Transfer Deadline Day – Is Mikel content?

So we have reached Transfer Deadline Day. That dreaded day which plays Russian Roulette with football fans mental health when activity has been non-existent throughout the month.

The transfer window is a time which I hate the most as it almost feels like daily a new name pops up as a potential target. The usual ITKs make an appearance whilst drip feeding nuggets of information which only succeed in whipping up a frenzy of speculation.

How genuine these links are can be debatable but for many information starved fans they run with it and go through a cycle of emotions as a player is linked, is close then the deal allegedly breaks down or they join another club whilst no actual concrete proof exists to prove Arsenal were even in for the player.

As I write this there has been no new signings confirmed to counter the string of exits that occurred this month. When you look at the bigger picture you wonder where Mikel Arteta is looking to improve the playing squad.

Centre Midfield

At the start of the month we were clearly short of players but by time we play our next game v Wolves on 10th Feb we should in theory have back all the players we lost to Afcon. Where we were short in midfield Granit Xhaka will return to the line up, Thomas Partey will miss the next game but will be back to complete what seems Arteta’s first choice to play in the middle. Mohammed Elneny will be back as cover alongside Sambi.

First choice pairing

Arteta had utilised the loss of Xhaka and Partey to drop Odegaard deeper so in trying to work out the thinking of Mikel Arteta he would in theory believe he has enough experienced midfield cover whilst having the option to blood the younger talents of Charlie Patino and Miguel Azeez.

That puts into doubt the desperation to get long linked player Arthur Melo to sign on the dotted line.

Flanks

Having looked at the amount of football Martinelli and Saka have had to play recently, the returning Pepe (if he’s still in the good books) could provide alternative cover on the flanks but he is only one player. One would think that would be a position to look at however Emile Smith Rowe could and has been used in the flank positions this season. Would Pepe and ESR be seen as able cover for flanks with the addition to blood a youngster like Salah Eddine or Omari Hutchinson?

Not to forget Arteta has often brought Eddie Nketiah off the bench to also occupy a flank position. Not a popular choice to play there but I’m just going on evidence of what Mikel Arteta has opted for (recently against Burnley Nketiah replaced ESR to play there).

Full back

In defence there might be a case for recruitments but looking at the full back areas it seems Arteta has decided on his first choice full backs and has decided on his back up in the form of Tavares, Cedric Soares and emergency cover Ben White. Cedric may not be flavour of the month with fans at the moment but he provides experienced cover if needed to be called upon.

won the back up race with Chambers and AMN

Centre Back

The Centre back position is treading a fine line as beyond the first choice pairing of Ben White and Gabriel we have Rob Holding available to step in but beyond that other than drafting in versatile players who have slotted in there before such as Elneny and Tierney its seems a big risk to not have more experience available to cover.

Despite all the plaudits for the masses of talent pouring through the revolving doors at Hale End we aren’t quite at the stage to have an available youngster banging on the first team door that specialises at centre back.

Closest you would think is Omar Rekik who will be coming back to the club fresh from achieving some full international football experience at the Afcon. Initially a Dutch youth international when we signed him from Hertha Berlin; he switched allegiance to Tunisia and was drafted into their squad for the recent Afcon tournament.

 Making his debut earlier this year for his country it is experience that will no doubt aid in his development however he is yet to kick a ball in anger for the Arsenal first team apart from a couple appearances in pre season. It would see a major jump up the development ladder but the young defender would be high on confidence given his recent experience out in Cameroon.

Very risky a strategy but just trying to think through Arteta eyes I can’t see any signing coming in that would be an experienced stop gap as we had that already in players like Mari and Chambers. If a player does come in it would likely be young and for the future (although William Saliba would have something to say about that).

So after going through full back, centre back, centre mid and flanks there is the possibility that Arteta is content with what he has so far?

Goalkeeper

In the goal keeping area there’s not much to discuss. I can’t see Leno leaving in this window. The rumours of the American keeper Turner doing the rounds suggest he will be an acquisition for the summer and so planned for next season. This will mean the German will likely be kept on and tasked to find a new club for next season.

Playmaker/No.10

Can’t see much call for recruitment in that position. Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard have that role stitched up whilst Lacazette has often occupied that position too when called upon and it’s also a role Bukayo Saka could well fill if required.

Central Striker

Now we have reached a position that seems to be the most in need to have acquisitions made. Given the massive cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the future of Pierre Emerick Aubamyang we find ourselves in a situation where our options are threadbare. Right now our two options to lead the line lay with Lacazette and Nketiah. If we cannot find any chance for reconciliation between the manager and the Gabon international then we will need personnel to come through the Emirates doors.

The lack of a main source of goals from our central striker has been one of our biggest Achilles heels in the team. One would suggest a striker that adds goals would be the missing piece to dovetail the growth of the team so far and take them up a notch in the ladder of improvement under Mikel Arteta.

Ostracised or not we have to admit the goals had dried up for Aubamyang long before his fall out with the manager. Alex Lacazette has filled in ably but at the wrong end of 30 there isn’t much scope to improve on what he offers already. Eddie Nketiah despite coming through the ranks and proving himself to be a decent striker he just falls of what we need for a striker in the role to get the optimum from our system.

