Following Arsenal’s appalling 4-1 loss in Baku in the Europa League, it became more and more apparent to Arsenal power-brokers Raül Sanllehí, Josh Kroenke, Vinai Venkatesham and the scouting team that drastic action needed to be taken to boost Arsenal’s chances of ever becoming a competitive team again.
Significant expenditure was required, expenditure that was unlikely to be forthcoming after the company line of a budget of £45m was touted everywhere, it looked like another summer of foraging around in the bargain bins and praying that head-coach Unai Emery was capable of turning the club’s fortunes around.
But alas, after a number of hints from the likes of Josh Kroenke, who told Arsenal fans to “be excited”, Arsenal ended their summer window with a remarkable £145m spent on potential arrivals, which was also supplemented by the departures of players such as Alex Iwobi, Carl Jenkinson, Danny Welbeck, David Ospina, Krystian Bielik, Takuma Asano and Laurent Koscielny.
So let’s see how Arsenal’s 2019/20 transfers faired.
Gabriel Martinelli — £6,000,000
Plucked from relative obscurity from FC Ituano in Brazil’s fourth division, Martinelli represented Arsenal’s first foray into the transfer market. Though a number of clubs held an interest in the talented Brazilian teenager, fans would have been forgiven for being unfamiliar with his profile.
Initially signed with a view to playing in Arsenal’s U23 side, Martinelli soon impressed head-coach Unai Emery and was given a more involved role with the senior side.
Martinelli made his non-competitive debut for the club in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, scoring the game’s third goal. Many would have believed that this was to be his only appearance for the senior side, however, he was given a brief cameo in Arsenal’s open day win over Newcastle United and soon found himself in the club’s League Cup and Europa League squad.
In fact, the Brazilian’s performances were so good, he was awarded the Arsenal Player of the Month award for October.
A brace here and there soon put Martinelli in the framework of the first team and following Emery’s subsequent sacking, he was handed his first Premier League start by interim coach Freddie Ljungberg against West Ham United, where he scored his first league goal.
By the time Mikel Arteta was appointed as head-coach, Martinelli was as welcome in the side as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and was enjoying a rich vein of form, culminating in a fantastic, if not fortuitous, goal against Chelsea, where he ran the length of the field and calmly slotted home Arsenal’s extremely underserved equaliser.
Injury cut short Martinelli’s season and he played no part in Arsenal’s games after the season’s resumption, but it’s clear to see that Arsenal needed him. His unpredictability on the flanks and his partnership with Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka would have likely hardened some of Arsenal’s performances.
The Brazilian teenager was rewarded with another new contract at the end of the season, which gives him a well-deserved wage increase and gives the club more control over his future.
Hit or Miss: Hit
William Saliba — £27,000,000
William Saliba’s time at Arsenal is a tough one to really speak about, as the talented French defender has still yet to make an appearance for Arsenal since signing, as he was loaned back to AS Saint-Étienne as part of the transfer agreement the club made to sign him.
Saliba was subject to a rather ferocious tug of war between Arsenal and bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, with Arsenal having all but signed the youngster, before Tottenham dashed their hopes and had a higher bid accepted. Arsenal scrambled to renegotiate and were spared the blushes of a talented young player choosing their North London rivals over them.
By all accounts, Saliba’s time in France has been exemplary. Ligue 1’s sudden premature ending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic was something no one could help, but Saint-Étienne’s disappointing 17th place finish was overshadowed by reaching the Coupe de France Final, though Arsenal and Saint-Étienne’s inability to come to an agreement meant that Saliba was ultimately unable to play in the final.
Saliba’s season was marred by injuries, first a hamstring injury, which prompted him to miss eight games and then a fracture in his metatarsal, which meant he missed a further fourteen matches. However, the appearances he did make left a lasting impression with Claude Puel lamenting the club’s decision to sell the defender and the club’s hierarchy already regretting the deal to sell Saliba for such a low fee.
Saliba’s stats have made for interesting reading for Arsenal fans, with Saliba boasting 1.8 interceptions per-game, 0.2 fouls per-game and pass success rate of 88%, which is crucial for Mikel Arteta’s play-out-from-the-back system, he could be every bit the player Arsenal need next season.
Hit or miss: N/A
Dani Ceballos — Loan
The curious case of Dani Ceballos has been an intriguing saga to watch unfurl.
