After steadily climbing the table during his first few months in charge of Arsenal, head coach Mikel Arteta will finally get the chance to shape the Gunners' squad in his image this summer.
It could be a busy transfer window in North London – both in terms of arrivals and departures. But it won’t be without its challenges. Limited resources, high earners unwilling to leave and at least one star name potentially angling for a move – fans at the Emirates will approach this summer with optimism and a sense of trepidation.
With only reserve goalkeeper Matt Macey out of contract, one of the first issues for the club to address will be the situation surrounding Arsenal’s on-loan trio of Pablo Marí, Cédric Soares and Dani Ceballos.
Early indications are that Marí’s loan will be converted into a permanent deal for a very reasonable £10million, while Soares (despite not yet making an appearance for Arsenal) may join on a free transfer. The Gunners need to spend their money wisely this summer and the Portuguese international offers a budget-friendly way of providing cover for Héctor Bellerín at right-back.
One loanee who will surely leave is Ceballos. Despite his arrival being heralded as something of a coup, the Real Madrid midfielder has failed to make a significant impact at the Emirates this season. With a reported asking price of £44million, the Gunners would be wise to look elsewhere when the transfer window re-opens.
Five Arsenal players have also spent time on loan at other clubs in 2019/20. Youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Konstantinos Mavropanos have been gaining valuable experience at Huddersfield Town and Nürnberg respectively, while William Saliba – the 19-year-old central defender who joined Arsenal for £27million last summer – was fulfilling the loan-back clause Saint-Étienne insisted on being part of the deal.
Arteta will presumably be less keen to see loanees Mohamed Elneny and Henrikh Mkhitaryan return to North London at the end of this season. The latter is an especially large burden on the wage bill. Both are likely to be placed in the shop window again once their current deals with Beşiktaş and Roma conclude.
Of the players currently at the Emirates, there could be a number of potential departures. Shkodran Mustafi is the centre-back most likely to be sold if the club receive a reasonable offer. But, in truth, most of the Gunners’ central defensive options will be available for transfer if the price was right.
Midfielder Granit Xhaka looks to have resolved his differences with Arsenal’s fans after his petulant reaction to criticism earlier this season, but there is a nagging feeling that his midfield partner Lucas Torreira hasn’t really settled in the capital. Could the Uruguayan move on this summer?
Youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been out of favour since Arteta’s arrival and may potentially leave on loan, while there are concerns about breakout star Bukayo Saka – the 18-year-old has been a revelation at left-back but his contract expires in 2021 and he’s yet to sign a new deal. It’s difficult to imagine Arsenal cashing in on him this summer, but it could be their only option if he refuses to put pen to paper. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Further forward, the big story of the summer is likely to involve Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s potential move to Real Madrid. His contract also expires at the end of next season, leaving Arsenal with a dilemma – the Gabonese striker is the team’s talisman, but turns 31 next month and could leave on a free transfer in a year’s time. It would be financially prudent to sell him, but that could harm their chances of securing Champions League football in 2020/21.
From a player who no one wants to see leave, to one who the Emirates hierarchy would love to see off the wage bill – Mesut Özil is costing the club £350,000-a-week, but seems unwilling to depart before his deal expires in 2021. Any offers for the German midfielder would be welcomed, but it looks as if Arteta will have to find a place in his team for the mercurial playmaker again next season.
Key areas to strengthen
The primary target for head of football Raul Sanllehi and Arsenal’s recruitment team must be a central defender. The Gunners have plenty of options, but not many who are of sufficient quality for the team’s aspirations. A first-class partner for Saliba or Marí (if he joins permanently) is needed, while the likes of Rob Holding, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz and Calum Chambers will have to compete for a spot in the starting XI. It would be reasonable to expect at least one or two of those defenders to leave if a new arrival is secured in the summer.
Once a centre-back has been recruited, Arsenal can turn their attention towards strengthening in central midfield, where they could do with some steel and determination to solidify things in the middle of the park.
Any further additions would surely be dependent on departures. If Aubameyang leaves, Arsenal’s scouts will be scouring the globe to find a replacement striker. Alexandre Lacazette has been out of form in recent months, while neither Gabriel Martinelli or Eddie Nketiah are ready to be the main man just yet.
It feels like almost every centre-back in Europe has been linked with a move to the red and white half of North London over the last year. RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Núñez and Merih Demiral of Juventus are three names that appear to be in the frame, while Reims star Axel Disasi is reportedly on Arsenal’s radar.
Who they sign will depend on two factors – whether Arteta can mastermind an unlikely late charge into the Premier League’s top four and the financial consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Gunners are likely to be around £13million, a more likely signing than the likes of Upamecano or Demiral.
It also calls into question the likelihood of strongly linked with a transfer over the past few weeks.
If Arsenal are to spend big then it’s likely to be on young stars who will hold their value over the coming years. 19-year-old Argentinian playmaker Thiago Almada fits that bill and could be a long term replacement for Özil, while Orkun Kökçü from Feyenoord is another hot prospect who looks to be under consideration.
There is plenty of speculation as to who would fill an Aubameyang-shaped hole if he leaves for Real Madrid this summer, with Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard the most likely candidate of the names currently on Arsenal’s wanted list.