Arsenal technical director Edu has already been busy this summer, but the club still have a number of huge calls to make. Having taken over just before Christmas, manager Mikel Arteta is overseeing the rebuild, and there were positive signs after the restart, including winning the FA Cup. However, after four consecutive years without Champions League football, room to manoeuvre financially is limited. And this has been compounded by some poor decisions made by previous administrations as well as the global pandemic.
As we’ve done previously, here’s some unsolicited advice from me and James Olley: a player-by-player assessment of the squad, what might make sense and under what circumstances. Where you see a simple, straight “Keep,” you can assume we agreed and there wasn’t much to talk about. Otherwise, we weighed in with our comments.
It’s not just about performance, either. It’s about age, wages, personality fit and contract length (we went with Transfermarkt for contract expiry dates for consistency). And there will be moving parts, too: departures or arrivals that cause chain reactions, sometimes unexpected.
Jump to: Defenders | Midfielders | Forwards | Overall assessment
Bernd Leno (28 years old, contract expires in 2023)
Emiliano Martinez (27, 2022)
OLLEY: “Some got a bit carried away that he’s earned the right to be No. 1. All he proved was he is a much better No. 2 than previously thought. With Leno’s injury, you have to re-sign him and give him the fair fight he wants.”
MARCOTTI: “Agree. If there’s a silver lining to Leno’s injury it is that Martinez will get plenty of playing time, so if he’s determined to be a No. 1, next summer you can sell him at market value if he extends his deal.”
VERDICT: Keep and extend
Matt Macey (25, 2021)
OLLEY: “He’s 25 and not going to improve. They have a youngster called James Hillson who they really like, so he can be the homegrown third keeper.”
VERDICT: Dump (estimated price £1 million)
Julien Laurens and Gab Marcotti discuss the possibility of Gabriel Magalhaes playing in a back three for Arsenal.
* Konstantinos Mavropanos already loaned to Stuttgart
William Saliba (19, 2024)
OLLEY: “Arsenal are not in a position to allow a £27m signing to go out on loan again… they need fresh blood. The fans are already building him up to be the next Tony Adams, so he needs to be there.”
MARCOTTI: “Injuries really limited him at Saint-Etienne last year when he was on loan. I’d wait to see where he’s at in preseason and then consider whether to loan him out again. If Arteta is going to be able to get him regular playing time, then fine. But if he’s going to be fourth or fifth in the pecking order, then maybe you loan him out again, because at his age it’s important that he plays.”
VERDICT: Split: Keep/Keep and consider
Shkodran Mustafi (28, 2021)
OLLEY: “He improved a bit under Arteta, but there’s no point extending him and if you keep him, you lose him on a free next year. So cash in, though you’d do well to get £10m.”
VERDICT: Dump (estimated price: £8m-£10m)
Calum Chambers (25, 2022)
OLLEY: “He has had a ton of injuries and hasn’t played since September, so you might have to wait until January. But I think between him and Rob Holding, one has to go.”
MARCOTTI: “He needs to prove his fitness before you can sell. But if somebody gives you £10m now, I’d go for it straight away. If not, wait.”
VERDICT: Dump (estimated price: £10m-£12m)
Rob Holding (24, 2023)
OLLEY: “He’s facing a battle to win over Arteta, but at least he’s fit now, so can be assessed. Plus he’s a good guy to have around the dressing room.”
MARCOTTI: “He’s had a ton of injuries since arriving at the club in 2016. But if you play a back three, you’ll need him as a squad player.”
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access
Sokratis Papastathopoulos (32, 2021)
OLLEY: “He’s on big wages and has got a year left on his contract. Plus, he’s made it clear he wants to play, so I’d try to do a cut-price deal.”
MARCOTTI: “I think he can still contribute somewhere, but I think Arteta feels differently and there’s no way you extend his deal. So if he wants playing time, you let him leave. He might have to take less money in exchange for more years, but someone will take him, I think.”
VERDICT: Dump (estimated price: £3m-£4m)
David Luiz (33, 2021)
MARCOTTI: “He’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea, but clearly Arteta values what he brings.”
VERDICT: Keep, do not extend
Pablo Mari (26, 2024)
OLLEY: “He’s a calming presence in this team and could be the surprise package next season once he’s fit again.”
