20/21 First Team General Transfers

Sead Kolašinac Re-Joins Schalke 04

Sead Kolašinac has re-joined German side Schalke 04 on loan for the remainder of the 2020/21 season, with the option to make the move permanent if Schalke remain in the Bundesliga. 

The move will see Kolašinac return to the Bundesliga, a league where the Bosnian was considered to be one of the top performers, even appearing in the Bundesliga Team of the Season, before making the switch to North London. 

Kolašinac was made available for sale in the summer, as he no longer fits into Mikel Arteta’s plans moving forward, however, the move is also likely to alleviate some of the strain on Arsenal’s ever-groaning wage bill, as Arsenal move on from Kolašinac’s reported wages of £120,000-a-week, with Arsenal covering a portion of the figure, rumoured to be around half.

It was initially thought that Kolašinac would move in the summer, with Bayer Leverkusen mooted as a potential destination for the erstwhile left-back, however, no such move materialised. 

The defender was initially signed on a free transfer in 2017 from Schalke, as a deputy to Nacho Monreal, however, following Monreal’s departure, Kolašinac found himself behind Kieran Tierney in the pecking order. 

Kolašinac’s performances in the Bundesliga had put him squarely on the radar of Europe’s hottest clubs, with Manchester City, Arsenal, Juventus and AC Milan all thought to have been tracking the Bosnian, in the end, it was Arsenal who emerged victorious. 

It is rumoured that Kolašinac’s move back to Schalke is to be funded by Clemens Tönnies as Schalke struggle to remain in the Bundesliga. 

Kolašinac during his time with Schalke 04 in Germany.

At the time of his signing, Arsène Wenger was experimenting more and more with a back five, a system that suited Kolašinac perfectly, as he is, by trade, a left-wing back, rather than a left-back.

Arsenal’s switch in system precipitated a moderate upturn in form, however, following Arsenal’s return to a back-four system, Kolašinac was less influential on the team’s performances.

When Wenger deaparted the club some twelve months later, Kolašinac found himself back in favour under Unai Emery. Though Emery opted for the same back-four system that Kolašinac disliked, the move was done mainly to accommodate the ever-mounting injury list that Arsenal had, with Héctor Bellerín, Laurent Koscielny and Rob Holding either out long-term or constant fixtures in the medical room.

Kolašinac thrived in Emery’s system. As Emery began to phase of Mesut Özil, Arsenal turned to Kolašinac as their main source of creativity, which while not the most elegant solution to Arsenal’s problems, was still a fairly profitable outlet for Emery and the team.

Following the signing of Kieran Tierney from Celtic for £25m, Kolašinac found himself playing second-fiddle once Tierney returned from injury. This meant that Kolašinac was usually reduced to apperances in the Europa League or whenever Arsenal looked to defend a lead.

Eventually, Emery’s tenure ended in disaster and Mikel Arteta took the reigns. Under Arteta, Arsenal once again opted for a back five. Usually, this would have meant utilising Kolašinac as a left-wing back once again, however, Arteta opted to use Kolašinac as a left centre-back in a back three.

Kolašinac enjoyed a profitable first season with Arsenal.

Though this positional change looked promising in the early stages, Kolašinac’s deficiencies in the position were soon exposed, especially in Arsenal’s 2-1 loss away to Tottenham, when Kolašinac’s back-pass allowed Son Heung-Min to score Tottenham’s equaliser.

Kolašinac’s time with Arsenal hasn’t been without it’s triumphs, the Bosnian was part of the squad for Arsenal’s League Cup final loss to Manchester City and the team’s Europa League final loss to Chelsea in Baku, however, he was also a huge part of the team that beat Chelsea in the Community Shield (opening the score on his debut) and winning the FA Cup last season.

The move will see Arsenal a man-down in defence, especially on the left-hand side, however, given Mikel Arteta’s penchant for playing either Kieran Tierney or Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Kolašinac’s chances are becoming few and far between.

Kolašinac’s departure is believed to be the first wave of players expected to leave the club in the January window, with Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Mesut Özil and Sokratis all out of contract at the end of the season and free to negotiate pre-contract agreements elsewhere, there may be an expectation of Arsenal to move them all on in January.

In terms of incomings, Mikel Arteta’s desire for a creative midfielder is well-known, with Arsenal reportedly targeting Houssem Aouar of Lyon, Julian Brandt of Borussia Dortmund, Christopher Nkunku of RB Leipzig and Isco of Real Madrid, with the latter looking the more likely as the Spanish outfit favour a loan deal for the out-of-form midfielder and Arsenal failing in their attempt to land Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Salzburg. 

Meanwhile, with the aforementioned defenders looking to leave the club and William Saliba’s future as yet uncertain, it is thought that Arsenal may ponder a move for a right-sided central defender, with Dayot Upamecano of RB Leipzig previously of interest to the Arsenal recruitment team, though a move in January is unlikely as his release clause of £54m coming into effect this summer. 