Thought initially to be joining Tottenham Hotspur, (much like the aforementioned Saliba), however, the lack of a purchase option in the Spaniard’s loan deal, meant that the notoriously stingy Daniel Levy pulled the plug on the deal and Ceballos joined Arsenal instead.
Though Saliba opted to join Arsenal for an apparent “crush on Arsenal”, Ceballos’ was more selfish. Ceballos knows how impressive it is to play for Real Madrid, his parent club, but given that he is no longer in the plans of head-coach Zinedine Zidane, a loan was the perfect opportunity for Ceballos to show the French legend just what he could do.
And for all intents and purposes, Zidane looked to be proven wrong; Ceballos’ home debut against Burnley showed glimpses of former Arsenal player and forever fan-favourite Santi Cazorla in his prime. Dancing around Burnley defenders and pinging passes all over the field, complete with a passionate celebration after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Arsenal a second lead, led to the Arsenal fans singing Ceballos’ name to the tune of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” (ironically, the melody that Arsenal fans used to use for the aforementioned Cazorla as well).
However, that seemed to be all she wrote as Ceballos’ performances rarely reached those standards again under Unai Emery. One goal in the Europa League (a scrappy goal-line volley) showed that perhaps Zidane knew what he was talking about. An injury also scrapped Ceballos’ chance of making a name for himself under Emery.
After Emery left the club, Mikel Arteta showed no signs of playing Ceballos either, which presented a nightmare scenario for Ceballos who left one coach who didn’t want to play him, only to end up under another coach who didn’t want to play him.
Rumours began to circulate that Ceballos wanted his loan deal cut short so he could look for playtime either at Madrid or elsewhere, nevertheless, the January window came and went and Ceballos remained put and soon managed to force himself into Arteta’s gameplan.
Slowly but surely, the Spaniard has become a mainstay of the midfield, partnered best with Granit Xhaka and has become Arsenal’s deep-lying playmaker and taken over many of the roles and responsibilities of the departed Aaron Ramsey and has quickly become one of Arteta’s most trusted lieutenants, which culminated in another masterful performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Whether or not Ceballos extends his stay at Arsenal for another year or not, remains to be seen, but it seems like it would be a smart move for both parties if Ceballos extended his stay in N5 for at least one more season.
Hit or Miss: Hit
Nicolas Pépé — £72,000,000
If ever there was proof that Arsenal’s £45m budget was a pure negotiation stance, this transfer was it.
When the news broke that Arsenal had beaten a number of Europe’s top clubs to the signing of (Neymar and Kylian Mbappé aside) the best player in the French League, Arsenal fans were excited to see Josh Kroenke’s prophecy come true.
The idea of Arsenal lining up with Mesut Özil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Pépé and Alexandre Lacazette, was a mouth-watering prospect and was perhaps only rivalled by Manchester City and Liverpool.
But Pépé’s time at Arsenal has not been smooth-sailing. As with any player that smashes the club’s transfer record (and by quite some distance too), there is a noticeably different set of standards for that player, especially when they are an attacker and Pépé’s habit of drifting in and out of games coincided with the team’s abysmal form has been a cause for concern.
It is well-known that Pépé was not Unai Emery’s initial choice of winger, with the Spaniard much preferring a move for Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, but the Ivorian’s long contract, Crystal Palace unreasonably high valuation of the player and a hefty sell-on clause to Manchester United, meant that the plan was abandoned and Pépé was signed instead.
To say that Emery did not fully trust Pépé is fairly accurate, the Ivorian only made sixteen appearances under Emery, seven of which were from the bench. Despite his lack of trust from the head-coach, Pépé still scored three and assisted a further four, giving him a minutes-per-goal ratio of 315.3, which seemed to suggest that Pépé was not quite hitting the ground running in the same way that he had in France.
That’s not to say that Pépé didn’t enjoy some highs under Emery, two outstanding free-kicks in Arsenal’s narrow 3-2 win over Vitória de Guimarães in the Europa League were signs of just what he was capable of.
Following Emery’s dismissal, Pépé seemed to play with added confidence and his goal against West Ham United under interim boss Freddie Ljungberg seemed to show that the Ivorian has that Arjen Robben air about him, don’t let him get it on to his left-foot.
Under Mikel Arteta, Pépé has flourished a lot more and has the coach’s full backing, having only been absent from the starting eleven three times (four if you include his paternity leave) and has a much more impressive minutes-per-goal ratio of 279.7 and has four goals and four assists.
