Have Mikel Arteta and Edu gambled with Arsenal’s season again?

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Have Mikel Arteta and Edu gambled with Arsenal’s season again?

Just last January, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta bet on red in the transfer market casino, and it came up black.

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The Gunners parted ways with Sead Kolasinac, the only recognised backup option to Kieran Tierney, allowing him to depart on loan to Schalke 04 for the remainder of the season. They hoped, of course, that Tierney would stay fit and the Bosnian would not be needed.

Ironically, this came as Tierney was already on the treatment table with a knee injury, something that flared up again in April, leaving Granit Xhaka to deputise as an auxiliary left-back for a crucial part of the season that saw them fall out of the Europa League

It is far too simplistic to suggest that Tierney being fit would have seen Arsenal progress into the Europa League final, but moving Xhaka out of central midfield for the first leg proved challenging, as his replacement Dani Ceballos saw red, and then the Swiss international himself picked up an injury in the warm-up for the second leg, forcing Tierney back early.

Have Mikel Arteta and Edu gambled with Arsenal’s season again?

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 16: Dani Ceballos of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on February 16, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

This campaign has seen evidence of it too; the midfield crisis that Arsenal saw in January was not unforeseen, the Africa Cup of Nations did not spring up out of nowhere, and it was not wildly out of the question that injury, illness or suspension (or all three) may rob the club of its one senior midfielder.

Time and time again, Arsenal and their hierarchy appear to hope for the best-case scenarios, as opposed to planning for the worst. Ultimately, it was that hope that saw them finish 4 points off the top 4 last season, and could rob them of a shot at it this season.

But, is this something that could have been addressed this January?

January blues?

On paper, Arsenal’s January looks a sorry state. Five players departed for nothing, with three of those proving permanent, and the club captain at the start of the season was let go from the last 18 months of his contract.

Then you dive deeper. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, of course, has not played for the club since November and was training alone at London Colney while his teammates jetted off to Dubai for their warm-weather break. If that wasn’t a clear indication of where he was in relation to his manager’s plans, nothing was. Saving 29 million pounds on his wages can only be a bonus, while Arteta will no longer have the Aubameyang millstone to deal with at press conferences.

Of the other 4 departures, only Ainsley Maitland-Niles had made a Premier League start for the Gunners since September, while between them they had racked up a measly 245 minutes in the Premier League since the full squad returned to action after the 5-0 defeat to Manchester City, of which 244 of them were down to Maitland-Niles.

It is not the departures themselves that grate with Arsenal fans, but the nature of them, with no fee being paid to the club in January for effectively weakening their squad in case of an injury issue, as they had at the back end of last season.

Then, it comes to the incomings, or lack thereof. On one hand, Arsenal should be applauded for their willingness to stick to their guns and not be forced into a late move for anyone in the sort of deal that has seen Kim Kallstrom and Denis Suarez join the club.

On the other, much bigger hand, the club is now relying on Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah to qualify them for a competition that they will likely not represent the club come next season, with both players out of contract in the summer.

Such was their lack of options up-front this January that they rejected three bids for Eddie Nketiah in January, despite having only 6 months left on a contract he seems determined to run down. Again, the vicious cycle continues and Arsenal will lose another player for free when they could have got a fee for him.

Have Mikel Arteta and Edu gambled with Arsenal’s season again?

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 22: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal celebrates with Alexandre Lacazette after scoring their team’s second goal as Nuno Tavares and Emile Smith Rowe look on during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on October 22, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images).

Had they splashed out on Alexander Isak’s 90 million euro release clause, would it have guaranteed them top 4? No. There is no assurance that he would hit the ground running and a big-money move always comes with risk (see: Nicolas Pepe).

But, ask the fans whether striking options of Isak and Lacazette fill them with more confidence than Lacazette and Nketiah, and the majority will say yes.

Is a perfect storm brewing?

In many ways, then, the club were caught in between a rock and a hard place this January, but it remained one of their own making, with failure to plan for the absentees in January leading to a winless month, and forcing Thomas Partey back after his unexpected return from AFCON, which led to him picking up a red card in the process.

Arsenal were not expecting to challenge for the top 4 this season, and they were not expecting to lose their club captain mid-season for nothing. But they have done both, and could have really hammered home their position with a couple of additions, even if they weren’t the perfect option that the club were targeting in the summer.

They can still get top 4, of course, and it is the current players that have made it possible. And with 17 games left to play, they are undoubtedly in the mix even with the threadbare squad they have, providing that there is a perfect storm and they manage to keep the seemingly trusted band of 14 or so players fully fit.

Once again, however, they appear to be hoping for the best rather than preparing for the worst.

Read more:

Ranking every Premier League club’s transfer window

Revealed: Why Arsenal refused to make a January signing

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