right backs are few and far between so offloading a pair of young promising players would be a big issue. If another great deal for an upgrade appears it’s fine, but getting rid of two solid options when another isn’t present is bad business. On the left side, if Sead leaves then a replacement will be needed. Whether it comes from the youth academy or from another club, there will need to be reinforcements for the injury-prone Tierney.
The defensive midfield is solid in my eyes but if Arteta is keen on getting rid of Guendouzi and Torreira then replacements will need to be had. Arteta was in talks about a permanent Ceballos deal but Madrid need funds and might not let him leave for less than their appraisal, which will be high. The other heavily talked about option is Thomas Partey. It seems like Partey has been on the Arsenal radar for years to fill in next to Xhaka and it’s easy to see why. He’s a very experienced central midfielder with the perfect skills for the current program. The fee is steep but not unobtainable with some sales.
The biggest need on the team is someone to initiate offense. Özil seems finished with the club and Willock is far from ready, so an attacking mid is in the cards. Talks of Philippe Coutinho, Dembele, Houssem Aouar, Dominik Szoboszlai, and others have been linked, but that position warrants a hefty fee and I won’t believe anything until it’s done on paper.
The wings seem solid with youth and experience on both sides. If I had to make signings I would get a teen with plenty of potential for the right wing and another older player, not unlike Willian, to mentor the left. I’m very happy with the striking unit and would prefer to keep Lacazette, although if the right deal is available at another position and funds are needed, the money might be more valuable than the player.
There’s plenty of options for the Gunners and going into a summer window with a new manager is always an adventure. It’s probable that there’s a ton of turnover and new faces come start of next season, although with the pandemic and its economic effects, the cost of players might be too much to talk about for this season. Arsenal were a top team towards the end of the season and it’s not unreasonable to think they might be able to replicate that in the coming season.