It’s no fault of his own and he could probably move to another club which is more of a fit in football style to his strengths and bag a hatful of goals at Premier League level. Eddie feeds off service whilst we likely need a striker that can both feed of service and make goals out of nothing. It just seems there’s more demanded for the type of striker we need in terms of physicality, link up play, strength, finishing and creating goals for others (gosh, that’s a unicorn right there).

To get that type of profile of player is no easy feat and you have to wonder if that type of player is obtainable in this window at a not so inflated price.   

Vlahovic seemed the name that dominated all the rumours but that was put to bed when he signed on the dotted line for Juventus. Much similar to Locatelli last summer it led to a lot of acrimony on the social media amongst Arsenal fans at the players we lost out on.

here next season?

Nketiah and Lacazette are both players on course to leave at end of the season on a free. Throw in Aubamyang and that’s three players tasked with helping our fight for top four that are unlikely to be part of the set up next season. Balogun is out at Middlesbrough gaining valuable experience and Mika Biereth or the recently recalled Nikolaj Moller should not really be tasked with saving our season if any unfortunate injuries occur.

In fairness Mikel Arteta earned some kudos for what at the time was regarded as underwhelming signings but indeed turned out to be shrewd acquisitions which were all a success to some measure. Can Arteta repeat that trick again this window? Well first he needs to sign someone, the question is who? Callum Chambers joined Aston Villa completely out of the blue. Does Arteta and Edu have some deals under wraps to surprise us. Let’s see how the day unfolds, they have certainly cut things fine.

will moments like this return?

Going out of both cups in January probably put a pause on some potential deals getting over the line sooner but even without the cups there is still plenty to play for to the end of season. Arteta needs to ensure all the steps he has made forward this season are not regressing by the end when there are clear points in the season where mistakes could be pinpointed. Our January dealings so far could very much be the Damocles sword that swings above his head for the rest of the season.   

Arsenal Out Of The FA Cup Thanks To Their Own Doing.

This was a bad day at office, a really really bad day at the office. There’s just no scope available to defend it. We were terrible from the first whistle to the end and can have no complaints about the final result. We are out of the FA Cup; we started the day talking about going for number 15 and ended it wondering when we will break this 2022 New Year’s resolution of losing every game.

We had the luxury of the game being beamed free and to all on national television. No subscriptions needed, this was on ITV and the whole nation had the chance to witness the new Arsenal being formed in Mikel Arteta’s vision. The new Arsenal that went toe to toe with Manchester City and but for an awful referee’s performance should have walked away with all three points.

Bad day at the office

We spent the last couple days applauding the club for their bold and inspiring No More Red campaign which meant we would be donning the unique white only kit in the aid of awareness and support for an end to knife crime violence. Unfortunately what was an amazing gesture was then left tainted by a performance that didn’t allow the shirts and the cause a result it warranted. The campaign hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and I’m sure it will result in so many positives for the youth of today, it’s just sad that on the pitch there was nothing memorable to recall.

So, one of the biggest problems with yesterday’s game was the personnel that were available to be utilised. We went into the game with an absolute threadbare squad and questions have to be asked why we put ourselves into such a position?

We all are excited by the talent that is being churned out with such regularity these days from Hale End but the bench we had for the game yesterday was a worry. Filled with a majority of youngsters who haven’t played for a single minute in the first team is not ideal in the worst case scenario where we need to chase the game.

Yes, the argument is due to AFCON call ups, Injuries and Covid-19 this forced the hand of Mikel Arteta and we had to hope the quality on the pitch was enough to do the job asked of the manager so that we wouldn’t be in desperate measures.

This is where I argue why we have made the move to loan out players without adequate replacements signed or available within? Now I’m not saying having Ainsley Maitland Niles and Forlarin Balogun would have single handily won us the tie but you cannot deny these are players of first team experience which could have been options.

At what point do we honour the wishes of an unhappy player over the needs for the club at that very moment in time. Could we not have decided to loan out AMN until after the FA Cup game? At the end of the day we are making a loan deal here, not a multi million pound sale with the risk of losing a big fee due to a potential injury. Whilst we were struggling to get a foothold in the game at the City Ground Ainsley Maitland Niles was in action for Roma against Juventus.

Player we could have done with yesterday

The AFCON that has reduced the availability of Thomas Partey, Elneny and Pepe, all players that would make a difference for us yesterday was not a surprise competition that came out of the blue. The loss of these players has been anticipated well in advance so why hasn’t any potential cover/replacement been acquired in preparation?

Names have been mentioned but nothing has materialised at what could be a make or break week for our season. The first hurdle of the FA Cup is now gone, we face a testing trip to Anfield this Thursday  for the Carabao Cup Semi Final followed but a battle against our North London rivals Tottenham on Sunday. We need personnel, personnel that can hit the ground running because at this stage it would be massively unfair to now burden our untried youngsters with the responsibility to salvage our hopes for a top 4 finish and any last remaining chance of silverware.

As it stands we are left with Xhaka and Emile Smith-Rowe returning to bolster our options. I just don’t think it’s enough to rely on because we would be making a massive assumption no other injuries or Covid-19 infections will occur between now and when/if anyone comes in.