Pépé played a crucial part in Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Chelsea and Aubameyang’s winner is likely to receive more attention than Pépé’s assist, but to end his first season in Arsenal colours with eight goals and ten assists in all competitions in a very underperforming Arsenal side is no mean feat.
Hit or Miss: Jury’s still out.
Kieran Tierney — £25,000,000
Ask anyone around Glasgow in the summer if they could see Kieran Tierney in anything other than a Celtic shirt and they’d have been forgiven for meeting your question with a derisive snort before proudly exclaiming that “he’s a bhoy through and through”, so Arsenal’s eventual deadline day acquisition of the 22-year-old came as a shock across British football.
Arsenal had spent the summer engaged in their own, equally dull Jim and Pam story of “will they, won’t they” with Celtic. After having two bids knocked back by the Glaswegian club, Arsenal finally acquiesced to their demands and signed Tierney for a reported £20m fee, with £5m in in instalments.
Tierney became the second Arsenal player to have joined the club injured, taking up after the ironic hero Kim Källström, who famously joined Arsenal with a broken back (yes, a broken back). Tierney has been nursing a groin strain and had undergone surgery at the tail-end of the previous season, which had resulted in him missing Celtic’s final run of games, and he was in need of some fitness training.
Though the Arsenal YouTube videos offered brief glimpses of Arsenal’s new number three, Arsenal fans were not given their first view of the new bhoy until the team’s 5-0 rout of Nottingham Forest in the League Cup and he made his Premier League debut a month later against Crystal Palace.
Tierney’s form in the side was decent enough, but when Unai Emery was relieved of his duties, Tierney became an important part of Arsenal’s play style under Feddie Ljungberg, but an injury against West Ham (a dislocated shoulder) put the Scottish left-back out of action for a few months.
Upon Mikel Arteta’s appointment, the Spaniard was reportedly in awe of Tierney’s commitment to his rehab work in Arsenal’s mid-season warm weather training in Abu Dhabi and Tierney took an instant shine to Arteta’s meticulous approach and it’s with no surprise that Tierney has since become one of Arteta’s favourite sons and most trusted crusaders.
A Premier League left-back will often have a baptism of fire and a number of unwanted tests to have to pass, but Tierney seems to have passed the test of keeping Mohamed Salah quiet in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Liverpool, shutting out Riyad Mahrez in Arsenal’s 2-0 semi-final win over Manchester City and turned in an impressively assured performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup final as well.
He’s quickly established himself as a fan favourite, a cheeky chap with a good source of banter, a wicked cross and a mentality of a man who would, in the words of his former teammate Scott Brown, “tackle his own granny”. It’s easy to see why Arsenal were happy (eventually) to break the Scottish transfer record to bring in such a talented player.
Hit or Miss: Hit
David Luiz — £8,000,000
David Luiz’ time at Arsenal has been hit and miss, a term that accurately describes much of his career up to this point. Capable of marking prime Ronaldo out of a game at one point and suddenly gifting away an unnecessary penalty in the next. Scoring an absolute howitzer of a free-kick one moment and then turning in a comedic performance that would have had Charlie Chaplin at his best blushing not long after.
Following the rather ugly tale of Laurent Koscielny’s departure from the club, Arsenal were in need of a ball-playing central defender with Premier League experience. Fast. Though offers for RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano were turned down and William Saliba would not be joining the club for another full season, Arsenal, in their desperation turned to one of football’s most complex characters, David Luiz.
The Brazilian joined in an £8m deal from Chelsea and despite his reputation for regularly imitating any one or possibly all three of the Three Stooges, he was Chelsea’s best defender and Frank Lampard could likely do with losing experience from his young team.
David Luiz was, by and large, exactly what Unai Emery had wanted, capable of playing out from the back and of the occasional forty yard ping to the feet, he was also quite capable of taking some of the talented youngsters of the club under his wing, something that fellow-summer signing Gabriel Martinelli has been quick to point out.
But the issues that have plagued David Luiz throughout his career have followed him to Arsenal as well and he now has the distinction of becoming the only player in Premier League history to concede five penalties in one season, a feat he achieved in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Watford on the final day of the Premier League season.
It hasn’t all been bad though, his performances in the FA Cup have provided Arsenal with a lot of experience and resilience and his attitude has been faultless. Despite pundits and former players alike laying into the Brazilian at any given opportunity, the defender has simply brushed the words off and got now with his job, a commendable and mature attitude.
