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Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s summer transfer gamble

Mikel Arteta and Arsenal

It’s safe to say that Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s shopped and sold in the transfer market under a microscope.

Summer transfer windows always carry importance for ‘big’ clubs. However, Arsenal’s summer ventures took on a particular significance.

The Gunners had a simply terrible 2020/21 campaign. Arsenal finished the season eighth on the table. Consequently, they failed to qualify for European competition for the first time in 25 years.

Mikel Arteta faced squad issues

Arsenal entered the transfer window needing to spend big. In large part, that is due to the underperforming squad from the Emirates Stadium.

Prior to the previous campaign, the Gunners gave former Chelsea star Willian essentially a £30 million contract over three years (signing bonus included). Willian arrived at the north London club from Chelsea, where he excelled. The 32-year-old winger failed to maintain his level of play seen at Stamford Bridge.

Mikel Arteta managing Arsenal against Brentford (Photo credit: AFP)

Along with that bad contract, Arsenal also had to replace outgoing players such as David Luiz, Dani Ceballos, Maty Ryan, and Martin Odegaard. Luiz’s contract expired at the end of the 2020/21 season. As for the other three, they played last season on loan from various clubs. Another positional need that the team had to fill was bringing in another left back. After all, Kieran Tierney may need rest or could come down with an injury.

As mentioned a couple of months ago, Arsenal had to bring in a minimum of five players. Additionally, they could sign up to eight depending on further outgoings in the squad.
Fast forward to the transfer deadline, and the Gunners wound up bringing in six total players this summer. In short, Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu addressed needs with their roster. However, did they make the right moves? Let’s take a look.

Addressing the needs

Essentially, Mikel Arteta and company replaced Luiz, Ceballos, and Ryan with Ben White, Albert Sambi Lokonga, and Aaron Ramsdale. In doing so, Arsenal spent a combined £90 million on just these three players. The oldest of the three newcomers is just 23. Generally, this strategy keeps the wage bill down and adds value to the squad for the future. Despite what some pundits have said about Arsenal’s transfer plans, these are three main issues the club has been trying to address.

READ MORE: Arsenal’s fall out of Premier League contention.

White and Ramsdale have Premier League experience and can perform at high levels. In fact, both won Player of the Season for their respective clubs for the 2020-21 campaign. Although some have questioned the duo’s ability, which is valid, both players are obviously talented. Moreover, their talent and confidence should increase with age.

Growing pains are bound to happen with young players. Nevertheless, the club sees these two players as potential England international starters in the future.

Sambi, on the other hand, is a bit of a wild card. Many were unaware who the player was prior to his arrival to north London. However, the Belgian is highly rated in his home country. Moreover, he looks promising in the early stages of his Arsenal tenure.

Along with these three players, Arsenal also brought Odegaard back on a permanent contract. Signing an attacking midfielder was perhaps the most paramount move for the Gunners this summer.

Odegaard, 22, brings exactly what this Arsenal squad needs: creativity in front of goal. While it was a relatively small sample size, the Norwegian seemed to excel under Arteta. He finished last season ranked ninth in the Premier League in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes at 4.36. Also, he produced more key passes per 90 than Phil Foden, Sadio Mane and Rodrigo.

Additional acquisitions

Mikel Arteta and Arsenal also added Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu. Tavares will likely act as the backup left-back for Kieran Tierney. A vastly different decision to the previous Cedric Soares signing, Arsenal’s newest signing follows the youth theme. Tavares, 21, is an exciting talent with valuable experience with Benfica. The Portugal youth international appears to be a little raw with his defending. Yet, it’s worth noting, again, that he was brought in to progress as a backup for now.

Hector Bellerin playing for Arsenal (Photo credit: AFP)

Arsenal had to make a signing late in the window at the right back position due to Hector Bellerin’s loan-departure for Real Betis. Tomiyasu, 22, isn’t exactly a household name in the soccer world. Still, he drew interest from a number of clubs, including Arsenal’s cross-town rival, Tottenham. The versatile defender can play right back, center back, and even in defensive midfield.

