Keep, Loan or Sell: Part One

Arsenal are already in full flow with their transfer negotiations but rather than looking forward to possible additions, we take a look at the current crop and decide who should be part of the rebuild under Mikel Arteta.

This first article will focus on the goalkeepers and defenders.

Name: Bernd Leno. Age: 28. Apps: 32.

The German goalkeeper displayed his shot-stopping ability throughout the season until his unfortunate injury against Brighton.

He was called into action far more often than he should have been and saved us on numerous occasions. 

One of the most consistent performers of the campaign and was a contender for player of the season, which tells you everything you need to know.

Verdict: Keep. 

Name: Emiliano Martínez. Age: 27. Apps: 23.

The Argentine started the season firmly behind Leno in the pecking order but finished it as a key member of the team and with a FA Cup winners’ medal. 

I feared the worst when Leno was ruled out but Martínez took his chance with both hands.

His displays in goal meant we didn’t feel the absence of Leno as much and his distribution added another weapon to the attack. 

His story from teenager to outcast to first-choice goalkeeper only adds to his appeal and he has done nothing wrong to lose his shirt irrespective of Leno’s fitness ahead of the new season. 

Verdict: Keep. 

Héctor Bellerín. Age: 25. Apps: 23.

It was a difficult season for the Spaniard as he fought his way back from his ACL injury. You never see the full ability of the player until the season after his recovery and that’s why we didn’t see the best of Héctor this season.

There were signs of improvement in the last few games and I believe he will be back to his best next year.

His age and contract situation make him a sellable asset for a team that needs to make money before investing but having him on the pitch will be more beneficial than what we can add to the bank balance. 

He’s a sure starter for me next season. 

Verdict: Keep. 

Kieran Tierney. Age: 23. Apps: 24. 

An injury-hit campaign for the Scotland international meant we didn’t get to see what he could do until Project Restart.

Already emerging as a fan favourite, Tierney is probably the club’s best defender and has shown versatility as a centre back as well as on the left. 

He seems to be the only one of our back line who relishes the defensive side of the game and is rarely caught out. 

His delivery in the final third makes him even more impressive while his link-up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang down the left flank was key to our FA Cup successes against Manchester City and Chelsea.

Verdict: Keep.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Age: 32. Apps: 29. 

An ever-present under Unai Emery, Sokratis was one of the casualties when Mikel Arteta took over. 

The central defender made just seven starts under Arteta and four of them came at right back as the head coach managed Bellerín’s fitness. 

Sokratis’ physicality and no-nonsense attitude are his best attributes but with Arteta favouring a more fluid and agile defence that is comfortable on the ball and can play out from the back, the Greek saw himself pushed to the sidelines.

It’s clear that Arteta doesn’t see Sokratis as part of his plans and as a result the club executives should do all they can to ensure they offload players that are surplus to requirements, which will clear up the wage bill and make our limited resources go that bit further.

Verdict: Sell.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Age: 22. Apps: 32.

I’ve categorised the Englishman as a defender because he has spent the majority of his Arsenal career at either full back or wing back. 

It looked like the writing was on the wall for Maitland-Niles at the beginning of the year but he improved his attitude and forced his way back into Arteta’s plans, playing vital roles in both the semi final and final of the FA Cup. 

Calm and composed on the ball, he is a player that would have fitted in seamlessly in an Arséne Wenger side.

His pace makes him an ideal outlet on the wing to bomb forward and recover at the back.

He would be an ideal player to keep around the squad, an academy graduate that can play numerous positions, helps with the homegrown quota and is at an age where there is still obvious improvement ahead.

However, there are rumours that the player wants to leave to play more first-team football and lock down a position and if that is true then it would be best to sell. 

Then there is the fact that we are fully stocked in the full back area and so someone has to make way. 

We need players who want to be at the club and Maitland-Niles could fetch a decent price to help strengthen in other areas.

Verdict: Sell.

Rob Holding. Age: 24. Apps: 18.

Another player who spent the season trying to fully recover from his ACL injury.

The centre back struggled for game time this season with an injury crisis at the tail end of the season forcing Arteta to use the Englishman. 

As I said with Bellerín, it takes a long time to fully shake off the effects of an ACL problem and so Holding was never going to be at his best this season. 