20/21 First Team General Transfers

Arsenal Sign Thomas Partey

Arsenal have announced the signing of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid for £45.4m, after activating his release clause early in the afternoon of transfer deadline day. Partey underwent a medical in Madrid.

The Ghanian international midfielder has been the subject of prolonged interest from Arsenal for a long time, even as far back as when Partey was with Almería on loan from Atlético Madrid, where he was scouted extensively by former Arsenal scout Francis Cagigao.

Partey was heavily advocated by former Arsenal head-coach Unai Emery, however, the player’s release clause and Atlético Madrid’s unwillingness to negotiate meant that Arsenal’s attention shifted elsewhere, namely in the form of Kieran Tierney and Nicolas Pépé.

The signing of Partey is likely to be a source of great comfort to Arsenal fans, following the departures of Mattéo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira on loan. Arsenal fans had also grown increasingly restless with Arsenal’s transfer business, following a failed attempt to sign Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, with the club unwilling to meet the French side’s £54.5m valuation and the news that the aforementioned Guendouzi and Torreira would be leaving the club.

Arsenal activated Partey’s release clause Monday afternoon.

Partey is exactly the kind of player that Arsenal have been needing for a while now and while it was initially thought that Lucas Torreira would be able to fill that role, unfortunately, the Uruguayan international was not a good fit for Arsenal’s system, especially once the continued exile of Mesut Özil led to the mismanagement of Torreira under Emery.

As with most transfers, Arsenal have played their cards exceptionally close to their chest regarding Partey’s potential arrival, with constant links to FC Porto’s Danilo Pereira (now on loan at Paris Saint Germain) and Lille’s Boubakary Soumaré being floated in the press, but in reality, Partey was always Arsenal’s number one target.

Partey’s situation at Atlético was always considered to be somewhat precarious, given the release clause in his contract, however, Atlético Madrid were reportedly scrambling to secure Partey to new terms at the club and increase the release clause. Under Spanish employment law and football regulations, all players must have a release clause specified in their contract, so Atlético were looking to increase the clause to ward off potential suitors.

For his part, Partey was interested in remaining with Atlético Madrid and extending his deal, however, Partey’s desire to join Arsenal and Mikel Arteta was greater. The Ghanian international had reportedly been “desperate to join Arsenal” last season, though the move never materialised.

Partey playing against Arsenal in the Europa League in 2018 for Atlético Madrid.

Though generally considered to be a central-defensive midfielder, he is also considered to be a box-to-box midfielder and his stats make for interesting reading. Last season, Partey recorded an average of 2.2 successful dribbles per-90 minutes in La Liga, meanwhile, Arsenal’s midfield foursome of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Mattéo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos recording 0.9, 1,1, 1.0 and 1.6 respectively.

Though Partey’s passing rate of 84% is a slight cause for concern, he makes up for this with defensive contributions of 2.5 tackles per-90 minutes, which was only bettered by Dani Ceballos, who averaged 2.7 per 90. Partey also boasted a 69.4% tackle success rate and an interception rate of 1.6 per-90.

Given Atlético Madrid’s more defensive dispensation, it is somewhat surprising to see the more defensive-minded Partey finish the 19/20 La Liga season with an expected goals (xG) rate of 1.72. Partey ended last season with 3 goals in 35 games; taking 32 shots, 8 of which were on target. Despite registering no assists with Atlético last season, Partey still ended with an expected assists (xA) rate of 1.15.

One area of Partey’s game that may need changing is his discipline. Partey ended last season with 13 yellow cards in La Liga, from 48 fouls made, though he avoided in red cards in the league.

Rumours swirled late last week that fellow Premier League club Chelsea had considered Partey as an alternative to Declan Rice, their primary target, however, no talks between Chelsea or Partey’s representatives ever took place. Arsenal fans can now rest easy as the transfer window draws to a close and the club has landed its top target. The club’s focus now turns to the impending trip to Manchester City, for which, Mikel Arteta will be hoping that Partey is available for.

Partey will wear the number 18 shirt, which was last worn by Nacho Monreal, before his departure last season.

20/21 First Team Transfers

Lucas Torreira Joins Atlético Madrid on Loan

Lucas Torreira has joined Spanish side Atlético Madrid on a season-long loan, for a €2m (£1.8m) loan fee. It was initially thought that Torreira would join up with Marco Giampaolo at Torino, his former manager from his time with Sampdoria, however, Torreira instead opted for Atlético Madrid.

Torreira is the fourth player to leave Arsenal this summer, after the departures of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to AS Roma and Emiliano Martínez to Aston Villa for £20m and Mattéo Guendouzi’s loan to Hertha Berlin.

