ANYONE FOR FIVE-A-SIDE?
Arsenal appear to have ended the transfer window weaker than when it began... Arteta has gambled big time, letting 14 players go and leaving just two strikers as they chase a place in the top four
MIKEL ARTETA has ended up letting so many players go, Arsenal might struggle to field a five-a-side team.
It was brutal, frustrating and bizarre all at the same time – and represents one hell of a transfer window gamble as Arsenal chase a European place.
Incredibly, Arsenal shipped out 14 players in January, mostly youngsters, but the most eyecatching departure was obviously PierreEmerick Aubameyang.
That comes on the back of a bitter fall-out with Arsenal boss Arteta but also after a depressingly dry January during which Arsenal managed just one goal in five games, crashed out of the FA Cup and lost the Carabao Cup semi-final with Liverpool.
Now they only have the Premier League to concentrate on and maybe they have an edge over Tottenham, Manchester United and West Ham given they will have fewer games in the chase for fourth place.
The thinking around the club is that they could afford to let squad players like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers go because they have only got one game a week and have cover in the squad. Furthermore, it does streamline a side which has been bloated and carrying some overpaid deadwood like Sead Kolasinac.
That does put huge pressure on the next transfer window but there will be serious cash available to sign a big-name striker and midfielder.
They are the two priorities but, given Aubameyang’s departure and Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah being out of contract at the end of the season, they might need more than just one forward.
In fairness, Arsenal did go big for Dusan Vlahovic and Fiorentina gave them encouragement – only for Juventus to get him.
But now they will look again at the likes of Everton’s Dominic
Calvert-Lewin or Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak. The midfield is another major problem. Thomas Partey is their midfield kingpin, Granit Xhaka still divides opinion while Albert Sambi Lokonga is a developing talent.
They need a box-to-box player with more goals, creativity and mobility than Xhaka.
Arsenal do have two fullbacks on either side while Rob Holding backs up Gabriel and Ben White in the centre, and William Saliba is coming back from loan at Marseille next season. There are wide options with Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli plus Martin Odegaard in the middle as a creative force.
Bearing in mind, Arsenal ran out of players in January and got the North London derby postponed, it does seem almost reckless to let so many go.
It is a huge risk but a calculated one. They have 17 games in four months and still a genuine chance of making top four. But if they do not make even the top six, then questions should be asked.
This is not Arsenal scrimping and saving, rather they could not get who they wanted. They did sign Auston Trusty but loaned him straight back to Colorado Rapids and Matt Turner is coming in as a new No.2 keeper, with Bernd Leno set to leave.
Arsenal spent £160million last summer, Arteta was backed to the hilt by the owners so the judgement on January will be made at the end of May. The fans will not accept a mid-table finish.
That is why this is such a gamble. There are signings to come down the line.
But Arsenal should not be seen as a development club.
The fans want success. And they want it now.