Rather than opting for a marquee signing, Arsenal focused on their areas for improvement. Mikel Arteta helped six different positions rather than bolstering one or two. Arsenal fans have also been begging for their club to spend, and they did. The Gunners managed to have a higher net spend than any other team in the Premier League.

Higher transfer fees, lower wage bills

Arsenal spent plenty of money on transfer fees, but they managed to actually lower the wage bill as well.

Willian’s contract termination certainly helped. The move helped save the Gunners nearly £20 million in total. Compared to last season, the club decreased their annual wages by about $12 million. They also got younger. All six new signings are aged 21-23.

Only time will tell whether these players pan out for the Gunners. Buying youngsters is obviously much more of a gamble than established, proven players.

However, Arsenal were happy to make this gamble. Arteta and company clearly had an objective to spend money on talented young players, lower the wage bill, and hopefully build a team for the long haul. This will undoubtedly be a make-or-break decision for the 39-year-old manager.

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  1. Hans

    September 7, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    It is the 3rd restart of building a new squad after Wenger left and Arsenal is no nearer to an exciting squad and football after Wenger left. The clear and obvious reason is in the club’s leadership.
    Vinai was never a CEO of a football club, Edu was never a Director of Football at an European club, Arteta was never a manager. There you have it KSE let the 3 stooges run the Arsenal Football club which tells you much about their interest in The Arsenal.
    After the conclusion of the Oct 2nd game against BHA there is the next international break and depending on the points total it should be sayonara Arteta but hopefully for me all three stooges.

  2. Mercator

    September 7, 2021 at 11:27 am

    @ Nosferatu – Yes, it is important to keep things in perspective. We didn’t expect to win against Chelsea or City, but we also lost to Brentford, and we failed to score in any of the three matches. We didn’t play well at all, the score lines could have been much worse. I’m not sure why everyone is excited about the apparent strategy – it’s obvious that’s what needed to be done and finally getting it right after 3 years of messing around is hardly an achievement.

    The bigger issue is whether you would put such a gamble in the hands of such an inexperienced staff, who have to done nothing so far to demonstrate competence at scouting, signing or selling talent. Why on earth was Willian here? Thank god the fans bantered him into walking on that ridiculous contract, but who approved that? Who is accountable for such a decision, after the whole Ozil escapade? Why is Mari at this club? We have 3 deadwood RBs, who brought in Soares? Was spending 50m on a CB really necessary? Or is it only necessary because Arteta has binned off Siliba for no apparent reason?

    And now we will sit through a struggle against Norwich and a mugging at spurs, and everyone will say well trust the process its not instant. Nonsense man, we can all watch the football. Tuchel turned things around in literally days, with no new signings. Klopp took his lumps early but you could see Liverpool improving even if they were not winning. Its been almost 2 years now and we are worse than ever., not just in the table on the pitch. You can see it clear as day. It’s not acceptable and I don’t care what the long term plan is, it’s unacceptable for Arsenal football club to be sitting at the bottom of the table, ever. It’s unacceptable to be putting in the sort of performances like we did against Chelsea and City. I don’t care how old the team is or what plan in the boardroom is – just play solid football and maybe win a match.

  3. Nosferatu

    September 5, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    Nice job, Chris. A level-headed and thoughtful take in a time when it seems most of the media is more interested in pushing a certain narrative and getting clicks by riling up Arsenal fans.

    It’s obviously hard being happy or even satisfied as a fan with the way the season has started, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. No one really should have expected more than one win from these first three, and when you’re starting your 4th or 5th choice striker, losing guys the day of/day before a game and upending game plans, and so on–let’s just wait a little longer before we write it all off.

    There’s a clear strategy in place from higher up, finally, and it’s one built on striving for sustainable success, not immediate gratification. That’s hard to stomach in a way, but let’s hope for some more positives in the present to allow the plan to grow into something cohesive.

  4. michael babb

    September 5, 2021 at 8:44 pm

    Great article. I learned more specifics about the Arsenal transfer window here than anywhere else. Thanks.

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