In this second half, we catch up with how a trio of senior players and a handful of academy prospects closed out their 2020-21 seasons. If you missed part one that covered Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Matteo Guendouzi, Sead Kolasnic, Konstantinos Mavropanos & four young center backs you can find that here - Part 1.
As we all know, it’ll be a busy summer for the Arsenal management team with several senior players likely to make full transfers away from the club, a few hard decisions about younger players that may yet be meaningful contributors for the Gunners in the Premier League, and plenty of U23 players that need improved loans next season or exits. Let’s get started.
Player/Age: James Olayinka, 20
Club: Southend United
Season recap & Outlook: It was a rough year for Southend United as the side were relegated back down to the National League, finishing 23rd in League Two. But after getting in just four matches on loan at Northampton Town last season, Olayinka was off to a solid start, getting two goals in the opening months of the season despite the defenses’ issues. A torn ankle ligament ruled him out for three months and while he returned to the squad by the end of March he was never able to get a consistent run of matches. It’ll likely be another year in League One or Two for him next season.
Player/Age: Joseph Olowu, 21
Club: Wealdstone FC
Season recap & Outlook: Exactly how many CB prospects do Arsenal have? Olowu makes the fifth on loan this season from the academy. After limited action with the U23s, he made a second half of the season move to National League side Wealdstone FC. 12 matches, with no wins, and an incredible 36 goals given up while playing, this was mostly a year to forget for Olowu. With so many options in defense for the academy and Joseph failing to make an impact in the National League, it’s hard to see Arsenal continuing on with him long term.
Player/Age: Jordi Osei-Tutu, 22
Club: Cardiff City
Season recap & Outlook: After helping VfL Bochum finished 8th in the 2.Bundesliga, Osei-Tutu took a step up joining Cardiff on loan in the Championship. It was off to a great beginning, starting six of their first seven matches before a hamstring injury ruled him out for the majority of the season. He wasn’t able to make it back onto the pitch for Cardiff until late April. However, with Cardiff remaining in the Championship (8th place) they (and the player) may look for a redo next season. Arsenal has a lot to figure out at right-back between Hector Bellerin’s presumed exit, Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ future at the club, and where Mikel Arteta sees both Cedric and Calum Chambers in the depth chart over the next season or two. I can’t see Osei-Tutu making the leap to the first team next year, but another year developing in the Championship, and free from injury, he could push in as 2nd on the depth chart for Arsenal by the 2022-23 campaign.
Player/Age: William Saliba, 20
Under contract at Arsenal until: June 30, 2024
Season recap & Outlook: Purchased for $33m two summers ago, Arsenal’s expensive young defender has to play for the senior side next season. After remaining at AS Saint-Étienne after his transfer, Saliba was deemed unprepared for the Premier League by Mikel Arteta, left to train and play with the U23 side for the first half of the season, and then shipped off to Ligue 1 for the rest of the year, this time with Nice. 22 appearances and one goal, finishing 9th in the table, he, like Mavropanos, appear to be on the cusp of returning to Arsenal. With his fee, there will be more pressure to integrate Saliba. And while there have been off-field issues, there is still plenty of time to help mold him into a solid Premier League center-back. Gabriel-Mari-Holding-Saliba sounds like a decent depth chart, especially when action is needed at both fullback positions.
Player/Age: Ben Sheaf, 23
Club: Coventry City
Season recap & Outlook: It was a great step forward for Ben Sheaf. After a season in League One with Doncaster Rovers, he made the season-long loan to Coventry City in the Championship. With 32 matches and one assist as Coventry finished 16th, that improvement is more about Sheaf showing his ability at this level rather than anything remarkable about Coventry’s campaign. He played the majority of the season as the deep-lying defensive midfielder. The real question comes down to can Sheaf make a huge leap quickly to offer valuable minutes and potential at that position for Arteta to consider him there in the next year or two? Or is it time for the player (turning 24 next season) to look towards his future away from the Arsenal system?
Player/Age: Matt Smith, 20
Club: Charlton Athletic
Season recap & Outlook: In a similar path as Ben Sheaf, Smith spent the first half of the season on loan in League One with Swindon Town (who finished 23rd and relegated) picking up two goals and four assists from central midfield. He then made the slight move up to Charlton Athletic for the back half of the season but was limited to just eight appearances. Charlton finished in 7th place, just missing out on the playoffs. Overall it was a successful season for Smith, who can now look for another loan move next season to a club in the high end of League One or bottom half of the Championship. The main goal as always is consistent playing time as his ability to play throughout the midfield, contributing to the attack and on the defensive side, has the potential to reach a higher level in the years to come.
Player/Age: Lucas Torreira, 25
Club: Atletico Madrid
Under contract at Arsenal until: June 30, 2023
Season recap & Outlook: Torreira may have averaged less than 30 minutes an appearance (26 matches, 722 total minutes) this season at Atletico Madrid, but he now has a La Liga title to his name. It’s been a difficult year for Lucas, with his mom passing away earlier this year from COVID-19 back in March. In the aftermath, he spoke about his desire to transfer back home to Boca Juniors in order to be closer to his family. There will be plenty of suitors for a player of his experience and still just 25, plus Arsenal would love to recoup some of the $31m from three years ago. However, this move will be entirely down to Lucas. After spending time to reflect this summer, does he want to return home long-term, perhaps just for a season to get some extended time with his family, or after a summer away continue his European journey, with Italy and Spain favorable destinations.
Player/Age: Joe Willock, 21
Under contract at Arsenal until: June 30, 2023
Season recap & Outlook: What a difference the right move can make. The talented Arsenal academy prospect had developed into a solid depth piece for the Gunners, but had little chance of becoming a regular starter at the club this season. A half-season loan to relegation battling Newcastle could not have gone better for all parties involved. In just 14 matches, Willock scored eight goals, seven straight in his last seven appearances, helping lift the club up to 14th place. That strong streak to close out the season earned him Premier League Player of the Month for May and has made Willock an intriguing summer transfer window topic. His value has never been higher. Turning 22 at the start of next season, fulfilling the home-grown status for an English club, and versatile in the midfield, Arsenal should be able to drive up a great price from Newcastle who would love to have him back next season, permanently. So should Arsenal cash in on Willock’s hot form or can Arteta translate his goal-scoring at Newcastle to Arsenal’s squad next year?
Arsenal already has a full slate of summer transfer window questions with the first team — the goalkeeper depth chart, both full-back positions, Odegaard or a new midfielder, who is the future striker? But there is plenty to watch this summer from this second set of on-loan players. How will Saliba match up against the current Arsenal starting center backs? Will Willock return or if sold, for how much? Where will Torreria end up? How can the club set up appropriate challenges next season for Jordi Osei-Tutu and Matt Smith to determine their long-term viability?