As we enter the final fortnight of the transfer window, Arsenal fans, perhaps more than most, have the right to ask, just what is the hold up?
On the eve of Arsenal’s maiden Premier League kick off, the team enters the game with only three signings made. One is straight into the first team, one will likely start owing to an unfortunate injury crisis and the other is back-up to a pre-established player.
And yet, still, Arsenal have not still not addressed those areas that need attention. No back-up goalkeeper signed, no trustworthy right-back, a total lack of a goalscoring midfielder, no competition or depth for a creative midfielder and no new strikers, just what have Arsenal been doing all this time?
For Arsenal transfers, there are two men at the helm; Richard Garlick, Head of Football Operations and Edu, Technical Director. Given that this is Garlick’s first season with the club and he is barely a matter of months into the position, it seems unfair to be too critical of his role in the window so far, especially since fans have no clue as to what extent, if at all, he is involved, however, for Edu, questions begin to arise.
When Edu was appointed to the club’s first ever Technical Director role, fans began to question just how such a role would dovetail with then-Director of Football, Raul Sanhlleí. What was the difference between the two? Did the two work in tandem? Was Edu’s job similar to Sanllehí’s? What part does a ‘Technical Director’ play in scouting and recruitment?
As with Garlick, Edu’s first season is a little hard to be too critical of. By and large, the majority of Arsenal’s scouting and analytics was done months before Edu joined the club and Sanllehí had already begun groundwork on the signings to be made in the summer.
However, at the end of Edu’s first season, which ended with one sacked managed, a global pandemic and the club’s record-extending 14th FA Cup, it was Sanllehí who parted ways with the club.
Though Arsenal fans were perhaps a little reticent to give praise to the man who brought about Arsenal’s sudden copacetic relationship with so-called “super agents”, Arsenal fans knew that the departure of Sanllehí was a big blow to potential transfer negotiations. For all his faults, the Spaniard’s earthy and charming personality was often a hit with bosses of other clubs and was often paramount to concluding business swiftly and as close to efficiently as Arsenal can manage.
With Sanllehí gone, the burden of strengthening the team fell largely onto Edu’s shoulders. Sanllehí’s somewhat brief redundancy meant that any deals the former-Barcelona man had been working on, would need to be re-negotiated. This meant that deals for Lille’s Gabriel Magalhães and for the re-loaning of Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid would have to start again from scratch.
These delays were not Edu’s fault and his ability to conclude both deals is to be commended. Gabriel, though he frustratingly dropped repeated hints that his decision was merely a week away, was signed up for a very attractive price, a price that is looking like a bargain so far.
Elsewhere, however, Edu’s fingerprints were unmistakbly all over the deal to bring Willian from Chelsea. Though Willian was announced before Sanllehí’s subsequent departure, the rhetoric surrounding the deal suggests that Edu was its biggest advocate.
Sharing an agent with the Brazilian winger and having a pre-established relationship from their time in the Brazilian national team, the deal felt very much like Edu’s first real foray into recruitment.
The deal proved to be a total disaster for the club and though even the most pessimistic of Arsenal fans could not have predicted how badly it could have gone, it seems Arsenal, and by extension Edu, were blinded by the potential to sign a player from a local rival for free.
Of course, Willian’s disappointing Arsenal career is not the Technical Director’s fault, far from it. It’s not Edu who picks the team or the formation; it’s not Edu who hands out the tactical briefing before a game; Edu doesn’t pull the Arsenal shirt on and play the game for Willian, nor does he take the decision to persevere with the player when his poor form continues.
However, Willian’s presence at the club feels like a deal badly though through. On the obvious plus sides, Willian is a Premier League proven player, who has won just about everything there is to win in his career and has proven to be a useful player for Chelsea over the years. His penchant for deadball situations cannot be overstated either.
However, the positives were vastly outweighed by the negatives.
Arsenal fans may have many faults, but their ability to smell a rat is fairly mind-boggling. The deal had the air of a player wanting to chase one last big contract in London before retirement; his performances in recent seasons hadn’t exactly been stellar and his connection to Edu by proxy, had fans worried from the start.
The baffling thing for Arsenal fans, was how they, the man on the street, were able to spot a declining player, and yet a team of highly-trained and expensive scouts as well as a top-level football executive with a lifetime spent in the game, could not.
Another strange decision was the signing of Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, from FC Dijon. The signing was suggested to the recruitment team by goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón. Perhaps it’s fan’s naivety that led to questions being asked as to why the goalkeeping coach is able to make suggestions for transfers and then push them through, but the sentiment was still there, where was the recruitment team?
Then there was the signing of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid. Though the player was and still is a hugely impressive signing for a midtable team to make, concerns were raised as to why it took until deadline day to complete. Arsenal had known about Partey’s release clause for sometime, in fact, it had proven an obstacle the season before when Unai Emery expressed admiration for the player.
Yet, Edu, after weeks and weeks of trying and ultimately failing to get Atlético to agree to an instalment plan or any other price for the player, decided to activate the player’s release clause on deadline day. Since Partey was a priority transfer and would no doubt need time to settle into the club, amidst the celebrations, queries were again raised; if Arsenal were always going to just pay the release clause, why hadn’t they done it weeks ago?
The summer ended with a failed attempt to lure Lyon’s Houssem Aouar away from his boyhood club too. Though reports are sketchy as to why Arsenal were unable to sign the Frenchman, the fact remains that Arsenal failed to sign an important target, one the manager practically begged for and one who’s absence cost Arsenal dearly.
Given Edu’s (albeit tenuous) connection to Lyon sporting director, Juninho Pernambucano, negotiations seemed but a formality. However, Edu either failed to make the connection count or the connection was, alas, meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Jean-Michel Aulas, the club’s CEO is a hard man to negotiate with at the best of times, and any prior relationship with his colleagues made little to no difference on the outcome at all. Arsenal left empty-handed.
From there, Arsenal’s on-field performance took precedent and people did not like what they saw. The decision not to register Mesut Özil for the forthcoming season amid his ongoing feud with the club, looked an inspired one at first, however, as Willian failed to have an impact in the middle and as there were no active creative midfielders in the squad, Arsenal nosedived and crashed before Christmas.
Though form eventually picked up and Hale End graduate Emile Smith Rowe stepped up to the plate, there was a feeling of desperation for creativity. Martin Ødegaard joined in January to fill the void and Özil was bundled through the fire exit with a blanket over his head, while the club quietly continued to pay his mammoth wages during his first 6 months with Fenerbahçe.
Many may dismiss the work done to retain academy products keen to extend their stay with their boyhood clubs as easy work, however, as Chelsea have discovered to their cost, childhood affection doesn’t always swing the deal your way.
Callum Hudson-Odoi’s salary is an albatross around the neck of Chelsea and the club likely look back with hindsight that they should have sold the player to Bayern Munich, when the club tabled a £30m offer for him.
Edu and co. have not had to break the bank to retain the stars of tomorrow and the players seem all too happy to be where they are.
During the run up to the summer, Mikel Arteta and Edu spoke of their tireless work to have their recruitments for the summer ready. Groundwork was laid, scouting was done and negotiations had, informally begun.
However, now, on the eve of their inaugural Premier League game, Arsenal look woefully ill-prepared.
A failed move for Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendía was certainly an ego bruising Edu could have done without, but the weeks and weeks of negotiations with Brighton & Hove Albion, with no fewer than 5 bids being lodged for Ben White, only to then crumble and pay what was initially demanded is not a good look.
Deals have either taken too long to confirm, seem to have been badly negotiated on the fee side or have failed ot come to fruition.
Weeks of tracking Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale have, so far, reached an impasse. The Blades are totally unwilling to budge from their £30m valuation of the player and Arsenal have so far yet to reach even half of that in their offers.
Elsewhere, creativity is still a huge issue. While the renewal of Emile Smith Rowe is to be commended, Arsenal still gave no cover available for the notoriously injury-prone youngster.
Martin Ødegaard continues to um and ah over his future with Real Madrid and a move for Leicester City’s James Maddison seems even more unlikely by the day.
Players who would vastly improve the team, who have openly flirted with the club, are still not under serious consideration. Ajax’s André Onana seems to be totally dead in the water and Yves Bissouma, though the club like him a lot, hasn’t even been spoken to.
Re-ignited interest in Houssem Aouar is welcome, but seems to be more as a back-up interest if moves elsewhere fall through.
Two weeks until the end of the season and Arsenal are hardly any further forward than they were when they started. Edu’s harrying of the scouting team last summer, which saw the controversial decision to sack the extremely successful scout Francis Cagigao, seems woefully ill-advised as Arsenal have seemingly no real improvements selected for the team.
The signing of Ben White, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga are all, in their own ways, welcome additions to the team, however, White seems an unnecessary expense.
