The Unlikely Lads

With one eye already on the impending January transfer window, the flurry of rumours that usually punctuate the new year will start. There will inevitably be a number of names that will link wantaway players with their dream moves, perhaps even provide fans with solice that the fringe player that has taken up squad space for so many years will finally be jetissoned as some foreign benefactor pays over the odds and the transfer team crack open the champagne.

In reality, this January window will mean that a lot of Arsenal players on the fringes will be unable to find a move before the sun breaks out for the summer window.

Many players have already run afoul of Mikel Arteta’s “non-negotiables” and his hard stance on team selection, whereas others are simply not a fit for the current system, so while they may seem a sure bet to be on their way into the sunset never to be seen on heard from again, let’s take a look at the players who look destined to leave…just not in January.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The man that everybody is seemingly talking about and yet saying nothing all at the same time.

Since his banishment from the side, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems to have had his fate sealed – no way back into the team until after the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and very little chance of being able to displace the in-form Gabriel Martinelli even then.

Aubameyang has been in woeful form for some time now and given his horrendously high wages, it seems as though Arsenal can’t wait to see the back of him.

Arsenal have been in stunning form without him, ever since he was dropped for Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Southampton, they have score 19 goals and conceded just 2 in all competitions.

But a move in January seems exceedingly unlikely, for a number of reasons.

First of all, Aubameyang will be playing with Gabon at the aforementioned AFCON and will likely want to be keeping his focus on the competition, rather than sorting out his future, which will make potential negotiations difficult, even if his father is the one handling discussions.

Second, his wages will prove difficult for most teams to match. To be clear, many teams can match the wages, the issue is the willingness to, which is linked into the final point, his form.

An in-form Aubameyang can more than command the salary he wants. When he’s at the top of his game, he’s arguably one of the greatest strikers of his generation and his performances all over Europe support that fact.

But the issue is that he hasn’t been in form for a while and that will likely put potential suitors off paying his wages, currently believed to be standing at around £250,000-a-week+.

If Arsenal were truly desperate to shift the Gabonese captain and if his relationship with Mikel Arteta really is beyond repair, then Arsenal may look to potentially subsidise his wages as they did with Mesut Özil, but given the financial implications, the club may only be interested in that as a last resort.

There is also the issue of his contract.

At the time of writing, Aubameyang’s deal does not run out until the end of next season, meaning that Arsenal may have to wait until the summer or for 12 months from now, wherein he would be free to negotiate with clubs abroad.

Arsenal will likely keep the door open and if an exceptional opportunity arrives, it seems unlikely that Arsenal would say no, even with the futures of Eddie Nketiah or Alexandre Lacazette still uncertain.

Nicolas Pépé
Perhaps the most divisive man in the Arsenal squad at the moment.

No fan can doubt the immeasurable talent that Pépé has at his disposal, the issue is more about how often he will deploy it.

Ever since his arrival from Lille for a club record £72m fee, Pépé has yo-yo’d in and out of form and has failed to set the world alight in quite the way fans would have hoped.

Of course, this is not entirely his fault. He was famously Unai Emery’s 2nd choice behind Wilfried Zaha and he was routinely limited to sub appearances under the Spaniard, a trend that was temporarily bucked under Mikel Arteta, but is now back in style.

Pépé has barely made an appearance for the club this season, though he showed brief glimpses of his quality in the team’s 5-1 rout of Sunderland, the quality of the opposition must also be taken into account.

Pépé has perhaps been the biggest casualty of Arsenal’s failure to qualify for European competitions this season, which has seen a significant reduction in his playtime and as the club looks to make every Premier League game count, especially after their disastrous start.

Despite this, Pépé seems unlikely to move in January.

For one thing, Arsenal are not blessed with a tremendous amount of squad depth on the wing and one injury could see Pépé going from 0 minutes to an extended run in the side.

The AFCON will also hamper his chances of playtime over January and February, but Pépé will be in with a chance when he returns, especially given how youngsters like Gabriel Martinelli, who plays at 100mph every game, will likely need a rest or face burnout.

The other issue is a potential lack of suitors.

While many clubs may have an interest in the Ivorian winger, few would be willing to take a chance on him mid-winter, especially with (at the time of writing) only 12 appearances in all competitions this season.

Price may also prove to be an issue. Arsenal would likely not be so blasé as to assume that they could recoup anywhere near the £72m they splashed on him, but a fee in the region of around £35m would certainly have Arsenal tempted.

But that too would leave the question of, who would be likely to pay that?

Even at a cut-price offer, Pépé does not represent the value that other wingers in the Premier League would, such as Raphina at Leeds United or even other members of the Arsenal squad.

While a move could potentially go ahead in the summer, January seems near impossible unless a truly extraordinary opportunity arises for Arsenal. For the time being, Pépé may have to continue being Arsenal’s forgotten man.

Bernd Leno
Since the arrival of Aaron Ramsdale, Bernd Leno has been a not too altogether surprising casualty of the first-team.

Ramsdale was initially thought of as being a 2nd choice goalkeeper for this season. Leno has made no real secret of his desire to see a new challenge away from Arsenal and so it seemed that Arsenal would allow Leno to see out the season before being quietly moved on next summer.

However, that has not been the case. Ramsdale has cemented his place in the Arsenal first-team and Leno shows absolutely no signs of ever being able to break back into the team.

There are several theories as to what may have caused Leno to lose his place. The most sensible being that Ramsdale, a near £30m investment for the club, represents more of what Mikel Arteta wants from his goalkeepers. While his shot-stopping and ability to play out from the back is fairly close to Leno’s, Ramsdale commands his box more, communicates better with his teammates and has a nearly unparalleled level of vision for a goalkeeper, matched perhaps only by Alisson at Liverpool and Ederson at Manchester City.

The other theory doing the rounds is that Leno had inadvertently shot himself in the foot with his unwillingness to commit his long-term future to the club. Leno seemed fairly open to the idea of a move abroad and made no secret of it, which has perhaps earned him a humbling seat on the sub’s bench.

The latter theory seems a little farfetched, but regardless of the reason, Leno is now in a position where he is no longer the club’s number 1 and at 29, he still has plenty to offer a club should they need him.

A move in January, however, seems unlikely.

While Leno himself has gone on the record saying that if his situation is not rectified by January, then he will be forced to look elsewhere, it seems unlikely that the club would be open to sanctioning the move.

If Ramsdale were to be injured, they would have no viable goalkeeper to step in and take over. Arthur Oknokwo and Karl Jakob Hein are both in and around the first-team, but both lack the required experience to really take over if need be, so unless Leno is the subject of a bid the club could truly not turn down, it seems that Leno will be staying put.

A move in the summer seems far more likely and Arsenal would likely be able to command a much higher fee for the German at that time than in the middle of the complex January window, when precious few clubs will likely be looking for a goalkeeper.

Mohamed Elneny
Though a move to Turkish side Beşiktaş has been on the cards for a while now, a January move for Mohamed Elneny seems unlikely.

For one thing, the AFCON again rears its ugly head once more. Clubs are generally less willing to take a punt on a player in the middle of the AFCON and Elneny is likely a player that most clubs would rather until the summer to sign.

The other issue is Arsenal’s squad depth. Currently, the midfield pivot of Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey is unlikely to be broken up anytime soon, but injuries can take their toll and Arsenal will need to have more midfielders to step in to lighten the load. Albert Sambi Lokonga will likely assume the mantle were one of Partey or Xhaka to drop out, but Elneny is still a capable back-up of his own. Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ impending departure to AS Roma in Serie A also means that Elneny will need to stay put for now.

Elneny’s contract expires in the summer, though Arsenal do have an optional extension clause in his contract that they may activate before then, otherwise, it seems wiser for potential suitors to wait until the summer to sign the Egyptian midfielder.

A summer departure for Elneny will mean that Arsenal are able to turn their attentions to picking up another midfield body in the summer, perhaps in the form of Tyler Adams, who is also a like-for-like replacement for Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Cédric Soares
It’s fair to say that Cédric Soares’ time with Arsenal has been something of a mixed bag.

After notching an impressive goal on his debut for the club, Cédric has since struggled to nail-down a place in the side.

Even last season, with Héctor Bellerín’s form took an unfortunate nosedive, Cédric was still unable to cement his place in the side, even though his years of Premier League experience would have proven invaluable.

Though the Portuguese fullback has shown glimpses of quality, such as when he and Nicolas Pépé linked-up so beautifully against Sunderland, the other times he has appeared, he has looked distinctly less impressive.

This is in part down to his lack of game time and the unstoppable force of Takehiro Tomiyasu, but also down to his fairly lacklustre performances when he is introduced.

Despite this, it seems unlikely that Arsenal would sanction a deal for Cédric in January. For one thing, the player has 2.5 years remaining on his contract, which means that there is no obvious reason to sell him.

The impending departure of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and the possibility of Calum Chambers also setting sail means that Arsenal would have no appropriate cover at right-back for Tomiyasu. While Ben White has proven that he can occupy that space, Mikel Arteta will be reticent to break-up the partnership that White has developed alongside Gabriel Magalhães. The departure of Sead Kolašinac means that Cédric could well see some game time on the left flank in case of an injury to Kieran Tierney and Nuno Tavares.

Cédric does look as though he could be on the move in the summer, when the market opens up a bit and his agent, Kia Joorabchian, is able to drum up interest.

The imminent arrival of the FA Cup, in which Arsenal face-off away to Nottingham Forest, will likely afford Cédric some game time, but until then, he may well have to wait until the summer for a potential escape route.

The main issue is that Arsenal are unlikely to sanction any deals unless the price is right or if they have enough time to suitably plug the gap the outgoing player leaves behind.

Arsenal don’t have the best squad in the league, but they are very well-balanced in all the areas they need to be, so selling a player means that another would need to come in to take their place.

Were Aubameyang or Eddie Nketiah to leave, Arsenal would need to source a top striker, fast. Strikers are incredibly difficult to find in the January market and it is unlikely that clubs are going to sanction deals unless a truly astronomical figure were presented.

In Arsenal’s case, they will more than likely have other players lined up to replace the outgoing and a talented crop of youngsters in the academy who can step up too, though while Arsenal fans may grow giddy at the thought of Charlie Patino making more appearances for the side, he is unlikely to be thrown into the action at such a young age.

January is also a time in which Arsenal themselves could sign players, but given the relatively difficult state of the market, especially post-COVID, Arsenal may decide to wait until the summer, before they pull the trigger on any potential deals.

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