Torreira joined Arsenal in 2o18 for around £26m from Italian side Sampdoria, beating competition from Napoli for his signature. Torreira was initially signed for slightly above his release clause of €25m (£22m), as it allowed Arsenal to pay the fee in instalments and gave Sampdoria a guaranteed financial income.

Torreira during his time with Sampdoria.

The Uruguayan midfielder was initially discovered by former Arsenal Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat, who discovered Torreira through Mislintat’s own statistical analysis platform Scoutpanel, by simply typing N’Golo Kanté’s name into the search bar and scouting any related players.

Arsenal had to initially delay announcing the midfielder to begin with as Torreira was still involved in Uruguay’s impressive 2018 World Cup exploits. Torreira’s performances for Uruguay were considered extremely impressive, playing in all five of Uruguay’s games, which prompted further interest in Torreira, but his arrival in North London was never seriously put in doubt.

Torreira’s start to life at Arsenal was slow to begin with as Unai Emery began to ease the midfielder in, before cementing his place in the midfield alongside then-captain Granit Xhaka.

Torreira’s start at Arsenal was very encouraging.

Possibly the defining moment of Torreira’s time at Arsenal was his performance in the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur. Torreira was in spectacular form that day, throwing himself into tackles and capping off an impressive display with the team’s fourth goal, the reverberations of which have still not fully subsided from the Emirates Stadium today.

From there, Torreira’s form went from strength-to-strength as he scored an acrobatic overhead kick against Huddersfield Town and claimed his fifth Man of the Match award in as many games.

Though Arsenal’s season ended in heartbreak with defeat in the Europa League final against Chelsea, Torreira was considered to have been one of the bright sparks in Unai Emery’s disappointing first season.

Torreira celebrates his goal against Tottenham Hotspur.

However, his second season with Arsenal was not so straight-forward. Given Unai Emery’s public feud with Mesut Özil, Torreira was often deployed further up the field, away from the defensive midfield position that he was so accustomed to.

This often meant that Arsenal lacked any real steel in midfield and that Torreira’s rather lacklustre passing abilities were exposed as Arsenal struggled to create chances in the German’s absence. This led to Torreira’s confidence taking a rather staggering blow and he was subsequently dropped. Though Emery’s tenure soon came to an end, Torreira struggled to find much game time under new coach Mikel Arteta.

Torreira’s place in the team was thrown into further doubt when he was injured in Arsenal’s FA Cup tie against Portsmouth, which was thought to rule him out for the rest of the season, however, after the COVID-19 pandemic brought football to a grinding halt, Torreira was given time to recover and impress.

Unai Emery’s management of Torreira caused issues in Arsenal’s performances.

Under Arteta, Torreira still struggled to nail down a starting position, especially with the resurgence of Dani Ceballos’ form following the restart and though Arsenal reached the FA Cup final, Torreira was an unused substitute.

Torreira’s preference for playing in Italy has long been known, with the player and his agent Pablo Bentancur regularly citing Torreira’s apparent fondness for the country and missing the place he had come to call home.

It was thought that AC Milan, now led by former Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis and now former manager Marco Giampaolo, were very interested in the midfielder, however, the Italian side were put off by Arsenal’s asking price.

Marco Giampaolo, Torreira’s former manager, during his stint with AC Milan.

Following Giampaolo’s dismissal from AC Milan, he moved to Torino, which is likely what ignited their interest in Torreira. Fellow Serie A side Fiorentina had thought to have been closing to striking a deal for Torreira, however, they were unable to meet Arsenal’s demands and subsequently dropped out of the running for the midfielder, leaving Torino’s path clear.

Torreira leaves Arsenal as something of a disappointment. Initially signed as the hard-working defensive midfielder that Arsenal had been craving ever since the days of Arsène Wenger, Arsenal’s poor form, changes behind the scenes, mismanagement at the hands of Unai Emery and a lack of consistent game-time under Mikel Arteta, meant that Torreira’s potential remains unfulfilled at the club.

20/21 First Team General Transfers

Mattéo Guendouzi Joins Hertha Berlin on Loan

Arsenal have announced that Mattéo Guendouzi has joined Hertha Berlin on loan for the remainder of the 2020/21 season. The German side will not be paying a loan fee, but will cover the entirety of the Frenchman’s wages, similar to the situation that Arsenal have with Dani Ceballos, Hertha Berlin do not have a purchase option in their loan deal for Guendouzi. Guendouzi passed his medical in Germany early Monday morning.

Arsenal’s desperation to move Guendouzi on this summer has been well-known, with most of Arsenal’s main transfer targets being subjected to bids including the Frenchman.

Guendouzi’s time with Arsenal has not been without controversy; the French midfielder already had a reputation for diva-like behaviour prior to making the switch from Lorient in 2018, however, his style on the field has also led to indications of the midfielder’s short temper, erratic tackles and a notable penchant for petulance.

