It a busy and surprisingly productive January transfer window. Often January windows offer few chances to make notable squad changes and coupled with the financial and travel restrictions with COVID, you could have expected little activity. The front office made the decision to let Mesut Ozil, Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi & Matt Macey terminate their contracts, leave for free transfers, and begin to help balance their wage bill.
At the same time, Arsenal found loans for four senior players for the second half of the season - Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, & William Saliba. To bolster two positions in need the club utilized the loan market to bring in backup goalkeeper Mat Ryan from Brighton and exciting young attacker Martin Ødegaard from Real Madrid.
It’s nice to see Arsenal both be active during a transfer window and make the hard decision to move on from several players — even at a financial loss — for the long term benefit of the club. This summer should be just as busy as Edu and Mikel Arteta look to reshape the squad and begin rebuilding towards a Champions League position side.
1 - Cover at left-back
Last season Nacho Monreal exited. In January, Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles left on loan moves. Thus Arsenal’s coverage for star left-back Kieran Tierney is either the #2 right-back Cedric or pushing one of their best attacking threats, Bukayo Saka, into the backline. Arteta has noted recently that the club tried to bring in a new left-back in January, but were unable to secure a move for the right player.
Tierney’s style of play, injury issues since joining Arsenal, and the number of matches the club faces each season, forces this to be the primary goal for the upcoming summer window. The preferable option is a younger player with enough experience to start when needed, but with plenty of future potential growth. Alternatively, an established left-back at the Premier League level who is willing to come in as the backup to cover Tierney for Europa League (hopefully) and Cup ties.
Likelihood this summer: Nearly 100%
2 - Identify and sign a solid backup keeper
This past summer Arsenal bought Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson from Ligue 1 side Dijon for just $1.3 million. If he had quickly adapted to this level, the 25-year-old would have been a shrewd bit of business. But he clearly needs more time, and perhaps a loan in the Championship. As such Mat Ryan is in for coverage from Brighton. We’ve only been able to see him once so it’s too early to tell if Arsenal could swing a $5-8m transfer this summer and get by for another season with a Leno-Ryan combo. More likely the club signs an experienced #2 keeper for next season and pushes for the right loan move to Runarsson.
Likelihood this summer: 95%
3 - Sell Lacazette or accept another financial hit?
In the summer of 2017 Arsenal bought Lacazette for $58 million. During that period he’s made 154 appearances, scoring 58 times and providing 28 assists. He is the club’s top goalscorer this season but is coming up on the end of his contract. And we know historically Arsenal are poor in these situations. So rather than allow another $25-40m transfer fee to walk away for free, this summer Arteta needs to decide how long he plans to use Lacazette as his primary striker? Is the club prepared to invest in a new striker and move Alexandre out during the next transfer window? None of the young options in Nketiah, Martinelli, and Balogun are ready to lead the line consistently and Aubameyang isn’t the long term option in that role as well. Or might they offer a 1-year extension and push the decision to the following summer?
Likelihood this summer: 50%
In part two tomorrow we will look at two more important decisions ahead for Arsenal this summer - Folarin Balogun and the massive loan list (both in and out) the club currently has.