Mikel Arteta and Edu roll the dice with January transfer business but Arsenal can still make top four
Mikel Arteta and Edu have made their lives difficult at Arsenal by using the January transfer window to offload six players without making a signing of note.
The Gunners cut their losses with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, letting him complete a free transfer to Barcelona in the final hours before the deadline.
Arsenal had already loaned Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Roma, a controversial move given Albert Sambi Lokonga was left as the only recognised central midfielder for much of last month.
They also let Sead Kolasinac and Calum Chambers leave on free transfers to Marseille and Aston Villa respectively, with Pablo Mari heading to Udinese until the end of the season.
Young striker Folarin Balogun went north to Middlesbrough on loan, while fellow youth players Karl Jakob Hein and Tyreece John-Jules also went out in search of first-team experience.
In terms of incomings, Arsenal brought in Auston Trusty from the Colorado Rapids – an MLS club also owned by the Kroenkes – but he doesn’t even feature in the squad on the club’s website.
Fans have responded negatively since the deadline shut, questioning Arteta and Edu’s thinking that does appear to leave a somewhat threadbare squad.
Without a victory in five games – including the New Year’s Day clash at home to Manchester City which started so well before ending in defeat – Arsenal have looked blunt up front scoring just once.
So naturally parting ways with a proven marksman like Aubameyang without landing top target Dusan Vlahovic – who joined Juventus instead – has more than irked parts of the fanbase.
❗️ NEW SIGNING!— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 2, 2022
▶ @Auba is blaugrana!
However, on closer inspection it’s clear the club are preparing for a big summer of transfers by clearing the decks in January.
Arsenal currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League and can be found at odds of 5/2 in this bet365 review to finish in the top four.
Should they make the Champions League the quality of players they could attract will be much greater, so it’s understandable they didn’t want to pay over the odds in the inflated January window.
With Aaron Ramsdale in goal and a settled back four of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel and Kieran Tierney, Arteta has a purpose-built backline ready to take on the rest of the division.
As controversial as he is among Arsenal fans, Granit Xhaka probably still starts in central midfield alongside Thomas Partey.
Xhaka played in the club’s best two performances of the season – the 3-1 victory at home over Tottenham and the 2-1 defeat to City – despite letting himself down by receiving two red cards in just 13 appearances so far this season.
The 29-year-old will be pushed by Albert Sambi Lokonga, but for now it’s better that Arteta doesn’t have to rely on the Belgian too much given it’s his first year in English football.
Martin Odegaard has solidified his place as the central attacking midfielder in recent months, with Bukayo Saka unchallenged on the right flank and Gabriel Martinelli getting the nod over Emile Smith Rowe on the left.
Alexandre Lacazette will be the central striker, with Eddie Nketiah playing back-up.
Given Arteta has had to leave out his top goalscorer Smith Rowe (9) over the last few weeks, the squad’s strength in depth isn’t as bad as some would have you believe.
Nicolas Pepe should come back from the Africa Cup of Nations reinvigorated and ready to challenge Saka on the right side of attack, after two goals in four games for Ivory Coast.
With Manchester United, West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham and even Wolves all battling it out for that crucial fourth spot, some clubs will inevitably be left disappointed come May.
But with no European football or cup competitions to distract them, Arteta and Edu won’t be able to avoid the heat of the Emirates crowd should they fail to mount at least a strong challenge for Champions League football.