Guendouzi enjoyed a rich run of games under Unai Emery.

In fact, Guendouzi’s behaviour at Lorient left to a period of prolonged exile from the senior set up barely into his senior career, following a bust-up with Lorient boss Bernard Casoni for failing to shake the manager’s hand following a second-half substitution in Lorient’s match against Nice.

Things did not improve from there and he soon fell out with Casoni’s replacement, Mickael Landreau, a feud that was so bad that it led to Guendouzi being kept out of the team for a full three months.

However, he was soon signed by Arsenal’s then Head of Recruitment, Sven Mislintat, who scouted him extensively while at Borussia Dortmund.

Guendouzi was an ever-present fixture in the Arsenal side under Unai Emery, who for all his faults, believed heavily in Guendouzi’s undeniable talent and pushed hard for him to be included in the first-team set-up more often.

Guendouzi managed to retain his position in the side following Emery’s departure and was usually rotated in the midfield with Lucas Torreira in Mikel Arteta’s early days with the club.

Things came to a head in January of 2020, when Guendouzi had to be reprimanded by Technical Director Edu for his actions during one of Arsenal’s mid-season tours in Dubai. Since then, Guendouzi has found himself under the ever increasingly watchful eye of Mikel Arteta, who has kept an eye on the Frenchman.

Guendouzi has been a notable absentee under Mikel Arteta.

Things came to a head for Guendouzi in June of 2020, when Guendouzi grabbed Brighton & Hove Albion striker Neal Maupay by the throat following his challenge on Bernd Leno.

Though the incident was already out of line with what Mikel Arteta expects from his players, Guendouzi’s lack of remorse and his stubborn refusal to apologise in a follow-up meeting with both Arteta and Edu led to Guendouzi’s exile from the team.

Guendouzi was a notable absentee from the side as Arsenal lifted their fourteenth FA Cup and was conspicuous only by his absence in Arsenal’s most recent games.

Though Guendouzi has since rejoined the Arsenal training sessions and his teammates, it is clear that Mikel Arteta does not count on the youngster, a loan away may give Arteta the chance to really see what he can do and re-evaluate his position at the club upon his return.

Guendouzi is set to become the first of many departures on deadline day, with Lucas Torreira scheduled to be loaned out to Atlético Madrid, with Arsenal’s incoming business looking likely to be done.

20/21 First Team General Transfers

Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson joins from Dijon

Arsenal have completed the signing of Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson from Dijon FCO for a reported fee of £1.8m. The Icelandic goalkeeper joins in the wake of the departure of Emiliano Martínez, who left for Aston Villa in £20m deal.

Unusually for Arsenal, Rúnarsson’s signing does not come in the form of a recommendation from the scouting department, but from Iñaki Caña Pavón, Arsenal’s goalkeeping coach, who worked extensively with Rúnarsson when the two were at Danish football side, FC Nordsjælland.

It was initially thought that Arsenal had fast-tracked the signing for Rúnarsson to be on the bench in time for Arsenal’s narrow win over West Ham, however, the signing took a little longer than expected. Rúnarsson completed a two-part medical (one in Dijon, the other in Paris) at the tail-end of last week. Rúnarsson met his Arsenal teammates on Friday and spent the weekend training away from the rest of the squad.

It was initially thought that Brentford goalkeeper David Raya (another recommendation from Pavón) had been touted as Martínez’s replacement, but Brentford were unwilling to part ways with the talented Spaniard and the financial aspect was not thought to be of interest to Arsenal.

Rúnarsson in action for Dijon.

Rúnarsson started his career in his native Iceland at Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur, playing in the team’s youth side and making three appearances for the senior side before moving to FC Nordsjælland in Denmark. Though he was part of the youth team, he soon found himself in the senior set-up and 62 apperances for the team, before moving to Dijon for a reported fee of £1.4m.

Since then, Rúnarsson has fast-become Dijon’s number one, facing competition from Alfred Gomis and Lévi Ntumba.

Rúnarsson was signed by Dijon’s Chief Scout, Sebastien Larcier, who was impressed with the Icelandic goalkeeper’s footwork, saying: “When we discovered his profile, the interest was immediately strong…He is technically talented, he is not afraid to play high and has very good footwork. In addition, he has the temperament and charisma”. This too is likely to be of interest to manager Mikel Arteta, who is slowly starting to get Arsenal to understand how to play out from the break, with both Emiliano Martínez and Bernd Leno playing key parts in a number of Arsenal goals owing to the club’s persistence with the tactic.

Rúnarsson will be Arsenal’s number two, following Emiliano Martínez’s departure.