Kieran Tierney (23, 2024)
Sead Kolasinac (27, 2022)
OLLEY: “Not fit enough and not good enough to be a top-level Premier League player.”
MARCOTTI: “He played a fair bit under Arteta, but I think it’s time to cash in since I suspect he’s not going to be more than a squad player going forward. You can still get something for him and if you keep him, you have to extend him. Which is not a good idea.”
VERDICT: Dump (estimated price: £7m-£8m)
Hector Bellerin (25, 2023)
OLLEY: “He isn’t as quick as he was, but he’s valuable in the dressing room and on the pitch. Unless you get a really big offer, you keep him.”
MARCOTTI: “He’s been linked to moves in the past, but he’s started only 31 Premier League games over the past two seasons. He’s committed to the club and wants to stay. No reason to shift him.”
VERDICT: Keep unless you get a big offer (estimated price £40m)
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (22, 2023)
OLLEY: “He’s a natural central midfielder, not a wing-back. But he’s not good enough to play in midfield for Arsenal so they put him wide, even though, positionally, it’s not instinctive to him. I think you cash in.”
MARCOTTI: “You don’t need three right-backs. I don’t think he has a big enough upside, so he’s a good player to move on and help fund other purchases.”
VERDICT: Dump (estimated price: £15m-£20m)
Cedric Soares (28, 2024)
MARCOTTI: “His signing was a bit of a head-scratcher, especially since he got a four-year deal. But now he’s there, let’s find out what he can do.”
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens explain Mesut Ozil’s desires to remain at Arsenal under Mikel Arteta.
Lucas Torreira (24, 2023)
OLLEY: “Arteta wants to bring back Real Madrid’s Dani Ceballos and sign a defensive midfielder. If he manages to do that, you need to sell Torreira.”
MARCOTTI: “I know he’s a saleable asset and, after starting the first few games under Arteta, lost his place. But I don’t think you give up on him just yet. He has the qualities you’d think Arteta would value.”
VERDICT: Split: Dump/Keep (estimated price: £20m-£25m)
Granit Xhaka (27, 2023)
OLLEY: “He’s not good enough to be at a top club, but he’s better than anybody else in that position at Arsenal, so you stick with him. But if they get that defensive midfielder they need, he moves to the bench.”
MARCOTTI: “He gets a ton of stick from some, but he’s durable. He’s been a starter under three different managers, seems popular in the dressing room and he played better toward the end of the season. You have to go with what Arteta wants, not least because you won’t get much money for him.”
Mohamed Elneny (28, 2022)
MARCOTTI: “He was a starter at Besiktas last season on loan, so you see if there’s a deal to be made. I’d try to sell and get what you can, because a year from now he’ll be worth considerably less.”
VERDICT: Dump or Loan (estimated price £5m)
Matteo Guendouzi (21, 2022)
OLLEY: “The problem is he’s angered a lot of people with his behaviour, including Arteta. It’s a chance for the manager to stamp his authority on the side, to show nobody is safe. I’d cut him loose.”
MARCOTTI: “I agree that his behaviour hasn’t been great and Arteta probably doesn’t want him around. But selling him now means selling at a discount, and this is a guy who was called up to the France team and is still just 21. Obviously you’re going to let Arteta guide you, but I’d look to give him another year or two to preserve his value and send him out on loan. He’ll get a shop window and his value might well appreciate. He can still grow, but there’s no point keeping him around if he’s not going to play.”
VERDICT: Split: Dump/Try to extend and loan (estimated price: £15m-£20m)
Joe Willock (20, 2023)
OLLEY: “I don’t think he’s good enough to start. He’s young — loan him to the Bundesliga or a place where he can grow and play.”
MARCOTTI: “He made 29 league appearances this season, but 21 of them were off the bench. Arteta obviously sees some value in him, so unless another player comes in with his skill set, I think you keep him around.”
