Mikel Arteta is through the door at the Emirates and now the hard work begins.
Arsenal have made a disastrous start to the Premier League season, winning just of their last nine games in a run which has seen them sink to 10th in the table, seven points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea.
The Gunners have matches against Bournemouth, Chelsea and Manchester United coming up between now and New Year’s Day and Arteta will no doubt be using this time to scope out his squad, highlight weaknesses and weed out the weak from the strong.
So, with the January transfer window looming and Arsenal having serious ground to make up on the higher reaches of the Premier League, let’s take a look at how things might pan out for them in the market.
Where do Arsenal need to strengthen?
What a question.
The Gunners have been absolutely terrible so far this season and you could blindly point your finger at their squad and stand a strong chance of landing on a weakness.
Narrowing it down, central midfield becomes a clear priority. Granit Xhaka has suffered his share of personal issues and disputes this season, Lucas Torreira has struggled for consistency and Matteo Guendouzi remains an inexperienced youngster, despite making strides since moving to north London. Arsenal need to find a central midfielder who can dictate the tempo of a game, progress the ball forward and isn’t afraid to add a robust edge to make Arteta’s side more solid although the Spaniard has given his public backing to Xhaka, suggesting the door remains open to the club’s former captain.
Part of the need to beef up Arsenal’s midfield is the fact their centre-back options are also so threadbare. David Luiz’s signing in the summer has done little to stop the flood of chances on Bernd Leno’s goal – the German has made more saves (73) than any other Premier League goalkeeper this season – while Sokratis is solid enough, but seriously lacks pace and isn’t the most adept ball-player.
Shkodran Mustafi has failed to make the grade during his three-and-a-half-year stay at the club and even when William Saliba joins in the summer, the Frenchman will offer nowhere near the level of experience required to help fire the Gunners back into Europe’s elite.
Arsenal transfer targets
Although not an immediate fix to any of Arsenal’s problems, it is looking more and more likely that Sevilla starlet Antonio Zarzana will be Arteta’s first signing.
According to Football London, the 17-year-old midfielder rejected an offer from Real Madrid last year and is also being courted by both Liverpool and Real Madrid. Zarzana already has extensive experience at Under-17 level for Spain, as well as in Sevilla’s B team and it now looks increasingly like Arteta will lure him to north London.
Arsenal’s dream, realistic and wildcard January signings
- Dream – Jonny Evans: Arsenal fans are no doubt still regretting the fact their club missed out on Jonny Evans in 2018 for a price of just £3.5m. The Northern Ireland international has been absolutely impeccable for the Foxes and has played a huge part in their charge to second in the Premier League table. The Gunners still need to fill that centre-back void, so could they be tempted to flex their superior financial muscle to finally bring Evans to north London? Jonny Evans transfer odds: Man City (4/1), Arsenal (10/1), Man Utd (20/1).
- Realistic – Ivan Rakitic: As mentioned, Arsenal seriously need to add some dominance and control to their midfield, so who better to do that – based on availability – than Ivan Rakitic? The Croatia international has started just five La Liga games so far this season, falling below the likes of Arthur and Frenkie de Jong in the pecking order at Barcelona. Rakitic’s contract runs until the summer of 2021, so he wouldn’t come on the cheap, but given the depth he has in midfield, Ernesto Valverde may well be open to offers. Ivan Rakitic transfer odds: Juventus (5/2), Man Utd (11/2), Arsenal (12/1).
- Wildcard – Dries Mertens: He’s 32 years old and this one would likely hinge on the future of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Dries Mertens has been linked with Arsenal as recently as November and could provide a ready-made if a little short-term replacement for the Gabonese forward. Mertens has scored nine goals in all competitions for Napoli so far this season – including five in the Champions League group stages – and has been one of the most underrated forwards in Europe in recent years. The Belgium international’s contract expires at the end of the season, so this would definitely make financial sense for the Gunners. Dries Mertens transfer odds: Inter (7/2), Arsenal (6/1), Roma (7/1).
Odds to sign for before 1st February 2020 with William Hill. 18+ only. For more information go to BeGambleAware.org
Possible Arsenal outgoings
While there is plenty of surgery to do on the Arsenal squad, there is also a lot of ‘dead weight’ that needs shifting, as well as some longstanding questions over the future of some pretty big names.
Comfortably top of that particular list is what lies ahead for a certain Mesut Ozil. The 31-year-old playmaker has been one of Arsenal’s most important creative components over the years but has often been criticised for his lack of work rate and tendency to drift out of games – Ozil has become something of a scapegoat for the Gunners‘ failings.
That said, Ozil has managed just one assist in eight Premier League games so far this season and is among the club’s highest earners – put that together and you have some rather expensive underperformance.
Arteta recently stated Ozil is a “massive part” of the club’s plans, but reports continue to suggest talks are already ongoing between the Arsenal hierarchy and Turkish giants Fenerbahce. Given that Ozil signed a new contract in January 2018, the Gunners could still demand a pretty hefty sum for one of their most valuable assets, potentially arming Arteta with a little more swing to his transfer bat.
Of course, Ozil isn’t the only big name seemingly huddling around the exit door, with fellow German Mustafi also regularly linked with a move away from Arsenal. Mustafi hasn’t exactly set the world alight since joining from Valencia in 2016 and the signing of David Luiz in the summer has only made his life harder – Saliba is also due to pitch up in north London at the end of the season.
Mustafi has been linked with the likes of Juventus and Roma in recent months and if a bid were to come in, it’s hard to imagine a universe where Arsenal don’t accept.
While Mustafi’s exit wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Arsenal fans, the potential departure of star striker Aubameyang will worry supporters. The 30-year-old bagged 22 Premier League goals last season to share the Golden Boot with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, and has run up a very impressive strike rate of 54 in 84 appearances since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017.
The Arsenal captain is reportedly “desperate” to leave the club and is now being linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid. His departure would be an absolute disaster for the Gunners.
As mentioned, Xhaka has had a famously rough time of it this season and following his clash with Arsenal fans during their 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, has been consistently linked with moves away to the likes of Newcastle United, AC Milan and Hertha Berlin. Xhaka has managed to play himself back into contention in recent weeks, but this is certainly a situation that needs addressing quickly.
Finally, Arteta must tend to the future of midfielder Torreira. The Uruguay international is a popular figure at the Emirates thanks to his robust, non-compromising approach but has found himself struggling for minutes on the pitch this term.
Torreira was linked with AC Milan earlier this year but reports now suggest Napoli are the frontrunners for his signature. Given Torreira’s contract is set to run until 2023, the Gunners won’t be looking to let him go on the cheap — if at all. Still, this is one of the first conversations Arteta must have once he’s settled behind his desk at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground.