The January window was a quiet one in the Premier League, with clubs preferring to fill positions of need and tinker around the edges rather than shell out big money for a marquee signing. Arsenal were no different — the loan-ins of Pablo Marí and Cédric Soares aren’t headline-makers, but they reinforce an injury-depleted Gunners’ back line. Even though they aren’t flashy, it’s good business from the club. On a tight budget, Arsenal brought in two players who should improve the team (though how much remains to be seen), didn’t overspend, and are bearing little risk in the moves.
Arsenal also loaned out three younger players, which I guess deserve grades too, but probably aren’t worth too much digital ink.
Overall window grade: B
Pablo Marí (loan-in with option to buy from Flamengo)
Arsenal needed a centerback. With Calum Chambers out for the season, the club had just four players at the position, and it wasn’t a pretty picture. David Luiz and Sokratis are both on the wrong side of 30. Rob Holding is coming off a major knee injury last season and has been slow to find his form. Shkodran Mustafi is Shkodran Mustafi.
Arsenal got a centerback, and a left-footed one to boot, which is something they haven’t had in a while and what pushes the grade from a B to a B+. He’s strong in the air, an above-average passer, organizes the defense well, and is comfortable playing a high-line in a pressing system. That he couldn’t break into the Manchester City first team gives me pause, and the Europe-South America-Europe career arc for a Spanish player is a bit strange. But he overlapped with Mikel Arteta at City, and I’m giving Edu the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Brazilian football, so I’d bet Arsenal know what they are getting.
Cédric Soares (loan-in from Southampton)
Arsenal had less of a need for a right back, which is why this loan gets a lower grade. But Héctor Bellerín is coming off a major knee injury and has struggled with minor knocks since his return, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is not a right back. He has deputized well but reportedly does not want to be stuck as a fullback long-term. The move helps the Gunners depth and potentially frees up AMN to get a run-out in the midfield.
Soares is a solid, if unspectacular, player. That he’s a Premier League regular is his best quality: he won’t have an adjustment period and he’ll already be familiar with opponents’ tactics and tendencies. He’s strong positionally, which lets him intercept passes and block shots at an above-average rate and helps him avoid cards; he’s picked up a single yellow on the season. His 69% pass completion rate is concerning, but perhaps Mikel Arteta’s system can bring that number up. He comes in carrying a slight knee injury but should be good to go after the break.
Eddie Nketiah (recalled from Leeds United)
Nketiah wasn’t getting enough playing time in the Championship, although apparently at least some Leeds fans were not happy about that because he had played well. It’s not clear how much playing time he will get at Arsenal; the Gunners have a lot of attacking mouths to feed. But he started and scored against Bournemouth in the FA Cup and his being in North London for the rest of the season will let Mikel Arteta get a long look at what the youngster has to offer. It’s an important half-season for Eddie.
Emile Smith Rowe (loaned to Huddersfield Town)
It’s disappointing that ESR was loaned to the Championship after being loaned to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga last January. Then again, he only made three appearances in Germany and has already made two for Huddersfield. The 19-year old needs to be playing regularly, and it looks like he’ll be doing just that. Hopefully he can stay healthy too; he hasn’t had the best luck with injuries.
Dinos Mavropanos (loaned to FC Nürnberg)
A loan to a bottom club in 2. Bundesliga is not a good look. When you send players out on loan, you’re looking for the best team you can find for which your guy will get meaningful playing time. The fact that it’s a bottom of the German second division club is not a good sign for Dinos’ future at Arsenal.
Tyreece John-Jules (loaned to Lincoln City)
A standard move for the 18-year old striker, who had forced his way into the Arsenal U23 team. Again, it’s all about playing time and development. He has one goal in four appearances so far in League One.