Rúnarsson has made five appearances for the Iceland national team, making his debut for his nation against the Czech Republic and was included in Iceland’s 23-man squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Rúnarsson’s father is Rúnar Kristinsson, who holds the distinction of being the only player to have been capped over one hundred times for his nation.

Rúnarsson will wear the number thirteen shirt, last worn by David Ospina.

The relatively small financial outlay would likely have been the main reason that Arsenal persued a deal for Rúnarsson, with funds being freed up for moves elsewhere, with Mikel Arteta known to be keen to improve the midfield and his interest in Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey and Lyon’s Houssem Aouar known.

With regards to outgoings, Lucas Torreira is expected to leave, meanwhile, Mattéo Guendouzi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolašinac are listed for transfer as well.

20/21 First Team General Transfers

Emiliano Martínez joins Aston Villa

Emiliano Martínez has joined Aston Villa, bringing an end to a ten-year association with the club.

Martínez initially joined Arsenal from Argentinian side Atlético Independiente, for a reported fee of £1.3m.

For the first few years of Martínez’s Arsenal career, he was loaned out to a number of clubs including Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Getafe and Reading.
Martínez was also a mainstay of Arsenal’s early League Cup matches under Arsène Wenger, making his full Arsenal debut against Coventry City, in a 6-1 win and was also between the sticks for Arsenal’s historic 7-5 win over Reading in the League Cup.

Though Martínez made limited appearances in the Premier League, it is known that Wenger privately felt that Martínez was capable of becoming Arsenal’s number one at some point in the future, however, when the Frenchman called time at Arsenal, Martínez’s future was plunged into uncertainty.

Martínez with David Ospina (left) and Petr Čech (centre)

Though Martínez had battled against top goalkeepers in the past, such as Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański, under new head coach Unai Emery, the Argentine found himself wedged in as third-choice goalkeeper behind Petr Čech and new signing Bernd Leno and though Čech would later announce his retirement, it was felt that Martínez’s time at Arsenal may be coming to an end and he would do well to seek pastures new.

However, following Čech’s retirement, Martínez’s decision to stay at Arsenal seemed vindicated as he became the default second-choice to Bernd Leno and was Arsenal’s main choice for FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League matches.

Following football’s resumption in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Martínez deputised for Leno after the German was injured in a clash with Brighton & Hove Albion’s Neal Maupay and his displays were nothing short of extraordinary.

Leno has quickly become a firm fan favourite because of his acrobatics and his abilities in goal, however, Martínez was showing fine form of his own, producing outstanding displays that often won Arsenal points on their own, notably in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Liverpool in the Premier League.

Martínez’s performances were outstanding in Bernd Leno’s absence.

It therefore was no surprise that Martínez was entrusted by Mikel Arteta to stay between the sticks for Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final, which culminated in a tearful Martínez lifting the trophy aloft alongside captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Martínez’s story is an inspiring one for any aspiring footballers of dedication, hard work and determination. Martínez promised his father that he would one day become Arsenal’s number one and although the Argentine was ultimately unsuccessful, he leaves Arsenal as one of the bright sparks of a forgettable season and was once again in top form in his final appearance for Arsenal in the Community Shield against Liverpool.

For their part, Arsenal tried in vain to keep Martínez at the club to compete for the number one spot, but Martínez opted for a move away from the club in the pursuit of breaking into the Argentina national team and rejected an offer of a contract extension from the club.

From Arsenal’s perspective, the deal makes a lot of sense. The rumoured deal is thought to be in the region of £20m including incentives and allows Arsenal to invest in other areas of the squad, with Lyon’s Houssem Aouar and Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey both thought to be of interest and Lucas Torreira also thought to be on the move.

Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson of Dijon FCO is being touted as a potential replacement.

It is thought that 26-year-old Matt Macey will follow Martínez out the door, which leaves Arsenal a potential problem with regards to a substitute goalkeeper.

Brentford’s Spanish goalkeeper David Raya is thought to be of interest, though the finances may prove to be a stumbling block (though there have been rumours of Arsenal potentially signing Raya and loaning him back to Brentford, which is not to dissimilar to how they signed William Saliba), so Dijon FCO’s Icelandic goalkeeper Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson may be of interest to Arsenal, following a recommendation from Goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón, who worked with Rúnarsson at FC Nordsjælland.

Arsenal fans will no doubt be sad to see Martínez leave the club, however, for the reported fee and the possibility of other players entering the club, Martínez will likely leave with both the manager and the fan’s blessing.

20/21 First Team Transfers

Dani Ceballos Re-Joins on Loan

Dani Ceballos has re-joined Arsenal on loan from Real Madrid.

Ceballos is Arsenal’s latest signing in the window, after the signings of Willian from Chelsea and Gabriel Magalhães from Lille.