He showed promising signs before his unfortunate injury last season but failed to build on that in this campaign.

He looked nervy in possession, off the pace and struggled to assert himself. However, his flaws were somewhat hidden – to an extent – in a three-man backline.

In his defence he never got a proper run in the team and showed his best form last season when he was a regular for Unai Emery, featuring in 16 consecutive games before his injury.

It is difficult for a player, particularly a centre back, to show a consistent level of performance when he is in and out of the team. 

With his injury, hopefully, fully behind him and a run of games I think Holding can show a higher level of performance.

Verdict: Loan. 

Cédric Soares. Age: 28. Apps: 5.

It’s still unclear exactly why an injured defender who wasn’t wanted at Southampton arrived at the club but one thing that is clear is that he won’t be going anywhere this summer.

The Portuguese international signed a four-year deal in June and will head into the season as back-up to Bellerín. He can also operate at left back.

We haven’t seen much of him due to injury but he has a role to play as a squad rotation option to ensure our full backs aren’t over played. 

Verdict: Keep.

Shkodran Mustafi: Age: 28. Apps: 27.

If Sokratis was a casualty of Arteta’s appointment then Mustafi is the opposite. The German was out in the cold under Unai Emery, who publically said he wasn’t wanted last summer.

As a transfer didn’t materialise the German had to make do with Carabao Cup and Europa League action until Arteta’s arrival. 

Mustafi was revitalised under Arteta and looked a new player, arguably the club’s best central defender post lockdown. 

His history of unconvincing performances and frequent errors still leave some doubt that he can keep up his current form and with his contract due to expire next summer, there was a decision to make on his future.

However, injury means he is unlikely to be sold so the decision has been made for us.

Verdict: Keep. 

Calum Chambers. Age: 25. Apps: 18.

Chambers’ situation this season is a lot like Holding’s last campaign. After finally forcing his way into first-team contention, an ACL injury curtailed his progress. 

Although he had looked quite good, after two loan moves and failure to nail down a first-team spot, I think Chambers’ time at Arsenal has run its course. 

It is worth noting that Arteta opted to pick Chambers but with a need to lower the number of CBs we have in the squad and a rumoured interest from Fulham, I think it might be the right time to let him go.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if his injury scuppers any chance of a move.

Verdict: Sell. 

Pablo Marí. Age: 26. Apps: 3.

Marî was a surprise addition in January but with his loan move turned permanent in June, there is no doubt he will be part of Arteta’s squad next season. 

The Spaniard started the first game after lockdown at Manchester City, which suggests he is a first-choice pick for Arteta, but an early injury meant he played no further part of the season.

The club are on the lookout for another CB – Gabriel Magalhães is the current rumoured target – and it will be interesting to see where Marí fits in if a deal is completed. 

Verdict: Keep.

David Luiz. Age: 33. Apps: 43.

The Brazilian arrived on deadline day after Laurent Koscielny forced a move to Bordeaux. 

There were concerns about his positional sense and rash decision making but there was also excitement about his passing range and leadership. 

A year on and we have seen the best and worst of Luiz. He broke an unwanted record for conceding the most penalties in a league season but was the catalyst in a rock-solid defensive performance that saw us beat Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.

You never know what you are going to get with Luiz but Arteta has enough trust in him to persuade the club to give him a new one-year deal.

He played more games than any other defender last season but relying so heavily on such an unpredictable player may not be such a wise move going forward.

Verdict: Keep. 

Sead Kolašinac Age: 27. Apps: 32.

I’m not really sure what positives Kolašinac brings to the team.

At left back he gets caught out too easily and wingers can beat him in a foot race and despite his strong physique he gets pushed off the ball too easily.

In a back three he doesn’t have the passing ability to play it out from the back and he doesn’t look particularly comfortable on the ball.

The main string to his bow is that he can drive up the pitch but his delivery method is hit and hope rather than pick a man out, something that both Tierney and Bukayo Saka excel at. 

With the wages he is on and his worth to the squad being minimal, he would be one of the first players the club should look to move on.

Verdict: Sell. 

With William Saliba joining up with the squad this summer and Konstantinos Mavropanos already out on loan, it didn’t make much sense to include them in this list.

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