After a close battle for the title with Manchester City, Champions League football returns to Arsenal in 2023/24.
The Gunners ended up just five points behind the treble-winners come the end of the campaign, finishing second for the first time since 2016 and ensuring they return to European football’s top table.
However, even despite Mikel Arteta’s incredible popularity at the Emirates, the Arsenal faithful’s expectations will now be increased tenfold. For them, last season cannot be a one-off, instead signalling the return of their side as one of England’s elite forces.
To be a competitive outfit in the Champions League and once again push themselves into the title mix, further surgery will need to be performed on this group of players, and that’ll be partly funded by outgoing transfers. Already, there are plenty of names linked with an Emirates exit, but which should the Gunners keep, sell or loan? Let’s take a look…
Let’s start with one of the more tricky ones. Tierney is incredibly reliable and professional and, last season, performed Arteta’s inverted full-back role very well, despite having to settle for a lot of substitute appearances.
The Scotland international is now being linked with a move away, with Champions League and domestic rivals Newcastle and even Man City both linked. Understandably, Tierney wants to pick up the number of regular starts he deserves given his quality, so perhaps the Newcastle move is a little more realistic.
That said, Tierney still has plenty of quality to offer to this Arsenal side and with Champions League football to contend with next season, it would feel rather foolish to let him leave this summer.
Albert Sambi Lokonga
Lokonga looked like an exciting talent when joining Arsenal from Anderlecht a couple of years ago but despite a promising start, he’s tailed off quickly. He even spent the second half of the 2022/23 campaign on loan at Crystal Palace.
With the sort of objectives Arsenal have next season, it’s unlikely Lokonga can expect more game time upon his return. In fact, you would argue he’ll play even less having been out of Arteta’s plans for the past six months.
Unsurprisingly, Lokonga is being linked with newly-promoted Burnley, managed by his former boss at Anderlecht, Vincent Kompany.
This one just makes sense for all parties.
For a minute there, it looked like Jorginho’s short stay at the Emirates was already coming to an end, with reports strongly linking him with a return to his native Italy. That speculation has cooled somewhat and the latest is now that he’ll be sticking around for a little while longer.
With his vast experience in big games — including in the Champions League — that’s probably for the best. There remains a nativity about this Arsenal side that can only be stamped out with the help of players who have walked the walk, and Jorginho has certainly done that.
All of that is without mentioning his value and quality in possession, of course.
Emile Smith Rowe
It’s less than a year since Smith Rowe was seen as Arsenal’s ‘star boy’. Coming off a 2021/22 campaign in which he scored 10 goals in 33 Premier League appearances (11 goals in all competitions) and having picked up his first caps and goal for England, even the sky didn’t see the limit.
Unfortunately, injuries ravaged his 22/23 season, meaning he played just 12 times in the Premier League. That doesn’t, of course, mean his immense talent has just vanished. Rather than have to make a decision in haste this summer, Arsenal might do well to give Smith Rowe another loan to rediscover his magic touch and return to the Emirates once again ready to shine.
For a long time, it appeared Reiss Nelson’s time at Arsenal was coming to a rather quiet, lacklustre end. Loans with Hoffenheim and Feyenoord had given us glimpses of his talent, though that was never in question due to his exploits across various youth levels with England. It just didn’t look like he quite had what it takes to cut it at Arsenal.
However, last season, he popped up with some incredibly important goals and proved himself an invaluable super sub. Those players are just as important as your regular starters but if you can find one for free — free in that he’s an academy graduate that’s already at your club — well, that’s a huge bonus for your transfer budget.
Nelson looks set to sign a new deal at Arsenal, which should save them a handsome sum of cash on any potential replacement for him.
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Perhaps when he retires, Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal career will be turned into a movie or TV drama. FA Cup titles, a Europa League final, a public falling out with supporters and a redemption story that saw him captain the club through a title challenge. He really has seen it all at the Emirates.
However, it appears this incredible saga is now coming to an end, with the Switzerland international strongly linked with a move back to Germany. Any funds Arsenal raise for Xhaka are likely to go toward the battle to make Declan Rice a Gunner and if that’s the sort of quality the club is targeting, it’s perhaps the right time for Xhaka to step aside, ending his time in North London on a high.
Arsenal’s title charge looked set to end in glory, but it all came crashing down following a back injury sustained by William Saliba in March. From there, the Gunners kept just two clean sheets in 11 Premier League games, winning just five times and conceding 18 goals during that run.
Of course, that defensive collapse was a team effort, but Rob Holding really did stand out as one of Arsenal’s weak points due to his lack of pace and ability on the ball.
In the right team, Holding can still be a very solid Premier League player. However, it feels like he’s some way off the quality required to achieve Arsenal’s lofty goals. Cash in and upgrade.
Just a couple of years ago, you’d have probably scoffed at the possibility of Folarin Balogun being such a valuable commodity to Arsenal, with his most consistent spell of football yielding just three goals in 20 appearances while on loan at Middlesbrough in 2021/22.
However, that has now all changed dramatically thanks to an incredible loan spell in France with Reims, where the newly-capped United States international — who previously excelled at youth level for England — scored 22 goals in 39 games across all competitions, including 21 in Ligue 1 to finish fourth behind the illustrious Jonathan David (24), Alexandre Lacazette (27) and Kylian Mbappe (29) in the Golden Boot race.
Now, Balogun is hot property and even Champions League runners-up Inter have been linked with a move.
The formula is simple for Arsenal: only sell for in excess of £40m, or keep him as serious competition for Gabriel Jesus.
It should never, ever get overlooked just how much Arsenal paid for Nicolas Pepe. £72m?! It’s fair to say the Ivorian hasn’t really come close to repaying that figure, even factoring in his 16-goal return in 2020/21.
Last season, the 28-year-old was loaned to Nice, where he scored eight goals in 28 games across all competitions. However, there was no permanent option included in that move, meaning Arsenal must now hunt for a new buyer for their very expensive and surplus asset.
Nice isn’t expected to pursue a transfer and there’s even a rumour floating around that Arsenal could terminate Pepe’s contract in order to get his wages off the books.
Tavares certainly has quality. You don’t make 28 appearances during your first season at Arsenal after joining from Benfica if that wasn’t the case. The same goes for the 39 games he played in all competitions on loan at Marseille last season.
However, at present, the Portuguese left-back has the unenviable task of dislodging Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kieran Tierney if he’s to get game time. Zinchenko was excellent during his debut season at the Emirates and, as mentioned, Tierney was an incredible backup option good enough to be a starter in his own right.
If Tierney stays, which he should, there doesn’t appear to be a place for Tavares in Arteta’s plans. At 23 years old, a loan also has little value to Arsenal.