The Spaniard was subject to bids from Spain and Italy, thought to be from former team Real Betis and AC Milan respectively. Despite the former club’s bids, Ceballos opted to re-join Arsenal after speaking to Mikel Arteta. Arsenal will not pay a loan fee as they did in his previous loan agreement, they will instead cover the entirety of his wages for the forthcoming season.

Despite interest from the aforementioned teams, following Ceballos’ chat with Mikel Arteta, Ceballos refused to leave Madrid for any other clubs than Arsenal.

Ceballos’ hugely impressive debut against Burnley

Ceballos spent the 19/20 campaign on loan at Arsenal and signed on the same day as William Saliba. 

It was initially thought that Ceballos join Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, however, the lack of a purchase option in the initial loan deal scuppered any hope of Ceballos joining them. 

Ceballos’ Arsenal career started with a bang, with an outstanding individual performance at home to Burnley, which saw him turn in a Santi Cazorla-esque performance that had the Arsenal fans singing his name to the tune of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. 

However, his form noticeably dipped after that, which was a combination of the Spaniard’s drop in confidence, Arsenal’s drop in form and the disastrous final days of Unai Emery’s reign at the club, which culminated in Ceballos picking up an injury in Arsenal’s 1-1 away draw with Vitória de Guimarães. 

Ceballos after the Premier League’s resumption in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

After Emery’s departure, Arsenal appointed Mikel Arteta, however, Ceballos found it difficult to break into Arteta’s side and rumours began to swirl that Ceballos may call time on his Arsenal loan spell and return to Real Madrid, either to seek game time or to find a similar loan deal.

His commendable patience was rewarded however and he soon became a mainstay of the Arsenal midfield, usually partnering Swiss international, Granit Xhaka.

After the resumption of football in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ceballos’ form improved further and since the resumption of football, Ceballos ended the season in first place for:

  • Touches: 504
  • Key passes: 10
  • Dribbles completed: 9
  • Tackles: 15
  • Interceptions: 17
  • Ball recoveries: 52
  • Distance covered (km): 78
Ceballos celebrates his first Arsenal goal against Standard Liège

Ceballos capped off an impressive end to the season with Arsenal by scoring the winning goal in stoppage time in the FA Cup quarter finals against Sheffield United and was an integral part of Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

In subsequent press conferences, Mikel Arteta spoke about how he wished for Ceballos to return to Arsenal in some capacity and given the Spaniard’s impact since the restart, its easy to see why.

A lot of Arteta’s tactics seemed to be built around getting the best out of Ceballos. Where Ceballos had struggled to nail-down a starting position in the Arsenal midfield under Emery, often competing with Mattéo Guendouzi, Emery eventually opted to move Ceballos into a number ten role, given the continued exile of Mesut Özil and the mismanagement of Lucas Torreira.

However, Ceballos thrived more deeper in midfield, playing in the number eight role as a de-facto replacement for Aaron Ramsey, who had left the club in the summer for Juventus.

Ceballos was vital in Arsenal’s FA Cup campaign

Under Arteta, Ceballos was able to unlock defences easier as a deep-lying playmaker and had a better influence on the game just out of the periphery of the opposition’s pressing game, this often allowed him to occupy the same space as Xhaka in the deep-lying playmaker role, however, Arsenal’s lack of defensive midfielders (which perhaps explains the club’s continued interest in Atlético Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey) meant that Ceballos and Xhaka were often overrun in midfield.

For his part, Ceballos seems eager to rejoin Arsenal as well, with the Spaniard emphatically celebrating Arsenal’s Community Shield victory over Liverpool last Saturday.

In accordance with governmental procedures, Ceballos is required to quarantine for two weeks before he can train with his teammates.

20/21 First Team Transfers

Arsenal Sign Gabriel Magalhães

Arsenal have announced the signing of Lille central defender, Gabriel Magalhães.

The Brazilian defender joins Arsenal for an undisclosed fee, thought to be an initial fee of £23.4m (€26m), with a further £3.6m (€4m) in add-ons. Gabriel joins on a five-year contract and will join his former Lille teammate Nicolas Pépé at the club.

Gabriel represents Arsenal’s first splash of cash in the transfer window this summer. Though the Gunners have already announced the signing of Willian from Chelsea, Gabriel is the club’s first monetary signing.

New boys Willian and Gabriel in their time with Chelsea and Lille respectively

The signing puts an end to weeks of speculation after Gabriel was tracked by Everton, Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, with the saga threatening to never end after the Brazilian wanted more time to assess his options.

Gabriel was initially thought to be joining Everton in the January transfer window and had even gotten as far as to complete a medical with the Merseyside club, however, the deal was called off as a result of Everton’s restricted finances in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Brazilian was thought to be deep into negotiations with Napoli, before Arsenal swiftly intervened ahead of the Italian side, to move into pole position. This isn’t the first time that Arsenal have beaten Napoli to a signing, however, having beaten them to Lucas Torreira, Bernd Leno, Nicolas Pépé and reportedly Kieran Tierney.

The deal was plunged into uncertainty after Manchester United asked the defender to delay his move to Arsenal so as to table a bid with Lille, however, no bid was forthcoming and Arsenal adjusted their personal terms to nudge the deal over the line.

Kieran Tierney and Gabriel’s former teammate Nicolas Pépé were of interest to Napoli

Gabriel flew into London with his agents, after watching Lille’s 1-1 draw with Rennes in Ligue 1, for which he was not part of the matchday squad. It was thought that Gabriel’s move would be confirmed on that same Saturday, however, Lille’s owner Gérard Lopez confirmed that it was club policy to not confirm any incomings or outgoings on a matchday.

Social media was alight with Arsenal fans doing their best to track Gabriel’s movements on social media, by studying the cloud formations in his most recent Instagram posts, which was eerily similar to a number of 4chan users studying flight patterns to discover the location of an art installation by actor, Shia LaBeouf.

Though Gabriel has passed his subsequent medical, the defender is unable to play in Arsenal’s upcoming Community Shield match against Liverpool or train with his new teammates, as he is required to self-isolate for two weeks in accordance with government protocol. Arsenal had hoped that the player would be granted special dispensation to join-up early, however, the UK government has been very clear that Magalhães will have to self-isolate and that no Professional Sportsperson allowances will be made for him.

As a left-footed central defender, Gabriel seemingly fits the bill of what Mikel Arteta is looking to strengthen his team with this season and with Pablo Marí injured for the opening games of the Premier League season, Arteta will be grateful to have another left-footed central defender among the ranks, with Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolašinac deputising in Marí’s absence last season.

Gabriel will have to compete with Pablo Marí when he is fit

Arteta’s first delve into the transfer market saw him sign Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares and the aforementioned Marí, the latter of whom was Arteta’s main demand.

Given Arteta’s penchant for balancing right-footed players with left-footed players, Marí was the Gunners’ first choice signing, with Mykola Matviyenko being touted as a potential back-up. Though Arsenal fans were unable to see much of Marí in his time with the club, his impact has been clear.

As a result, Arteta has begun to balance his defence, whether it be a back three or back four, with a left-footed player to somewhat mixed results. Initially, Arteta chose to deploy Sead Kolašinac as the main central defender, however, the Bosnian did not impress in the role and was dropped from the side following a nightmare performance against Tottenham Hotspur. From there, Arteta chose to entrust the position to Kieran Tierney, who plays in the role regularly for the Scotland national side and had occasionally played there for Celtic too.

It is for this reason that Arsenal have opted to sign Gabriel. Fans are no doubt clamouring to see him line-up alongside William Saliba, who joined Arsenal from AS Saint-Étienne last season, but it seems unlikely that Arteta would entrust two very young central defenders with Premier League football so early in their careers, especially given Arsenal’s opening Premier League fixtures, which include trips to Anfield, the Etihad, Old Trafford, Elland Road and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, all in the opening eleven matches.

Arsenal fans will be hoping to see Gabriel line up alongside William Saliba soon

Gabriel represented Lille thirty-four times in all competitions last season, scoring one goal and receiving six yellow cards, a remarkably low number for a central defender. Crucially for Arsenal, he made no errors leading to goals and conceded no penalties, which is in direct contrast to David Luiz, who set a Premier League record last season for being the first defender in history to conch five penalties in a single Premier League season, a feat he achieved in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Watford on the final day of the season.

Gabriel will wear the number six shirt for Arsenal, previously occupied by Laurent Koscielny, who left under a shroud of controversy for Bordeaux last summer.

Arsenal will be glad to have the signing finally over the line, especially as the new Premier League season is just over two weeks away. But with a three-year contract extension for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang edging ever closer and the signing of Gabriel, Arsenal can turn their attentions to the outgoings of players and focus on other major deals that need to be completed, such as their reported pursuit of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid.

20/21 Transfers Youth

Salah-Eddine Joins Arsenal

The Arsenal Academy today announced the signing of Salah Eddine Oulad M’Hand, known as Salah-Eddine or Salah. 

The Dutchman was a free agent and is another indication of the new recruitment strategy being helmed by Per Mertesacker and Edu

Salah had previously played in the Feyenoord academy team and had previously been linked with Jong Ajax prior to completing the move. Salah will join Arsenal as a Professional Development Phase player.

Salah describes himself as a central midfielder who likes to play box-to-box, something the Arsenal senior side could do with, so we may see Salah in the Arsenal first-team at some point in the next few years.

