Trying to make guesses about what next season might look like for any Premier League club is a little difficult at the moment for obvious reasons. We don’t know how or when this season will end right now, so we can’t even be sure when the 2020-2021 season will start. When it does, though, we can be sure that all of the Premier League teams will have made major adjustments to their lineups. We think Arsenal might have done more adjusting than most.
As frustrating as it is for Gunners fans, Arsenal is still a team in transition. Unai Emery was unable to arrest the decline that set it toward the end of Arsene Wenger’s long reign, and so when Mikel Arteta was appointed, it was back to square one in terms of the rebuilding task. He must feel like he’s playing a human version of an online slots game. Many of us know how frustrating it is when you land all of the right symbols on an UK slot, but they don’t appear in the right order to win you any money. Making everything line up in the optimal arrangement is the name of the game in online slots, and the same is true for football management. Arteta still has many of the right pieces; he just needs to add to them and cut out some of the side’s weaknesses.
We don’t claim to own a crystal ball or be able to see into the future, but here are a few of the moves we expect to see happen during the next transfer window for Arsenal.
Mesut Ozil: Out
There are only so many times you can try to adjust a team to accommodate a player, and we think time ran out for building an Arsenal team around Mesut Ozil a while ago. As talented as he might be, he’s infuriatingly inconsistent and goes missing at key moments during the season. As he’s grown older, he’s also becoming more and more prone to injury. With the player reportedly earning £350,000 per week and the club getting a diminishing return for their investment, shipping Ozil out would free up a significant chunk of Arsenal’s operating budget to bring in new blood. By this point, we’re not even sure most fans would be sad to see him leave.
Granit Xhaka: Out
As much as both the club and the player have tried to gloss over the former captain’s astonishing temper tantrum against Crystal Palace in October, it was the point of no return so far as the player’s relationship with the club and its fans is concerned. It was behavior unbecoming of any Arsenal player – let alone the club captain – and although the treatment he received that day from his own fans was shameful, it was still an unprofessional way to respond. Xhaka has never looked comfortable at Arsenal, and it’s hard to imagine he’d get a regular starting role at any of the other top-six Premier League clubs. If Arsenal wants to move back into the top four, Xhaka isn’t the man they need to help them.
Dayut Upamecano: In
Upamecano is a name well-known to Football Manager players, and also to Arsenal fans. The young RB Leipzig center back has been understood to be at the top of Arteta’s transfer priority list for some time, and it’s easy to see why. He’s big, he’s solid, he’s good with the ball at his feet, and he could bring stability to a backline that’s in desperate need of it. He’s only 21, so should it be possible to secure him on a long-term contract, he could become the man that the Arsenal backline is built around for the next decade. Leipzig is under no financial pressure to sell and so acquiring him would take a significant chunk of the club’s transfer budget, but you can’t put a price on defensive security.
Orkun Kokcu: In
If Ozil leaves, Arsenal will be looking for a new creative midfielder to fill his shoes. Who better than another exciting player with Turkish heritage in the shape of Feyenoord’s Orkun Kokcu? Many of the top clubs in Europe – including Barcelona – are understood to be interested in the 19-year-old prodigy, and so Arsenal will have to move fast if they want to get hold of him, but we’ve already seen reports in the media that talks commenced between Arsenal and Feyenoord about this matter some time ago. One of the benefits of trying to recruit players from Dutch clubs is that they don’t tend to charge as much in transfer fees as many other teams from top European leagues do, and so Kokcu could arrive as a bargain. With two young players coming in to replace two senior pros, though, Arsenal will need a little more experience and guile. That leads us to our next pick.
The last time Arsenal recruited a player from Chelsea, it was David Luiz. As admirable as the Brazilian defender’s efforts are, you’d be hard pushed to say that the move has gone well. Just because Arsenal have been burnt once by recruiting from Stamford Bridge doesn’t mean they should fear doing so again, though. Willian has been refusing to sign a new contract at Chelsea all season and so presumably is looking at making a move this summer. The smart money says that he’ll be going to Spain, where both Barcelona and Real Madrid are said to be interested in the 31-year-old winger. What if that isn’t the case, though? What if he and his family are quite happy and settled in London, and he’d be open to staying in the capital and trying his hand somewhere else? We’re only guessing about that being the case, but if he’s available, it’s surely worth answering the question.
Aside from the moves we’ve mooted above, the biggest piece of business that Arsenal needs to see to over the summer is persuading Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to stay put. Everyone knows Barcelona wants him, and he’s been advised by several football figures around him that it’s time to move on to a more competitive team. If he’s prepared to hang around for just one more season, there’s no reason that Arsenal couldn’t become that competitive team, and so gaining that assurance has to be Arteta’s number one priority. If he leaves, the Gunners may be in worse shape at the start of next term than they were at the start of this one.