White is certainly the player Arsenal have been crying out for for a while now. Composed on the ball, quick, tactically and positional versatile and with a good eye for a pass, White ticks all the boxes the club has to replace the hastily forgotten days of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz, but his price tag and need is somewhat overstated.
Despite his natural abilities, £50m or a central defender seems excessive, especially since Arsenal have often spoken about “outsmarting the market” and being sensible with their cash reserves.
There is also the underlying feeling that White would not need to have been signed had the club not loaned out William Saliba for the third time-in-a-row.
Saliba ended last season’s Ligue 1 campaign strongly, yet, despite his performances, the defender was immediately loaned out to French side Marseille, thus prompting a need for Arsenal to sign a new central defender.
The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively placed most clubs in dire straits. The ability to shift players (something Arsenal are often mocked for) is a valuable one as teams face more and more financial restraints which prevent them from shifting deadwood.
It is therefore difficult to blame Edu for not being able to shift the likes of Sead Kolašinac, Héctor Bellerín, Alexandre Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Lucas Torreira, however, the lack of shifted players is a worrying concern.
So far this summer, only Mattéo Guendouzi (who Arsenal will not receive a fee for until next summer) and Joe Willock (who will be joining Newcastle in a £25m deal) look to be leaving.
It seems as though Edu is taking on too much work for one man. With a new sub-goalkeeper, right-back, box-to-box midfielder, attacking midfielder and striker to sign as well as nearly eight players who all need to be moved on, the worries continue to grow.
As Mikel Arteta’s men gear themselves up for their first game of the Premier League season away to Brentford, work behind the scenes continues. Edu and his team will not be dogged by Arsenal fans for the next few weeks, ready to pounce on any potential slip-up or success, the question is, is Edu the man for the job?
Arsenal will be the focus of the famous Amazon documentary series All or Nothing. The documentary will cover the inner workings of the club across the 2020/21 season, giving fans an insight into the work behind the scenes and also and the kind of preparation required for senior football.
Previous All or Nothing documentaries have focused on Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, the Brazilian national team and Tottenham Hotspur, with Mikel Arteta contributing greatly to the former during his tenure as Manchester City coach.
The documentary series grants a rare, unprecedented level of insight into the inner-workings of the club. Though fans will be treated to seeing how the players and manager prepare for games and an exclusive look at half-time teamtalks, the documentary will also show the work of other important figures at the club, such as Josh Kroenke, Vinai Venkatesham, Edu Gaspar and Per Mertesacker.
The documentary will be filmed across the course of the season and will likely be shown in its entirety at the end of the season in May, exclusively on the Amazon Prime video subscription service.
All or Nothing: Arsenal will be produced by 72 Films, executive produced by Mark Raphael, Clare Cameron and three-time BAFTA winner John Douglas.
Dan Grabiner, Head of UK Originals at Amazon Studios said: “Arsenal is a historic club going through a fascinating period, and we can’t wait to take viewers behind-the-scenes on the journey of this crucial season. All or Nothing is about intimate access to the passion and commitment behind elite sport, and in Arsenal we have the perfect subject for the next chapter. We are looking forward to Prime members around the world experiencing another Premier League season with a new club, through All or Nothing’s signature quality storytelling and access.”
While such unprecedented access to the club is certainly an enticing thought for fans, it is nevertheless a cause for concern. Documentaries of this nature are almost always a “tell-all” kind of scenario that usually leaves no stone unturned and in the case of a disappointing season, often becomes a central hub for memes and unnecessary insight into the way the team works.
There is also something sacred about the dressing room atmosphere. Mikel Arteta’s half-time team talks being broadcast for everyone to see, while fascinating, also provides people with insights into how the team works and what sort of tactics the team are likely to use, which is usually best kept behind the curtain.
Much like a magician revealing how he did his trick, some things are perhaps left behind the scenes.
We are looking forward to giving our fans around the world a unique insight into how we work day to day. We have one of the biggest global followings in the game and one consistent thing we hear from fans is their desire to see more about what happens behind closed doors at the club, All or Nothing will give our fans and sport lovers an opportunity to learn more about what makes Arsenal such a special club, our trophy laden history and our ambitions for future success.”
Mark Gonnella – Arsenal’s Media and Communications Director
However, one fascinating question remains, who will narrate the series? Manchester City’s documentary had Ben Kinglsey, where Tottenham had Tom Hardy, so who will narrate Arsenal’s?
Arsenal are not short on celebrity fans, with JAY-Z, Piers Morgan, Dido, Idris Elba, Roger Daltry, Prince Harry, Roger Waters, Mick Jagger and the Queen are all Arsenal fans, though any royal inclusion seems unlikely, if not impossible.
Arsenal have appointed Nicolas Jover from Manchester City to Mikel Arteta’s backroom staff. Jover will take over from the departing Andreas Georgson, (who joined Arsenal last summer from Brentford, alongside Carlos Cuesta from Juventus and Miguel Molina from Atlético Madrid), who is joining Swedish team Malmö FF.
Jover was initially appointed to the Manchester City backroom staff just as Mikel Arteta was preparing to leave for Arsenal and in the wake of Unai Emery’s departure.
In fact, Jover himself has been very complimentary of his former Manchester City colleague, speaking of how important Arteta was in his decision to join Manchester City, telling Sport Witness: “Mikel was very influential – He’s a real leader and a personality. To take one example, he speaks six languages, including Italian, even though he’s never lived in Italy.”
Previously, Jover had been the set-piece specialist at Brentford, seemingly setting the standard for the impressive array of coaches that the club have produced.
Jover’s résumé makes for impressive reading, having worked under a number of hugely gifted coaches such as René Girard, Rolland Courbis, Jean Fernandez and Frédéric Hantz, as well as Niko Kovač and Pep Guardiola.
Jover’s wealth of experience will likely prove useful in other areas too, having served as a Video Analyst for Université de Sherbrooke, then the Technical Director for Dynamik de Sherbrooke and later as the Head of Performance Analysis for Montpellier.
Brentford’s proficiency from set-pieces had not gone unnoticed, as it was not just Pep Guardiola who took an interest in the Brentford coach; England assistant coach, Steve Holland also visited the club to see what all the fuss was about.
Jover initially started off at Université de Sherbrooke in Canada, where he took up an interest in video analysis. From there, Jover became the Technical Director at Dynamik de Sherbrooke before he joined Montpellier and proved to be a hugely useful weapon in Montpellier’s arsenal as they claimed the league title in 2011/12.
Jover then moved to work under Niko Kovač as part of the Croatian national team and then moving on to Brentford and later Manchester City.
Former Angers midfielder, Pascal Grosbois, spoke to L’Equipe about the growing interest in specialist coaching, with Grosbois himself a set-piece coach. In the interview, Grosbois spoke of how coaches like Jover are leading something of a revolution in football.
Ligue 1 clubs do not yet see the usefulness of a coach dedicated to set pieces. While at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola did not hesitate to hire a Frenchman, Nicolas Jover. It’s a shame, because there is untapped potential.
The book grants a fascinating insight into data analysis and how the game of football has moved forward but also shows an interesting portion of how Jover had to tackle the situations facing Brentford at the time.
When Jover joined Brentford, he was joining a team that did not often play regular Championship football. The lack of tall, physical presences meant that Brentford were required to re-think their strategy. Jover would often speak to Mads Buttgereit of FC Midtjylland, Brentford’s partner club, and the two would compare notes.
Heimir Hallgrímsson, the former manager of Iceland (and who masterminded Iceland’s shock 2-1 win over England at EURO 2016) spoke of how Jover opened his eyes to the possibilities of set-pieces. Jover reportedly pointed out that the reason why teams like FC Midtjylland and Atlético Madrid were so good at set-pieces was because they practised going for the second-ball, something that most teams do not always attempt.
It is a seemingly worthy appointment to Arteta’s backroom staff. Arsenal boasted the third-best defence in the Premier League, though they did only concede an impressive 5 of their overall 39 goals from dead ball situations, the eighth highest in the league, they fared far worse in attack as of the 55 goals Arsenal scored last season, just 6 came from set-pieces (not including 6 penalties), the third lowest in the league.
Mikel Arteta seems to be looking to improve in areas that have been wakeness for Arsenal, the addition of Jover coupled with the potential signing of Brighton’s Ben White could see Arsenal offer a more formidable approach to set-piece play.
A first for the Arseache blog is an interview with Chris Wheatley! Chris, is the Arsenal correspondent for football.london, having worked for Goal.com previously.
Chris’ extensive knowledge of transfers has helped a lot of Arsenal fans navigate the various twists and turns that only silly season can bring.
What is happening with Martin Ødegaard? Have Real Madrid decided how they want to use him and Arsenal still interested in him? Arsenal want to sign Ødegaard and talks are ongoing between Real Madrid and Arsenal. My personal view is that a deal can be done this summer, but it is one that could happen towards the end of the transfer window.
What exactly is Richard Garlick’s role at the club at the moment and how does it dovetail with Edu’s role as the Technical Director? Garlick is the Head of Football Operations. His role is similar to Dick Law’s, who used to be the contract negotiator at Arsenal and was responsible for all contract negotiations and involved at the final stage of transfers.
He’s highly respected within the game and has a vast contacts book from his time at West Bromwich Albion and in his role as Premier League Director of Football.
What other targets are there in the creative midfield role besides Ødegaard? Emiliano Buendía was a target earlier in the window before his move to Aston Villa and James Maddison has appeared as a potential option, although his price remains a sticking point.
Arsenal do have a longstanding interest in Lyon’s Houssem Aouar but it remains to be seen whether they come back in for him this summer.
Has anyone made a move for Willian and how likely is it that he will leave? It’s likely that he will leave but not certain by any means. The MLS is an option for Willian but a source told me recently that ‘he’s not finished in Europe’.
One to look out for this summer.
Will Maty Ryan return? If so, what does that mean for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, will he be loaned out? There is interest there but it looks like Arsenal are searching for homegrown options right now. Rúnarsson will probably be loaned out.
You mentioned in a tweet recently about Arsenal looking at the leadership team in the squad (Aubameyang, Lacazette, Bellerín et al), does this mean Arsenal will look at appointing a new captain or will they stick with Aubameyang Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the club captain and that is not expected to change for next season.
My prediction would be Kieran Tierney being part of the leadership team along with more experienced players like Pablo Marí and Mohamed Elneny.
It will be decided closer to the new season, though.
I’d like to thank Chris for his time and I’d also like to extend a personal thank you for everything else. Before starting this blog, Chris was one of the first people I reached out to for help and advice for starting my own blog and Chris, along with the wonderful Andrew over at Arseblog, were always available for help, guidance and general tips and for that I can’t thank them enough.
It also means a lot that he took the time out of his day to answer questions for a fan blog that barely has even 40 followers on Twitter, especially when he has such a busy day himself, so thanks Chris!
The great Hugh Abbot from The Thick of It once said: “Well, that was a fucking disaster”. It’s a quote used by the character after a disastrous press conference in which he is unable to announce the big announcement he had planned and it feels very apt here as well.
This was a season that had a lot of promise. Some good early signings, key players tied down to long-term contracts, away form seemingly improving and the Kroenkes finally putting their hands into their pockets, all coming off the back of a record-extending fourteenth FA Cup for the club, how did it all go so wrong?
Let’s take a look at the individuals and see how they fared.
Name: Mikel Arteta Role: Manager Score: 5/10 In fairness to Mikel Arteta, coming into a management job for the very first time is never an easy task. Taking over one of the top clubs in world football currently going through one of the most turbulent points of it’s long and successful history is pretty much an impossible one.
The lack of a reasonable pre-season in which to prepare and some “internal factors working against us” are all valid reasons to see why Arsenal struggled to land themselves a little higher in the table.
However, Arteta did not make things easy for himself at all. Whether it be the mismanagement of Sokratis, Mesut Özil and William Saliba, massively underpreparing for games that Arsenal should have cakewalked, like Fulham at home or persisting with very out of form players like Willian, it seems that Arteta crafted a rod for his own back.
Poor in-game management has not helped either. A propensity for leaving decisions until far too late in the game to make an actual difference, a total unwillingness to play attacking football and an over-reliance on various players summed up a lot of the season’s main performances. This coupled with decisions such as failing to substitute an already booked Dani Ceballos against Villarreal shortly before his red card, seem to prove the point very well.
His mismanagement of Gabriel Martinelli and Folarian Balogun has also been somewhat baffling as well, especially when considering that the youngsters would have likely been an improvement on what was on the field.
To be fair, Arteta has done his best to try and get Arsenal to where they need to be, but the Spaniard has looked woefully out of his depth on many occasions.
There is plenty to be excited about with Arteta, but there is also a lot to be concerned about. An unwillingness to change an established formula and placing far too much trust in players who haven’t earned it isn’t going to cut the mustard next season.
Name: Bernd Leno Position: Goalkeeper Cleansheets (League): 11 Score: 8/10 Since signing for Arsenal in 2o18, Bernd Leno has fast become one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.
Following the summer’s sale of Emiliano Martínez to Aston Villa, Arsenal looked as though they may be backing the wrong horse. Age was slightly more in favour of Martínez and he was an academy graduate.
However, it is perhaps a testament to Leno’s 11 clean sheets this season that the club were right to stick to their guns. Though Martínez has done a superb job at Aston Villa, Leno has often been one of the main reasons Arsenal have finished as high as they did, which is impressive as well as worrying.
A few mishaps here and there have not done much to sour his overall performance and Arsenal’s lack of a recognisably good cup goalkeeper has meant that Leno has had to play far more than usual.
His ability to play out from the back has been a huge source of help for Arteta and his tactics. With rumours that the German wishes to leave in the summer, it could be very difficult to source a replacement as good as Leno.
Name: Héctor Bellerín Position: Right-back Cleansheets (league): 7 Goals (all comps): 1 Assists (all comps): 4 Score: 4/10 Once thought to be one of the brightest starts to come out of the Arsenal academy in years, Bellerín has been a mainstay in the Arsenal defence.
However, his form this season has been erratic to say the least. While Bellerín has never been one to rely on one trait alone, it is curious to see just how much his pace has dropped off and how little the Spaniard seems willing to use it.
It has been a very disappointing season for Bellerín, unable to keep a nailed-down place in the side and pretty much dropping consistent 3/10 performances throughout the season is only worsened by his love of a foul-throw.
It’s not been a totally poor season however, he has had some good displays here and there, most notably against Leeds at home, but those have been few and far between.
It seems likely that Bellerín will leave Arsenal this summer. PSG are rumoured to be interested and its clear to see that the pace of the Premier League will likely prove far too much for him next season.
If it turns out that this was Bellerín’s final season with Arsenal, then fans can only thank him for the job he has done for the club on and off the field but also likely won’t be too sorry to see his absence from the starting eleven.
Name: Kieran Tierney Position: Left-back Cleansheets (league): 8 Goals (all comps): 2 Assists (all comps): 5 Score: 8/10 Inarguably one of the best signings Arsenal have made in the post-Wenger era, Kieran Tierney once again has shown why Arsenal need to sign him up to a new long-term contract as soon as possible.
Tierney seems to be the kind of player that all managers dream of; quick, sharp, unafraid to tackle and deadly going forward. In fact, it seems that because of Tierney’s outstanding crossing abilities, Arsenal may even look for a more aerial threat in the upcoming transfer window.
The only downside to Tierney, is his propensity for injuries. Tierney missed 9 games this season due to injury and before Arsenal’s ill-fated Europa League campaign, was absent from the matchday squad for four matches towards the end of the campaign.
If Tierney can sort out his injury problems next season, then Arsenal may have a real issue keeping the fan-favourite at the club for much longer.
Name: Sokratis Papastathopoulos Position: Centre-back Cleansheets: N/A Goals (all comps): N/A Assists (all comps): N/A Score: N/A Despite not making a single appearance for Arsenal this season, Sokratis has been a model professional.
Owing to a bloated squad size and an unwillingess on Mikel Arteta’s part to register the Greek defender, Sokratis, like Mesut Özil, was left to train and to make the occasional run-out for the U23s.
Unlike Özil, Sokratis refused to let things get to him and was a professional until the very end of his time with the club.
While he made no appearances for the club this season, his professionalism and guidance to the younger players off the field will not be forgotten and his league title with Olympiacos is well deserved for such a professional.
Name: Gabriel Magalhães Position: Centre-back Cleansheets (league): 6 Goals (all comps): 3 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 6/10 Arsenal’s first monetary foray into the summer window, Gabriel Magalhães joined Arsenal just as patiences were waring thin. Constant talk about how he was “only a week away” from making a decision and how Manchester United were preparing a late bid for the Brazilian seemed to have Arsenal fans at their collective wit’s end.
However, the Brazilian arrived from Lille for a reported fee of £26m and has so far looked to be worth the money. A brilliant start to the season with a goal on his debut saw Gabriel become a mainstay in the Arsenal defence, especially given how much Mikel Arteta needed a left-footed defender to come in with Pablo Marí injured and Kieran Tierney being preferred at left-back.
Gabriel’s season was cut a little short with an injury, and seemed to suffer the Shkodran Mustafi treatment, whereby he had a very good start and then seemed to come off the boil after returning from injury.
To be fair, Gabriel has been a very important player in the Arsenal defence, but his form has dropped off in recent weeks and the occasional lapse of concentration has probably done very little for his confidence, but he has pushed on well.
His propensity for a long ball is perhaps not as well honed as David Luiz’s, but he is still an option if Arsenal decide to go route one again. It has also got to be said that his aerial presence is second to none and has been an invaluable asset as Arsenal look to calm things down in the air.
A solid campaign from the Brazilian but disappointing considering the blistering start he made, but Arsenal fans will be excited to see what he can bring tot he team next season.
Name: Bukayo Saka Position: Winger Goals (all comps): 7 Assists (all comps): 10 Score: 9/10 Its fair to say that Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood will likely take the majority of the headlines as England’s most exciting youngster, but Bukayo Saka is in with a shout of joining the throng.
Saka burst onto the scene with a flourish last season with an outstanding series of performances in a variety of positions. However, the new season bought a new shirt number and a more refined attacking position.
Since then, Saka has been the first-name on the team sheet. His attacking output, tactical versatility and willingness to work for the team has been an invaluable source of comfort for Mikel Arteta and his team.
The youngster has dropped off a bit in form towards the end of the season, but his performances throughout the season cannot be forgotten and he is more than deserving of his call-up to the England squad for the EUROs this summer.
Name: Dani Ceballos Position: Centre-midfielder Goals (all comps): 0 Assists (all comps): 3 Score: 4/10 Originally signed on loan during the time of Unai Emery, Dani Ceballos soon became a fan favourite. An astounding display at home to Burnley had many feeling that Arsenal had found the new Santi Cazorla.
Although the Spaniard struggled to really kick on initially under Mikel Arteta, Ceballos soon solidified a place in midfield and became one of the manager’s favoured sons, which was further solidified when Arsenal broight Ceballos back on loan for another season.
However, this time, things did not go as smoothly.
Ceballos’ form has been erratic at best and woeful at worst. Constant errors in midfield, a propensity for getting caught in possession and a disasterclass in almost every European game the team played showed just how poor his performances were.
Ceballos’ second-bookable offence against Villarreal was probably one fo the first times that Arsenal fans have actively cheered a red card, as it now meant that Ceballos was unable to play anymore matches in the competition.
Name: Alexandre Lacazette Position: Striker Goals (all comps): 17 Assists (all comps): 3 Score: 8/10 Since making the switch from Lyon nearly four years ago, Alexandre Lacazette has, in many ways, flattered to deceive. Though the Frenchman has regularly given Arsenal fans brief glimpses of his undoubted quality, he has often struggled to reach the dizzying heights that he once displayed when at Lyon.
This season however, Lacazette has looked a totally different animal. While the Andy Cole-esque requirement of four shots for every one goal is still a part of his game, Lacazette’s ability to drop deep and to cover in midfield has meant that Arsenal have had added firepower in more areas.
Lacazette has often been used in a false-none role, similar to Roberto Firmino and while this took him some time to adapt to, it has since looked like a tactical masterstroke, especially when you consider that he has finished as Arsenal’s top scorer in all competitions.
Question marks will still be raised ahead of the new season and whether or not Lacazette should remain with the club, but this season has proven that the French striker is a valuable part of the team moving forward.
Name: Mesut Özil Position: Central-Attacking Midfielder Goals (all comps): N/A Assists (all comps): N/A Score: N/A Though there were no appearances for Mesut Özil this season, it seems as though many at Arsenal will be glad to see the back of him.
Cryptic Twitter and Instagram posts have plagued the season as Özil seemed to revel in the team’s misfortunes from afar. Having fallen out of favour with the club, most likely over his unwillingness to take a cut to his staggering £350,000-a-week salary, Özil has been happy to watch the team crash and burn.
Arsenal had hoped to move Özil on in the summer, however, the club’s summer did not go fully as planned and Özil, along with Sokratis, remained at the club and were unable to be registered.
Özil’s exile from the team also started to see a strangely timed series of leaks within the club. The notoriously private and confidential club has since had many of its confidences broken as news of David Luiz and Dani Ceballos coming to blows in training and news of disgruntled players also began to leak out.
In a since deleted Twitter post, football.london reporter Chris Wheatley seemed to suggest that the flurry of leaks coming from the club were not necessarily from Özil himself, but from his agent, Dr Erkut Sögüt was responsible for them.
Özil’s time at Arsenal has officially drawn to a close, what should have been a dignified exit through the front door with his arms held aloft as the crowd treats him to one last rendition of “We’ve got Mesut Özil…”, was instead a hurried blanket over the head exit through the back to escape the baying crowd, demanding his exorbitant wages be cut from Arsenal’s rapidly growing wage bill.
Name: Martin Ødegaard Position: Central Attacking Midfielder Goals (all comps): 2 Assists (all comps): 2 Score: 7/10 A wise man once said that there is nothing worse than catching feelings for a loan player and Arsenal fans have experienced that very feeling with Martin Ødegaard.
By the time the January window rolled around, Arsenal were limping on. Their creativity was as spent as the writer’s room for the last three series of The Big Bang Theory and the team looked to be completley out of ideas.
Mesut Özil’s Dante-esque exile and the general lack of capable creative players meant that Arsenal needed to bring someone in in January. A failed summer move for Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, constant links with Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Brandt and the very unlikely move for Christopher Nkunku at RB Leipzig meant that Arsenal began to look a little further afield.
Given Real Madrid’s then-manager Zinedine Zidane seemed unkeen on handing Ødegaard much game time, the Norwegian began to seek a new adventure elsewhere.
His loan to Arsenal was exactly what Arsenal needed. The age profile was the exactly the kind of age that Arsenal’s recruitment team should be coveting and the playmaker’s thirst to prove himself meant that Arsenal may well have a gem on their hand.
And what a gem he proved to be!
Ødegaard’s performances seemed to be the shot in the arm that Arsenal needed. Though he has a slight propensity to go missing in games, it seems to be more indicative of his position, rather than his nature.
Ødegaard’s ability to pick a pass and his confidence to dribble with the ball led many to think that Arsenal had finally seen a suitable replacement for Özil.
Though his stats are hardly eye-watering stuff, they don’t tell the full story of just how important Ødegaard was to the team, and Arsenal fans always tend to have a special place in their hearts for a player who scores against Tottenham.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Ødegaard this season and whether or not Arsenal can tempt Real Madrid to sell. If he remains in Madrid, then Arsenal will likely push on for Norwich City’s Emiliano Buendía, but it is clear that Ødegaard remains a top priority for the club this summer.
Name: Lucas Torreira Position: Central Defensive Midfielder Goals (all comps): 1 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 5/10 Lucas Torreira has been a little bit unfortunate not to find himself in the Arsenal side this season. Torreira’s profile clearly does not impress Mikel Arteta as much as other midfielders, but it is still unlucky for Torreira to not remain at Arsenal, though given his season, perhaps not.
Though Torreira has hardly been ever-present for Atlético Madrid this season, he has been a useful member of their squad. Rumour has it that Atlético had planned for their new season with Torreira and Thomas Partey forming a formidable midfield pivot, but after Partey’s departure, that plan was scrapped.
Atlético seemed very upset with Arsenal’s conduct around Partey and seemed hellbent to tank Torreria’s value as a result, meaning the Uruguayan was only able to make 26 appearances in all competitions.
Despite this, Atlético fans seem to have taken a real shine to Torreira, who’s tenacity, hunger and genuine passion for the club, all the qualities that have so endeared him to Arsenal fans, seem to have won Atlético hearts.
A move to Atlético this summer seems unlikely, but it does seem likely that Torreria will be moved on this summer, but to where, remains to be seen.
Name: Willian Position: Winger Goals (all comps): 1 Assists (all comps): 7 Score: 2/10 Quite possibly the worst signing Arsenal have made since Sébastien Squillaci? What’s even harder a question to answer is how on earth Willian finished the season as Arsenal’s leading assist provider.
In fairness to Willian, the Brazilian was always on something of a hiding to nothing. The signing was pretty much universally opposed from the start and his representation in the hands of the notoriously shady Kia Joorabchian, meant that Arsenal fans were against Willian before he even put pen to paper for Arsenal.
And for the start at least, it looked as though Arsenal fans would need to eat their words. An impressive opening day performance against Fulham, which saw Willian rack up a few assists and hit the post in the process, Mikel Arteta looked vindicated.
However, as the season went on, Arteta looked increasingly like he had a rather substantial amount of egg on his face. Willian just never seemed to kick-on for Arsenal and his performances seemed to get worse and worse and worse and worse with every single week.
Much like the great Arsène Wenger, Arteta was sympathetic to a player’s poor run of form and gave Willian a chance to turn it around, much to the detriment of other players such as Reiss Nelson.
Despite the manager’s continued faith in him, Willian simply never managed to repay the manager’s trust. Eventually, Arteta had had enough and Willian was repeatedly benched.
Willian became the usual kitchen sink substitute. Usually, whenever Arsenal found themselves down and needing a goal, Arteta would desperately fling Willian onto the pitch in the hope that the Brazilian would “come good”, however, Willian just seemed on a totally different planet to his teammates.
Despite an absolute peach of a goal against West Brom, Willian failed to score a single goal from open-play for Arsenal, registering less open-play goals than Liverpool goalkepeer Alisson Becker and equalling his tally for the season.
Willian, mercifully, looks set to leave this summer, with interest from Inter Miami reportedly being favoured by Willian. Rumours persist of Arsenal demanding around £15m for the winger, but not only does that seem highly unlikely, but any bid that allows Arsenal to shift the former-Chelsea man is likely to be accepted readily as the club look to be well shot of him.
Name: Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson Position: Goalkeeper Cleansheets (league only): 1 Score: 3/10 The signing of Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson has to go down as one of the most bizarre signings in recent memory.
Tasked with sourcing a substitute goalkeeper to replace Emiliano Martínez in the wake of his £20m move to Aston Villa, Arsenal decided to turn to goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón to nudge them in the right direction.
Though the coach initially suggested Brentford’s David Raya, Arsenal were unable to lure the Spaniard away from the Championship side. Instead, Arsenal turned to Pavón’s second suggestion, which turned out to be Rúnarsson, who was currently the out-of-favour second or third choice goalkeeper at Ligue 2 club FC Dijon.
It has been fair to say that Rúnarsson has looked and played very much like the out-of-favour second or third choice goalkeeper at a second division side.
The Iceland goalkeeper has looked shaky on many occasions, beatable and doesn’t exactly seem to spark confidence in his defenders with his somewhat blabbering instructional play, all of which culminated in a humiliating performance for Rúnarsson in Arsenal’s 1-4 defeat to Manchester City in the League Cup.
Though Rúnarsson has reportedly impressed in training, it’s hard to see him having a particularly long or eventful career at the club. The rumopurs are that the club are looking to loan Rúnarsson out, but honestly, a permanent deal may be a better solution.
Name: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Position: Striker Goals (all comps): 15 Assists (all comps): 4 Score: 3/10 One of the more baffling dips in form has to come in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the club captain. Having been absolutely on fire the previous season, Arsenal were obviously keen to tie their captain down to a new contract, which Aubameyang promptly signed, ending months of speculation and picking up a reported £300,000-a-week in the process.
As seems to be par-for-the-course with those who sign new contracts with Arsenal, Aubameyang’s form took a complete nose dive soon afterwards.
Though his form can likely be assigned to Mikel Arteta’s senseless stubbornness to play Aubameyang out wide rather than through the middle, Aubameyang has not exactly been showing the world why he should be playing there.
Some truly awful displays this season have given Arsenal fans a taste of why bigger contracts can prove an issue for players, as if Mesut Özil’s situation was not warning enough.
However, some elements have been beyond either Arsenal or Aubameyang’s control. The forward’s nose dive in form happened around the same time as the rest of the team’s poor run of results and family issues off the field and a later diagnosis of malaria has perhaps added a few caveats to Aubameyang’s poor season.
What has been in his grasp, is his conduct off it. So bad is his timekeeping, that Mikel Arteta put his foot down and benched the captain for Arsenal’s home match in the North London Derby, which did not paint Aubameyang in a good light, especially as Arsenal showed out comfortable winners on the day.
It’s likely that this season was merely a blip in an otherwise outstanding career for the forward who will undoubtedly look to kick on next season, but this was definitely a season to forget for Aubameyang.
Name: Ainsley Maitland-Niles Position: Central Midfielder Goals (all comps): 0 Assists (all comps): 2 Score: 4/10 After a brilliant ending to the previous season and a decent start in the Community Shield win over Liverpool, Ainsley Maitland-Niles looked like he could become a man reborn under Mikel Arteta.
Arsenal resisted the advances of many clubs who looked to sign the player, but in hindsight, Arsenal would perhaps have done well to have accepted the offers that came in.
The old argument of whether or not Maitland-Niles is better suited to the centre of midfield or either side of the defence soon reared its ugly head and in this instance, there would be only one winner out of Maitland-Niles and Arteta and it wouldn’t be Maitland-Niles.
In search of more game time and a more solidified position in the middle of the park, Maitland-Niles left the club in January to join West Bromwich Albion on loan, where his performances hardly faired any better, though to be fair, it was a tall order to stand out in a relegation team.
With the new season ahead, it seems likely that Maitland-Niles will not be at Arsenal next season, whether this is down to a potential loan move or a more permanent solution remains to be seen, but Maitland-Niles will know that there are places to be won in this team, but does he have the patience to wait for them?
Name: Rob Holding Position: Defender Cleansheets (league only): 11 Goals (all comps): 0 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 7/10 “I’m sorry he did not cost £55m, so he cannot be good”, the words of Arsène Wenger as Rob Holding turned in a performance of the highest order against Leicester City in 2016 had journalists reeling and fans delighted.
Since that time, Holding’s time at Arsenal has been somewhat disappointing and was unfairly interrupted by a serious rupture to his cruciate ligament.
Given Arsenal’s woeful defensive record towards the end of the previous season, Holding, like Maitland-Niles, would need to be patient and wait for a place in the team and unlike Maitland-Niles, Holding seemed prepared to do just that.
Holding has found himself more or less the first choice right-sided defender this season given David Luiz’s absence from the side and has very much looked the part.
Though Holding’s form took a noticeable dip towards the end of the season, he has been one of Arsenal’s better performers this season and has been one of the many reasons for Arsenals brilliant defensive record this season.
Name: Cédric Soares Position: Right-Back Cleansheets (league only): 2 Goals (all comps): 0 Assists (all comps): 2 Score: 5/10 At one point, Cédric Soares looked like he may be the competition for the right-back position that Arsenal have needed for a while.
Given the fact that Héctor Bellerín’s form has been erratic to say the least, Cédric looked to be the potential permanent solution to the problem.
But then, like so many in the Arsenal team this season, Cédric seemed unable to move on from his early promise. His propensity for every single cross to be floated some twenty feet above the tallest attacker’s head and his annoying R1+X passes which often led to midfielders having to chase their own touches, meant that Cédric found himself out of favour.
Cédric still provides useful, if not dependable cover, but if Arsenal are serious about returning to the Champions League next season, then they will need a new right back, as Cédric is almost certainly not up to the task full-time.
Name: Thomas Partey Position: Central Midfielder Goals (all comps): 0 Assists (all comps): 3 Score: 6/10 It was a welcome surprise on Transfer Deadline Day when the elusive and almight ArsenalBell informed the world that Arsenal had met Thomas Partey’s suspiciously low £45m release clause to pry him away from Atlético Madrid.
The football world stood in shock as it seemed bizarre that Arsenal, in their current state, seemed to have tempted away one of the biggest talents in Europe.
Partey’s season has been, much like the rest of the team, hit and miss. Partey struggled initially as frequent and niggling injury problems made it difficult for the Ghanian to really show what he was capable of.
However, there have been glimpses of just how much quality Partey possesses. Performances against Manchester United, Chelsea and Rapid Wien showed just how important Partey could be to the team going forward.
His long-range passing is utterly mesmeric, with even opposition players seeming to watch in awe as many of his passes are drifted a good 60 yards straight to the attacker’s feet.
Going into next season, Arsenal will need to keep Partey fit and will need to work on his shooting, which seems to be alarmingly poor for a professional football player who plays in the Premier League.
Overall, it was a decent season from him and Arsenal fans will be excited to see just what he can bring to the team next season.
Name: Nicolas Pépé Position: Winger Goals (all comps): 16 Assists (all comps): 5 Score: 7/10 Living up to a huge price tag is always a near impossible feat for a player. Regardless of Pépé’s performances, it’s always unfair to judge him as a £72m anything, as the player does not set the price tag, however, Arsenal fans have got a right to demand soemthing of a return on investment.
Since Mikel Arteta has come to the club, Pépé has looked significantly better than he did under Unai Emery, who clearly did not want the player.
The issue for Pépé for a while has been his lack of defensive cover. While fans will always talk about Pépé’s need for a decent right-back to aid him in his attacks, so too do the defenders need his help when the going gets tough.
This is perhaps where Pépé has thrived the most this season and why his form has seen such an upturn.
However, despite the impressive numbers that Pépé has been putting up in his attack, there is still something distinct missing from Pépé’s repertoire. Though he is undoubtedly fearless when it comes to taking on defenders, there is an air of inevitability about seeing his dribbles leading up a blind alleyway which leads to the inevitable and frustrating back pass.
If Pépé can control his need to take on every defender he comes near, then Arsenal have got a real player on their hands. His dribbling is appreciated, but sometimes, there are better options available.
If Arsenal can recruit well this summer, then Pépé may just kick into the next gear next season.
Name: Shkodran Mustafi Position: Central Defender Cleansheets (league only): 0 Goals (all comps): 1 Assists (all comps): 0 Score: 3/10 There was a time when £35m for a defender was considered straight lunacy. Very few defenders ever transfer for such money and to be seen spending such a figure on a defender almost always raised some eyebrows.
But we’re living in a post-Virgil van Dijk and post-Harry Maguire world and large(r) fees for a defender are now considered fairly commonplace. Despite this, the benefit of hindsight will allow most Arsenal fans to consider that any amount of money spent on Shkodran Mustafi was money very badly spent.
Mustafi has cut something of a frustrating figure in his time at Arsenal. While there is clearly bundles of talent, there is also a huge amount of recklessness and brainless moments.
This season was hardly a career high for Mustafi as Arsenal seemed to do their very best to to keep him out of the team where possible. Such was the form of both Rob Holding and David Luiz, Mustafi foudn it tough to break back into the team, but whenever he did, there was hardly much to be excited about.
His obvious ability to play out from the back is almost always usurped by his terrible, often lackadaisical defending and moments of total lapses of concentration.
Mustafi’s poor form saw both player and club seek an early exit for the German World Cup winner and Mustafi soon departed the club for Schalke 04 in Germany, where he has since been released…six months later.
Name: Calum Chambers Position: Central Defender Cleansheets (league only): 2 Goals (all comps): 0 Assists (all comps): 3 Score: 6/10 Despite nearly seven years passing since his £16m switch from Southampton, Calum Chambers has still yet to nail down a starting position and has still yet to nail down just which position is best for him.
Given the topsey-turvey nature of Arsenal’s 2020/21 season, it was natural that Chambers would be given ample opportunities to prove himself and by and large, Chambers did just that.
With Héctor Bellerín’s form erratic and Cédric Soares blowing hot and cold, there was plenty of time for Chambers to show what he could do. Chambers have often found himself deployed at right-back and this season was no different.
With Ainsley Maitland-Niles unwilling to play in the position and Arsenal in near-desperate need for cover, Chambers stepped into the mix and produced some promising performances.
His match against West Ham was one that had Arsenal fans on the edge of their seat as he and Martin Ødegaard really began to punish West Ham’s errors. His link-up play with Nicolas Pépé has proven to be a real God-send for the Ivorian and Chambers looks to have greatly improved in certain areas.
That’s not to say that Chambers is the perfect player, far from it. He still looks a weakness in the team, especially when faced with a competent winger and his crossing, while sometimes brilliant, are often hit with the same technique as Cédric Soares as all his crosses are either perfect or some twenty feet too high.
It’s unlikely that Chambers will be Arsenal’s starting right-back next season, unless Edu really drops the ball in the summer, but he has done enough to give Mikel Arteta and his staff something to think about.
Name: Pablo Marí Position: Central Defender Cleansheets (league only): 4 Goals: 1 Assists: 0 Score: 7/10 Given Mikel Arteta’s penchant for left-footed players, Pablo Marí’s arrival at Arsenal was definitely a sign that Arteta would be backed in his vision. While plenty of names were thrown around, Arteta identified with Marí more than others, no doubt having been familiar with his profile at Manchester City.
However, Marí was injured in the first game back after Project Restart (bizarrely enough, against his former club Manchester City) and Arsenal fans were left to patiently wait and see how he would perform.
Marí made his return this season in the Europa League tie against Rapid Wien. In that time, new boy Gabriel Magalhães had solidified his position at centre-back, so Marí was reduced to Europa League appearances instead.
However, following Gabriel’s injuries and drop in form, Marí was able to nail-down a more prominent role in the team and seemed to repay the manager’s faith. While there is not perhaps enough there to keep Marí playing full-time, he certainly looks to be very very solid back-up for Arsenal moving forward.
His ability in the air is matched only by his ability with the ball at his feet. Marí is an imposing and calculating figure and is perhaps closer to Per Mertesacker than anyone Arsenal have had since. With him and David Luiz at the back, Arsenal were almost guaranteed to never concede from the air.
Name: David Luiz Position: Central Defender Cleansheets (league only): 3 Goals (all comps): 2 Assists (all comps): 0 Score: 6/10 Shrouded in controversy as yet another Kia Joorabchian client, David Luiz has been an unpopularity good signing for Arsenal.
To explain, Arsenal fans have never really been in favour of the defender. While his qualities are undoubted, the fact that he came from Chelsea and the fact that he was more in the mould of Shkodran Mustafi than anything else, Arsenal fans never really took to David Luiz.
Despite this, Arsenal have looked a significantly better outfit with him in the team than out of it. Though there is still the likelihood of a patented Shkodran Mustafi-esque brainfart moment, David Luiz has still been a welcome addition to the team, especially as Arsenal have opted for more long balls over the top and playing out from the back tactics, both of which Luiz suits.
It’s clear to see the impact that he has had off the field as well. The entire Arsenal tram seemed to be genuinely moved to see him leave and gave him a nice send off on the pitch of the Emirates Stadium.
Whatever his flaws, it’s fair to say that Arsenal got more than the £8m they spent on him last summer.
Name: Reiss Nelson Position: Winger Goals (all comps): 1 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 2/10 Arsenal fans have every right to enquire as to what has happened to Reiss Nelson this season.
Very few wingers have broken into the Arsenal team with as much promise as Nelson did, however, it’s fair to say that nelson has never truly delivered on that promise.
The odd thing has been how Nelson has still been unable to make his way into the Arsenal side this season, despite the woeful attacking output from the team.
Granted, much of his path has been blocked by the hapless Willian, but Nelson is often nowhere to be seen in the Arsenal matchday squad.
Rumours of a falling out with Mikel Arteta have plagued the /r/Gunners subreddit and Twitter alike, but the true reason for his alienation is not widely known. Quite why Arteta refuses to play Nelson is unknown to us.
Despite this, in the few games that Nelson has played, there has been very little to be truly excited about. While there is still the undoubted promise that he showed early in his career, he seems very unlikely to really push on much further and it would be very surprising to see him at the club next season.
Name: Mohamed Elneny Position: Central Midfielder Goals (all comps): 3 Assists (all comps): 0 Score: 6/10 With Arsenal’s stagnant midfield, it’s not totally surprising to see Mohamed Elneny return to the team. With Dani Ceballos falling out of favour and Thomas Partey’s injury woes, Elneny has been a useful back-up option for Arsenal.
Elneny is hardly the most exciting player on the field, but he’s a solid addition to the midfield if needed. His propensity for passing either sideways or backwards is a concerning aspect to his play, as is his penchant for screaming at the top of his lungs for the ball, only to either be marked or mis-control the pass and lose possession.
All in all, Elneny has been very useful to the team, his goals have been welcomed and his tactical versatility is certainly more useful than Arsenal fans would likely care to admit.
Name: Joe Willock Position: Central Midfielder Goals (all comps): 3 (8 on loan) Assists (all comps): 3 Score: 5/10 What happens next? That is the immortal question for Joe Willock.
His performances at Arsenal were fairly impressive early on. Three goals in the Europa League and a number of useful showings would have likely caused a selection headache for Mikel Arteta and his team, but for whatever reason, Willock’s form never truly translated to the Premier League.
At a loss for game time, Willock was hastily loaned out to Newcastle United in January, where he seemed to set the league alight. With more game time and more freedom, Willock has thrived under Steve Bruce, grabbing eight goals in eight games and shattering various records along the way.
While Willock’s impressive form has no doubt raised some eyebrows at London Colney, it seems that Arsenal may look to cash in on Willock sooner rather than later.
Newcastle are reported to be circling, but whether they can raise the necessary funds, remains to be seen.
Name: Mattéo Guendouzi Position: Central Midfielder Goals (all comps): 2 Assists (all comps): 3 Score: 4/10 It’s fair to say that Mattéo Guendouzi’s time at Arsenal is up. A total breakdown in the relationship between player, manager and club means that Guendouzi will likely be looking for an exit this summer.
Though Mikel Arteta said that Guendouzi would be able to make his way back into the team, that has not been the case. No sooner had the transfer window opened, than Guendouzi was whisked away to Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga. While the official line may be that Guendouzi needs to earn back some match practice, in reality, Arteta wanted him gone long ago.
His performances in the Bundesliga don’t seem to have clubs clamouring at the door either. While 2 goals and 3 assists is a decent return for a player in his position, his attitude problems appear to have persisted at Hertha Berlin.
It’s thought that Guendouzi will be sold this summer, with Marsellie reportedly interested in a £15m fee for the midfielder, but it seems that both club and player cannot wait to be shot of one-another.
Name: Eddie Nketiah Position: Striker Goals (all comps): 6 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 4/10 Eddie Nketiah’s season has been a somewhat bizarre tale. While his talent is undoubted and his goal returns are fairly promising, there seems to be a real lack of edge about Nketiah. It’s a conundrum.
Nketiah has looked to be an important player to bring on when chasing a goal, especially if his goals against West Ham and Fulham are anything to go by, but there seems to be an air of inevitability about his coming onto the field. You almost always feel that he will have very little impact.
Perhaps this is a little harsh on Nketiah because there are plenty of things to be excited about, but he clearly doesn’t fit Mikel Arteta’s style of play.
It has also got to be said that Nketiah’s trademark finger to the ear celebration at home to Fulham after equalising in the dying embers of the match in an empty stadium perhaps showed a little more arrogance than he is warranted.
West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion are rumoured to be the player’s biggest admirers and Arsenal are likely to want upwards of £15m for Nketiah and it seems unlikely that he will be at the Emirates next season.
Name: Sead Kolašinac Position: Left Back Cleansheets (Premier League only): 0 Goals: 0 (1 on loan) Assists: 0 (1 on loan) Score: 3/10 Sead Kolašinac’s Arsenal career has taken something of a nose-dive in recent years. Signed initially under Arsène Wenger to play in the back-three system that Arsenal were playing at the time, Arsenal have since switched from this formation and Kolašinac has found himself out of position very often.
With Kieran Tierney’s repeated injury woes, Kolašinac looked to be a dead cert to cover for the Scotsman, but so poor has his form been, that Mikel Arteta seems totally unwilling to throw him into any match that Arsenal are not already winning or guaranteed to win (which is not very much these days).
A mid-season loan back to his favourite club of Schalke did not seem to end particularly well as he and Shokdran Mustafi (who also joined him at the club) were both chased from the stadium by angry fans.
While it was thought that he would be able to revitalise his career at Schalke, the club recently announced that he would not be remaining. With one year remaining on his Arsenal deal, he will return to the club as Arsenal look to find a new home for the Bosnian left-back, unless they can agree on a mutual termination, as they did with Sokratis and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Name: Emile Smith Rowe Position: Central Attacking Midfielder Goals (all comps): 4 Assists (all comps): 7 Score: 9/10 In terms of a debut season, there are probably few as impressive as Emile Smith Rowe’s.
While “debut season” is perhaps something of a misnomer as he had made 12 appearances for the Arsenal first team prior to this season, it’s not inaccurate to say that this was the season were he was more prominently featured.
Following a fairly humiliating and tepid defeat away to Everton, Arsenal headed into their match against Chelsea with trepidation. The team had looked very uncreative in recent weeks and the lack of Mesut Özil-esque creators in the team was a worry for everyone. However, Emile Smith Rowe was given a surprising start ahead of the match and turned in one of the best performances by a player seen a long time.
From there, Smith Rowe has been nothing short of incredible. It is perhaps a shame that Martin Ødegaard’s apperance meant that he was pushed out wide, but still, Smith Rowe rose to the challenge magnificently.
With Arsenal’s rumoured pursuit of Norwich’s Emiliano Buendía, Smith Rowe will be hoping that he doesn’t see more of his game time affected, but with hopes of a new deal being signed, it’s clear to see that Arsenal have got a bonafide gem on their hands and one who can and is complimenting Bukayo Saka beautifully.
Name: Mathew Ryan Position: Goalkeeper Cleansheets (league only): 1 Score: 5/10 It’s always lovely to see a genuine Arsenal fan join the club. While he may only have been brought in to save Arsenal from having to watch Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson for much longer, it was genuinely heart-warming to see Maty Ryan line up in the Arsenal team.
He seemed to have a good command of his box and a very good understanding of languages, which made things a lot easier for his teammates, regularly flitting between English and Portuguese when needed.
He does not quite command the same trust from fans that Leno does or Martínez before him, but he was a solid enough back-up for the time he was there and if Arsenal can sign him permanently in the summer as back up to Leno or whomever may come in to replace him should the German shotstopper leave, then it would be even better.
Name: Granit Xhaka Position: Central Midfielder Goals (all comps): 1 Assists (all comps): 2 Score: 8/10 This season was perhaps the real showing of the Granit Xhaka Arsenal have needed for a while now.
Perhaps it’s the fact that he had a midfield partner who genuinely complimented him as well as Santi Cazorla had for a few months or maybe it was the fact that he seemed to mature somewhat, but this season showed just how important Xhaka can be.
Though the experiment of playing him at left-back in Kieran Tierney’s absence was always going to end in tears, he has been a rock in midfield. His short-range passing is perhaps not the level of the aforementioned Santi Cazorla, but his ability to play a ball to feet from long-range is complimented as well by Thomas Partey and is near unrivalled.
There are still moments of petulance and hotheadedness that have earned him a lower mark than he perhaps deserves, but he has been outstanding for Arsenal this season and his ability to coach the players through the game has been a truly brilliant asset to the team.
Rumour has it that he will be leaving for Roma in the summer and Arsenal may find it difficult to replace the Xhaka we’ve just seen.
Name: Gabriel Martinelli Position: Attacker Goals (all comps): 2 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 7/10 Gabriel Martinelli’s comparatively poor season from last year is perhaps down more to mismanagement than anything else. After such a bright start to his Arsenal career, it was cruelly silenced by a long-term injury.
Martinelli has since returned to the side and has looked every bit the player Arsenal had from the get-go. His tenacity and his seemingly never-ending bursts of speed and agility make him one of the biggest assets to the team in recent memory.
All the more baffling, is why on earth Mikel Arteta doesn’t start him more often. Perhaps the form of Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pépé and Emile Smith Rowe has been too much to tamper with, but the mismanagement of the teenager has been cruel to watch.
It is though that Arsenal see his long-term future through the middle and while he didn’t particularly flourish in the role against Fulham, he has shown glimpses that he can play anywhere.
Arsenal fans will be hoping to see more of the talented teen next season.
Name: Folarian Balogun Position: Striker Goals (all comps): 2 Assists (all comps): 1 Score: 6/10 While his above stats may read two goals, that’s only for the senior team. In the Academy team, Folarian Balogun has a whopping 9 goals and 3 assists.
Tipped to be the next big thing at Arsenal, Balogun showed just what he was capable of with goals against both Molde and Dundalk in the Europa League.
It’s baffling that Balogun has not been given more chances ot shine in the team, especially when goals were thin on the ground for a while and towards the end of the campaign as Arsenal began to prioritise the Europa League.
It is thought that Arteta was not overtly keen on playing Balogun until he signed a new contract with the club. When he did finally put pen to paper, he was still nowhere to be seen.
Rumours around the club suggest that Balogun will be given a more enhanced role next season, and considering the lacklustre firepower on show this season, he may not have much in the way of competition.
Best game: West Bromwich Albion 0-4 Arsenal Worst game: Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa Best player: Emile Smith Rowe Worst player: Willian Most immediate attention: Creative midfield Grade: E
Mazzioti shares a close personal relationship with Arsenal’s Technical Director Edu, which gives an insight into why the Brazilian was appointed. Mazziotti will replace Jordan Reece, who is departing for Liverpool.
It was thought that former Arsenal physiotherapist, Colin Lewin would return to replace Reece, however, Edu changed his mind at the eleventh hour to appoint Mazziotti. In fact, following the departure of Arsène Wenger and the predicted appointment of Mikel Arteta, it was thought that Lewin would remain at the club, however, following Ivan Gazidis’ change of heart, Unai Emery was appointed instead and Lewin was subsequently let go as Emery brought in his own staff.
Mazziotti worked extensively with Edu at Corinthans and also with the Brazilian national side. Mazziotti gained a lot of international recognition after his work with Neymar was deemed pivotal in getting the superstar fit for the World Cup.
Following his work Neymar, it can come as no surprise that Mazziotti was seconded to French champions Paris Saint-Germain. However, despite Mazziotti’s reputation with the Brazilian national side, he has been let go as part of a backroom revamp with the French side, who are keen to decrease the number of injuries in the squad, though Arsenal fans should rest easy in this regard, as it is widely regarded that PSG’s Performance Manager Martin Buchheit, thought to be the chief culprit in this regard.
It was thought that Mazziotti would have started earlier in the season, given that his link to the Arsenal job has long been rumoured, however, Arsenal were unable to confirm the Brazilian’s arrival until 2021, amodst the COVID-19 pandemic and PSG’s own reluctance to let such an important member of their staff leave midway through the season, especially when pressure was noticeably mounting on manager Thomas Tuchel, who was recently sacked, likely allowing Mazziotti the chance to leave.