Salah Eddine has already joined up with Arsenal’s U23 side and will wear the no. 74

Following the departure of Steve Morrow, Arsenal’s Academy talent identification has seen a major overhaul, with the club now favouring to spot talent that has fallen through the cracks elsewhere, which has also seen the likes of Tim Akinola and Jonathan Dinzeyi join the club, as well as the very well-talked about signing of George Lewis.

With the oncoming uncertainty surrounding Brexit, there is set to be a change in the rules of how clubs can approach youngsters to play for their senior or academy teams, which is why Arsenal have looked to sign a number of the aforementioned players so early on. 

The youngster has said that his main goals for the season are to perform well for the U23s side, before potentially joining up with the first-team for sporadic training, if the opportunity arises. 

Salah has already been participating in U23s training at London Colney, under the supervision of Steve Bould and was previously a trialist with the club, though the club wanted to wait until Salah turned seventeen before signing him to a contract.

20/21 First Team Transfers

Arsenal Sign Willian

Arsenal announced their first foray into the transfer window, by announcing the signing of Chelsea winger Willian. The Brazilian winger joins on a free transfer, after failing to agree a new deal with Chelsea.

Willian joins Arsenal on a three-year deal with a reported salary of £100,000-a-week, though reports are conflicting as to whether this is accurate, with other outlets reporting that Willian could be on as high as £220,000-a-week.

Willian signs for Arsenal

Willian’s career has been very impressive, staring off at Corinthans in Brazil in 1998, he eventually broke into the first team in 2006, where his performances caught the eyes of Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, who signed him for €14m.

Willian played for the Ukrainian club for six years, registering an impressive 37 goals in 221 games. Willian’s time in Ukraine was profitable as he left with four league titles, three Ukrainian Cups, two Ukrainian Super Cups and a UEFA Cup before he leaving to join Anzhi Makhachkala.

His time at Anzhi Makhachkala was not as profitable as his time in Ukraine and was only there for one season before the club had to transfer list both Willian and the rest of the team, owing to crippling financial woes.

From there, Willian joined Chelsea for £30m. This transfer was not without controversy, as Tottenham Hotspur had been the favourites to sign the Brazilian and had even started the process of completing his medical before Chelsea swooped in at the last minute and gazumped the North London side.

Willian had an impressive career at Chelsea, which saw him win two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a UEFA Europa League, though he played no part in Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.

Willian playing against former teammate and childhood friend David Luiz

Head-Coach Mikel Arteta said: “I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us, we have been monitoring him for the past few months, we had a clear intention to strengthen in the attacking midfielder and the winger positions [and] he is a player that gives us a lot of versatility, he can play in three or four different positions.”

These words are interesting, as they suggest that Willian is likely to be played in a more central position for Arsenal. This is most irregular, as Willian is usually deployed on the wing, so Arteta’s decision to potentially convert the Brazilian into a number ten or a central attacker is a peculiar one and one that seems more focused on phasing out Mesut Özil, who has been out of favour under Arteta since the restart.

The move is not totally without justification, however. Willian has played in the position before and his stats from last season suggest that he is the breath of fresh air that Arsenal have been so desperate for since Arteta took over.

Willian was ahead of the Arsenal squad in terms of chances created, penalty area entries and big chances created and was second only to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in terms of takes-ons completed, touches in the opposition box and shots on target, Willian could prove to be every bit the player Arsenal need.

Though there is significant controversy surrounding Willian, owing to his age, contract-length and his agent Kia Joorabchian, who already has four clients on Arsenal’s books with David Luiz, Cédric Soares, an unnamed academy player and Technical Director Edu, it is also worth pointing out that Willian’s profile is not one you can find every day.

Willian playing for Brazil

Willian is a Premier League proven player with bags of experience, a full international for his country and available on a free transfer and willing to play under Mikel Arteta. It’s fair to say that Willian’s profile is one that Arsenal would have struggled to find elsewhere and the lack of a transfer fee could prove useful, as the club plans a reportedly massive overhaul.

In fact, when welcoming Willian to the club, Technical Director Edu said: “It will take time but with Willian, we’ve started a big process. We’ve identified the needs in the squad and he’s the one to start to rebalance the squad as we want to.”

These quotes seem to suggest that this could be a summer of a major overhaul at the Emirates Stadium, with players such as Rob Holding, Lucas Torreira, Mattéo Guendouzi, Sead Kolašinac and Mohamed Elneny reportedly all listed transfers this summer.

His lack of transfer fee also means that Arsenal could find more luck in their pursuits of other players, with Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey and OSC Lille’s Gabriel Magalhães reportedly in the Gunner’s crossfires.

While Willian’s transfer does represent a fair amount of controversy and certainly comes with its own baggage, it’s a transfer that seems to suit Arsenal’s needs and fulfils one of Mikel Arteta’s transfer criteria this summer, Arsenal fans will just hope that Arteta and Edu’s faith in the player is rewarded by the player.