Arsenal’s first-team squad is set in stone for the rest of the season.
After a rather busy January transfer window, in terms of outgoings, Mikel Arteta and Edu have made a decision on the players they think will help to secure the Gunners’ return to Europe for next season.
Meanwhile, the exits of Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac and Folarin Balogun have garnered a debate as to if the Gunners’ squad is weaker than the one that came out of the summer transfer window.
However, thanks to some shrewd deals last summer, coupled with versatility and emerging talent, the north London outfit are in a decent position to cope with a much smaller squad.
Furthermore, not being in Europe this season and being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions by the end of January means Arsenal won’t be facing a hectic fixture schedule between now and May.
Even with the home game against Wolves and the North London Derby away at Tottenham Hotspur to be rearranged, the Gunners should have one fixture a week more often than not.
With Manchester United and West Ham United still in Europe, a lighter fixture schedule could work in Arsenal’s favour as they are very much in the top-four battle.
So considering Arteta’s current options, brettbarley.com assesses who should be prioritised in each department in the Spaniard’s two favoured formations to ensure the Gunners end the season strongly.
As reported by brettbarley.com last month, the German had been told by Arteta that he was free to leave, but has opted to see out the campaign and move on in the summer.
With the Gunners no longer in any of the two domestic cup competitions and not in Europe this season, Leno may have already played his final game for the club.
Interestingly, the north London outfit have already agreed a deal to sign a replacement goalkeeper in Matt Turner.
The USMNT stopper will complete his £4.5million transfer in the summer where he will take over from Leno as Ramsdale’s understudy for the 2022/23 campaign.
And with Karl Hein joining Reading on loan for the rest of the season, that confirms Arthur Okonkwo will continue as the third-choice option.
Despite Mari’s loan move, Kolasinac and Chambers’ permanent exits, Arsenal are still well-stocked in the defensive department with at least two players in every position in a back four.
In Takehiro Tomiyasu, Cedric Soares, Kieran Tierney and Nuno Tavares there’s depth at full-back, while two from Benjamin White, Gabriel Magalhaes and Rob Holding will make up the central defensive pairing.
Of course, the Gunners will need some luck with injuries and suspensions to avoid a crisis.
With that said, Tomiyasu can operate at centre-back if needed, Cedric can cover at left-back if for some reason Tierney and Tavares are unavailable and White has impressed at right-back already this season.
That should be more than enough to get through the rest of the campaign with and in the case of an emergency, Arteta can always promote from within the under-23s setup.
Omar Rekik, who arrived from Hertha Berlin last January, has often trained with the first-team and could benefit from Mari and Chambers leaving to become the fourth-choice central defender.
In addition, Rekik is able to operate at right-back and in defensive midfield, so after a proposed move to Stoke City fell through on deadline day, the Tunisia international could have a role to play for Arsenal between now and the end of the season.
Arsenal’s decision to let Maitland-Niles leave at the beginning of the January transfer window was a bizarre one.
Rather the timing of it than the decision as with Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny departing for the Africa Cup of Nations following the Man City game on the 3rd, the Gunners were always going to be short of options in central midfield until the pair returned.
Then with Granit Xhaka testing positive for Covid-19 thus missing the Nottingham Forest FA Cup tie and then getting sent off against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg, it left Albert Sambi Lokonga as the only senior midfielder available for three of the four fixtures after the Man City defeat.
Even with this midfield crisis, Arteta and Edu opted against signing a midfielder despite heavy links to Juventus’ Arthur Melo.
Therefore, not much has changed in the midfield pecking order except Elneny taking over from Maitland-Niles as the fourth-choice central midfielder, whilst Martin Odegaard has cemented his position in the number 10 role.
Alternatively, the Norway international can operate in a deeper role whether that be in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 system.
Meanwhile, Charlie Patino, Salah-Eddine Oulad and Rekik are the youthful options if Arteta wants to look to the future.
Perhaps the department that will ultimately decide Arsenal’s top-four fate.
Aubameyang’s departure means someone has to step up and take over the mantle as the Gunners’ chief goalscorer. Despite being frozen out since the beginning of December, only Smith Rowe has scored more goals than the Gabon international across the entire squad.
That has to change if Arsenal are to be playing Champions League football next season.
Based on the team selections in Aubameyang’s absence, it’s likely that Alexandre Lacazette will lead the line in the majority of games with Eddie Nketiah hoping to give Arteta something to think about.
Beyond that, Gabriel Martinelli could be in line for some chances through the middle, while some Arsenal fans have been clamoring for Arteta to experiment with Nicolas Pepe as a centre-forward.
The pair will also provide competition to Saka and Smith Rowe out wide.
If Arteta needs to turn to youth then Omari Hutchinson and Mika Biereth are two players who have impressed this season and were on the bench against Burnley last time out.