Its likely that David Luiz will only be an Arsenal player for one more year, after he and his agent Kia Joorabchian managed to secure a slightly lower extension to his contract, but if he achieves nothing else with Arsenal, he does still gave an FA Cup to his name.
Hit or Miss: Miss
Pablo Marí — Loan (£7,500,000)
After Mikel Arteta’s appointment in December, it was well-known that Arsenal’s new boss had asked Raül Sanllehí, chief scout Francis Cagigao and technical director Edu for a left-footed central defender.
Arteta’s policy of having just as many left-footed players as he does right-footed players in the starting eleven and his policy of (like Unai Emery) playing-out-from-the-back led Arsenal to consider Marí and Mykola Matviyenko, from Shakhtar Donetsk.
Arsenal’s preference was Marí, as Arteta was more familiar with his profile from his time at Manchester City, though the two never actually met when they were there.
Marí’s time with Arsenal has been short and thus the only real data available on the defender’s performances are spread out over three games, two prior to lockdown and one in a game he was injured in.
For the most part, Marí looks to be in the same mould as Shkodran Mustafi, good in the air, capable of passing out from the back and capable of moments of madness. Marí enjoyed a comfortable if not quiet debut against Portsmouth in the club’s fifth round tie of the FA Cup, however, his performance over West Ham in the league at the Emirates Stadium was a little less comfortable and the defender was often left wanting and but for some heroic acrobatics from Bernd Leno, the defender might have been responsible for some rather unfortunate goals.
Following the resumption of the league in the wake of the Coronavirus, Marí lasted all of twenty-four minutes before having to leave the field injured.
The club have since made Marí’s move permeant and he will be longing for the chance to impress next season.
Hit or Miss: Jury’s still out.
Cédric Soares — Loan (Free)
It has become clear at Arsenal for some time that there needs to be both appropriate cover and competition for places at right-back, with Spaniard Héctor Bellerín perhaps becoming a tad too comfortable for some people’s liking, but with Calum Chambers’ injury and Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ unwillingness to play in the position, Arsenal opted to bring in Cédric Soares from Southampton, another player from Kia Joorabchian’s rolodex of clients.
Cédric has been in the Premier League for five years, enjoying an impressive career at Southampton and a brief loan spell at Inter Milan.
Cédric, much like Kim Källström and Kieran Tierney before him joined Arsenal injured and was unable to play straight away and when the COVID-19 pandemic brought football to a brief suspension, he was mercifully given time to recuperate, but in true Arsenal fashion, no sooner had he gotten off the injury table, he was back on it after accidentally clashing with a teammate in training and breaking his nose. A tale as old as time itself.
Nevertheless, Cédric has since found his way into Mikel Arteta’s plans and was also given the bizarre distinction of joining the club on loan and then having his move made permanent without ever making an appearance for the club.
However, Cédric’s first performance was in Arsenal’s 4-0 rout of Norwich City in the Premier League, where he replaced Bellerín in the 77th minute and promptly scored his first goal with an absolute peach of a shot, which wrong-footed Tim Krul and put a lovely little ribbon on a dominant Arsenal performance.
Since then, it’s been a bit hit and miss for Cédric, with more of an emphasis on miss. There is clearly a lot to like about the experienced Portuguese full-back, he’s not shy from tackling or attacking, but his crosses leave a lot to be desired, as was shown in Arsenal’s unfortunate 1-0 loss to Aston Villa, in which none of his attempted twelve crosses found a teammate.
He was unable to play a part in Arsenal’s FA Cup victory as he was cup-tied from his time at Southampton, having played in the team’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield in the FA Cup third round.
Cédric is well thought-of by Mikel Arteta and its easy to see what the positives of the Portuguese full-back are, but an eye-watering four-year contract and some shaky performances will have Arsenal fans hoping against hope that there is significant improvement from him next season.
Hit or Miss: Jury’s still out
As Arsenal’s season mercifully comes to a close, focus turns to the transfer window.
As is customary with Arsenal, every name under the sun will be linked, either with the intention of joining or the intention of securing a better contract elsewhere, but its fair to say that Arsenal’s recruitment up to now has been anywhere between decent and average, nothing to write home about and nothing to ultimately criticise, each player has played an important part in their own way and each has improved under Mikel Arteta’s tutorship.
It remains to be seen if the prices will be justified and this season isn’t the best test of them either, given that only a handful of players have been at the required standard this season, but next season gives them a chance to really make an impression and endear themselves to the fans.
Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta will be hoping to bring in reinforcements that can really help Arsenal get back into the Champions League next season.