I know Forlarin Balogun has had a lukewarm impact this season so far but he still would have been a viable option starting or from the bench yesterday. Eddie Nketiah lacked any impact for the frontline yesterday and it would have been more reassuring if Balogun was available in addition to Lacazette. Like I said we have a three game week and should have been in a position to have some players afforded minutes only in emergency and not a self inflicted emergency due to some questionable decisions on transfers/loans.

I had mentioned in my blog yesterday that I didn’t think Mikel Arteta would start Charlie Patino yesterday due to the fact that we were playing away. That’s not to say Charlie wouldn’t be able to handle pressure but more to fact youngsters have usually been afforded starts with a home crowd behind them to ease them into a game. The belief is there in Charlie and it’s hoped the start for him was more to do with faith and not down to lack of options.

I’m not a football manager and never have been but I would question blooding any young starlet it would be beneficial to have an experienced partner next to them to help guide them. In such a game Xhaka would have been a good partner but as we know he is out with Covid-19. So what we ended up with yesterday was Patino partnered with Sambi Lokonga. Sambi has had a great start to his Arsenal career but he is still technically in his integration phase into the Arsenal midfield. He’s very young and still developing his game, he then had the added responsibility to look out for a younger more inexperienced partner in Charlie.

Now this is not to say the midfield was overrun by any means but my point is it’s not the ideal scenario to partner such limited collective experience in the middle of the park. And this is what takes you back to the question why did we have no other alternative options when we knew so many numbers would be missing for that position of the field?

We have had Jack Wilshere training with the club for the last few months; can you tell me registering him as a player even as cover for this month is such a terrible idea? The issue with Jack has always been the injuries not the ability. Having Jack Wilshere rather than nobody is not a crazy, ludicrous idea. He has been training with the club, would know the plays and would fill in instantly if needed.

An opportunity missed?

I just struggle to get my head around the decision to let bodies go and not have cover especially when you have one literally on your doorstep.

One thing we as a club suffer from is doing things the right way at detriment to our advantages. We often used to hear the term the team is too soft, you need a nasty, dirty bastard on the pitch to do the horrible things that benefit the team. The same almost applies in off field actions; you want the club to act in best possible way to achieve the end goals.

Look at Liverpool  for example, to determine they had the best chance of advancing past us in the Semi Final of the Carabao Cup they ensured the game for the first leg was postponed to benefit their cause in order  to have availability of their stronger players. We all know their Covid-19 outbreak excuse was very suspect but they used every sneaky tactic within the rulebook to gain their advantage. They ensured they could do whatever they had in their power to work for them rather than face a beating at the Emirates. That’s the mindset we need to incorporate at times to ensure Arsenal comes out on top. It’s fine being sneaky and have a dirty streak on the pitch but you need that off the pitch to maximise your chances to win things.

This is where as I mentioned earlier we have sent out Ainsley Maitland Niles and soon Forlarin Balogun on loan because they need the loan rather than stopping to assess, “wait, we may need these players this week, lets delay the loan deal and use them”.

So back to the game (although right now I’d rather forget it) lets touch briefly on the Tavares incident. We are all likely in agreement that the young Portuguese was not having the best of games. The passes and decision making were not quite coming off and Mikel Arteta decided in all his wisdom the best action was to hook the player after 30 odd minutes. Not only can that cause a potential disruption in the dressing room but it also provided great embarrassment to a player in a week where we need to make the most of the limited bodies we have available for some massive games.

He wasn’t having the best game as I mentioned but Mikel had the added advantage of being able to coach and provide instructions to the player as he was situated on the same side as the manager. This was the perfect opportunity to coach the player out of a bad patch of form on the pitch. Instead Arteta chose to substitute him rather than seeing out until half time. Now there may have been an exchange of dissent from the player not picked up by the cameras which could have played a part in the decision but I personally felt the 34th minute wasn’t the best time to flex the non-negotiable muscles.  Plenty Arsenal players were misplacing passes and not performing to the best of their ability so it just felt bizarre given the limited options we already had available.   I hope this moment didn’t lead to any backlash in the dressing room which could result in some disciplinary action because at this moment in time we cannot afford to cut off our nose to spite our face. We need every available player fighting for the team in harmony right now.

Now despite what seems to be coming off as a bit of a rant (I am writing this article immediately after the final whistle), I am not calling for the managers head. We are moving in the right direction, the players acquired match the DNA of how he wants to play and the team will hit inevitable bumps along the way. Yesterday I have to state he got things wrong, the team were lethargic and stale, his in game decisions could have been better and whether it is in his control or not the transfer business should have been timed to not leave us short in numbers especially for the competitions we have realistic chances of winning.

Right now it seems we are going to have to fumble our way through next few weeks with just plan A on the pitch as we have no alternatives to offer a Plan B or C. Our opponents will be able to telegraph in what team we play as we have limited options, I just hope we can ride that storm and our plan A team can do the business in the remainder of our make or break week and/or month.

Enjoy your day people

This post will also feature on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Try to enjoy your day people, better days ahead

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