VERDICT: Split: Loan/Keep
Mesut Ozil (31, 2021)
MARCOTTI: “Clearly something has gone badly wrong here and, perhaps, is beyond salvaging. No club will go near him at such high wages, and he seems intent on running down his contract, so Arsenal are pretty much stuck. Let it be a warning about the risks of long-term contracts on silly money.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (31, 2021)
MARCOTTI: “I think they have more than enough 30-plus attacking midfielder/forward players, so the focus has to be getting him off your books. Roma want him and he would like to stay, but Arsenal have very little leverage other than bringing him back and letting him keep Ozil company on the naughty step. You might even have to simply release him, like United did with Alexis Sanchez.”
VERDICT: Dump if you can (estimated price: £10m-£12m)
Craig Burley believes Arsenal must go all-out to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the Emirates next season.
Bukayo Saka (18, 2024)
Gabriel Martinelli (19, 2024)
Nicolas Pepe (25, 2024)
Reiss Nelson (20, 2023)
OLLEY: “Arteta supposedly likes him, but with Willian coming in, you have to loan him out because he’s not going to get games.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (31, 2021)
OLLEY: “Yes, he’s a big earner, but he’s been so important to them since he’s been there. And he wants to stay. You can’t afford to lose him.”
MARCOTTI: “I don’t think it’s wise to keep both him and Alexandre Lacazette given their contractual situations. And committing £12m for three seasons to someone with no resale value feels like the wrong choice when you’re in rebuilding mode and have a bunch of younger players. But that also applies to Lacazette; he’s not going to cost you much less. I think you have to pick one or the other. With a year left, Aubameyang looking for a payday, the global pandemic and his age, you might have had to settle for a cut-price deal, maybe £25m or whatever. But with players like that, you have to take the long view … you’re paying for what you think his production will be in two years’ time, not for what it was last year.”
VERDICT: Split: Keep and extend / Dump either him (estimated price £25m-£30m) or Lacazette, but extend the one you keep
Alexandre Lacazette (29, 2022)
OLLEY: “I find it puzzling that Arteta has picked Eddie Nketiah ahead of him in some games. Lacazette has grown under Arteta, he has linked play and worked for the team. I wouldn’t extend him just yet, but I think the club will sell him.”
MARCOTTI: “You’ve got to view this through the lens of Aubameyang. Lacazette will want a new contract in the next year and I don’t see how you can commit to both.”
VERDICT: Keep but don’t extend / Dump if Aubameyang extends (estimated price: £25m-30m)
Eddie Nketiah (21, 2022)
OLLEY: “Arteta obviously likes him, but they have plenty of forward players. Extend his deal and get him playing time on loan.”
MARCOTTI: “This will obviously depend on what happens with Lacazette and Aubameyang, but I think there’s room for him to grow even as a squad player.”
VERDICT: Split: Loan and extend / Keep and extend
Willian (32, 2023)
– Man United keep or dump: De Gea and Pogba still key?
– Liverpool keep or dump: Henderson to go?
– Tottenham keep or dump: A future for Ndombele?
We differ a bit on what their goal should be next season. Olley says they have to be back in the Champions League next season, given the financial hit they’ve taken by being out of it for four years, as well as the impact of COVID-19. He says they can’t think long term, but rather need to return to the big stage now.
Marcotti argues that they have to think longer term, the gap with the top four is too big and they’re unlikely to make it all back in a single season. Better to rebuild with younger players, which is why he would have cut one of Lacazette or Aubameyang loose; after all, with both on board, they still finished eighth, 10 points away from the Champions League (and the teams that finished third and fourth, Manchester United and Chelsea, respectively, are likely to spend big this summer).
The danger of being stuck with huge wage bills and players you can’t shift should be evident, given they’ve already been through it with Mkhitaryan and Ozil. What’s more, it’s crucial that gifted youngsters such as Martinelli and Saka be given time to grow.
Overall, the squad needs to be whittled down a bit, and if they can shift the players we indicated above, they could raise £50m, more if they sell one of Aubameyang or Lacazette. Every indication is that they have to fund purchases through sales, so this is where they’ll need to be creative.
They could use a creative midfielder. That could be Ceballos if they have to buy him, rather than extending his loan another season, but that won’t leave much to address their other needs: another centre-back and a defensive midfielder (they’ve been linked with Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid and Danilo from Porto). Fundamentally, though, the question is whether you think you can compete for a Champions League spot straight away or if you want to think longer term. That’s where Olley and Marcotti are split and that’s what informs their decisions here.