Though not quite the dip into the transfer market that Arsenal fans were expecting so early on, it is however, a very welcome addition to the Arsenal backroom staff.
Since the departure of Arsène Wenger in 2018, Arsenal have been adamant about adopting a continental backroom model. Where the all-powerful Wenger assumed many roles in his time at the club, Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis became aware how potentially damaging this state of affairs could be.
Given that Wenger was the club’s most successful manager and had the full backing of both the board and the owner Stan Kroenke, it would be difficult to extricate Wenger from many of the positions that he had near autonomous power over.
However, in the final few months of Wenger’s reign, Arsenal began to slowly but surely bring in new faces to take some of the responsibility away from the Frenchman. Sven Mislintat was brought in as Arsenal’s new Head of Recruitment and Chief Scout, displacing Steve Rowley and Raül Sanllehí was brought in as Head of Football Relations.
Following Wenger’s departure, Arsenal appointed Unai Emery as Head-Coach on 23rd May 2018. Arsenal were very specific as to what the Spaniard’s job would entail. Emery would be responsible for what happened on the field and Gazidis, Mislintat and Sanllehí would deal with everything off it.
Since then, Arsenal have reverted more to type. Edu, Arsenal’s Technical Director, has shouldered much of the responsibility that Sanllehí had in his time at the club, Ivan Gazidis has been succeeded by Vinai Venkatesham, Tim Lewis has replaced the outgoing Sir Chips Keswick, as a non-executive director on the board and Mikel Arteta took over from Unai Emery as the head-coach.
But Arteta’s role has changed. In the wake of a record-extended fourteenth FA Cup win and a Community Shield win, just nine months into his first ever coaching role, Arsenal have seen fit to give him the title of manager.
Though the difference in terms of the outward persona won’t change too much, the impact off the field is extremely important.
While Emery certainly had a say in what happened regarding transfers and was even known to speak to new signings in an effort to convince them to ply their trade at Arsenal, the transfers were generally managed by a central committee of Gazidis (later Venkatesham), Mislintat (later Cagigao before he too left the club), Sanllehí, Huss Fahmy (contracts negotiator) and later Edu, as well as Emery himself.
In the end, it became apparent that it was a pretty abhorrent case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and often resulted in a number of frustrating cases for Emery.
For one, Nicolas Pépee was preferred over Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, David Luiz was brought in instead of the far more expensive Harry Maguire and a pursuit of Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey (whom Arsenal still hold a vested interest) was abandoned in pursuit of other targets.
Emery did occasionally get his way, Denis Suárez was loaned to Arsenal on Emery’s insistence, though that transfer blew up pretty astonishingly and is generally considered to be one of the worst transfers in the club’s history.
Emery was also backed in his treatment of Mesut Özil, as too was Arteta, however, the role of Head Coach seemed to weigh heavily on Emery, who craved more influence over the decisions made for the team.
It perhaps speaks to the board’s lack of trust in Emery, that Arteta was handed the reigns of power so quickly, but there are also several other undeniable facts.
In the wake of the aforementioned COVID-19 pandemic, Arsenal made fifty-five staff redundant, including Sanllehí, which has perhaps created an opening for Arteta to seize more power and with his ever-growing profile in the game and astonishing performances, it’s difficult to see why Arsenal wouldn’t want to tempt Arteta with more power.
Edu’s recent harrying of the scouting department in favour of a more analytics-based approach has also led to Arsenal favouring a smaller scouting team operating together, which means that Arsenal need an exceptional recruitment strategy moving forward.
While Edu has perfected a new recruitment strategy with Head of Academy Per Mertesacker, he and Arteta will now work on refining Arsenal’s senior recruitment processes and will work together to identify problem areas and to improve the squad.
Wenger’s departure led to a power vacuum, in which every executive scrambled to retain or seize power, which seemed to see Sanllehí spinning multiple plates at a time. With Arteta now in place as manager, the club can breathe easy that they have (hopefully) avoided another mad dash for power and that the hierarchy can begin to flourish without departures or appointments.
The news is likely to prove a boost to the club heading into the Premier League season as well. Arsenal are the league’s first kick-off, with an away game to Fulham Athletic and the news that Arteta has increased his influence over the team will likely be a source of great comfort to the fans and the players and with the imminent announcement of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new contract, it seems as though Arsenal have plenty to be excited about for the forthcoming season.
In their place, Arteta has named Carlos Cuesta from Juventus, Miguel Molina from Atlético Madrid and Andreas Georgson from Brentford.
It had been announced towards the end of last season, that Arteta was looking to bolster the ranks behind the scenes and focus on replacing any departing coaches, though it seems as though Arteta wished to wait to see what would happen with his current coaching staff before immediately sourcing their replacements.
Carlos Cuesta Cuesta worked at Atlético Madrid between 2014 and 2018, before making the move to Juventus in 2019.
Cuesta’s story is an inspirational one. He was the youngest coach at Atlético Madrid before making the switch to Italy and initially found work through Twitter and has met a number of high-profile coaches, including Pep Guardiola and even tried to join José Mourinho’s coaching staff, though he never received a response.
Another interesting part of Cuesta’s story is his relationship with Mikel Arteta. The duo have already met, with Cuesta saying: “I highlight Mikel Arteta. He will be a great coach, he was also able to verify the importance of details in elite training sessions and in-game analysis. These teams have very little time between games.”
Cuesta’s social media excursions found him working with the Atlético Madrid youth teams, usually dubbed “the children’s team”, a step prior to youth level, and generally the age that youngsters begin their affiliations with the team.
After working with Atlético for four years, Cuesta moved to Juventus and was the U17s Assistant Coach as the team went on a remarkable run of fourteen wins in their final fifteen games, the only anomaly being 2-2 draw at home to Parma.
It is likely that Cuesta’s aforementioned relationship with Mikel Arteta has likely proven fruitful in his hiring to Arsenal, but the Spaniard will want to show his work on the training field as well.
Miguel Molina Little is known of Molina and his work so far. The Spaniard joins Mikel Arteta’s side from Atlético Madrid, where he was he held two positions, one as a general coach and the other as the High-Performance Academy Coach.
Molina’s specialisation seems to have been centred around injuries and injury-prevention, an area that Arsenal could do with a lot of support in, as Arsenal have already lost players such as Laurent Koscielny, Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding, Héctor Bellerín, Pablo Marí and Gabriel Martinelli to long-term injuries over the past two years.
Molina has also had two publications in his time as well with:
Optimization of Individual Performance and Development of the Game Model: Analysis and Methodological Orientation — November 2016
Methodological Analysis of the Decision-Making Process — September 2017
No doubt these presentations and his experience as the High-Performance Academy Coach will have been of interest to Arteta and Technical Director Edu, especially as Arsenal look to integrate more youngsters into the first team, and with Ljungberg’s departure, Arsenal will want to focus on improving their youngsters just as much as the senior squad.
Andreas Georgson Georgson joins Arsenal from Brentford, joining former Brentford coach Iñaki Caña Pavon, who joined up with Arteta in December.
Georgson’s main designation at Brentford was as a set-piece specialist, focusing mainly on improving Brentford’s defensive and their attacking shape in these positions.
Georgson was originally a youth coach with Swedish side Malmö FF and also had stints as the team’s Head of Youth Scouting and also managed the U17s and U21 sides, before finally working as the Assistant Manager for the senior side.
Brentford noticed that they were conceding a very high number of goals from set-piece situations and as Thomas Frank’s side pushed for promotion into the Premier League, Georgson was hired. The effects were not instantaneous, but there was an unmistakable change in shape and rigidity to Brentford’s set-piece play and Georgson’s appointment saw Brentford reduce their expected goals ratio (xG) by 0.12 in the wake of his arrival.
Though Arsenal’s set-piece record under Unai Emery was unusually impressive, given Emery’s disastrous end to his tenure, Arsenal have lacked the kind of influence that Juan Carlos Carcedo brought to the Arsenal defence since Emery has left, with Arsenal conceding over 45% of their goals from set-piece situations.
All three of the coaches appointed by Arteta are very young, with Cuesta and Molina aged 24 and Georgson aged 35, Arteta himself is the youngest coach in the Premier League, aged only 38.
Though these coaching appointments are all wrapped up, there is still a feeling that Arsenal will complete a deal for Bruno Mazziotti, who is the current Head Physio at Paris Saint-Germain and who also worked with Edu, during his time with Corinthians.
Meanwhile, on the field, Arsenal are also hoping to wrap up deals for Gabriel Magalhães from Lille and a new deal for captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, having already confirmed a deal to sign Willian from Chelsea.