Opinion: Keep, Loan or Sell – Part Two

Midfield is where Arsenal really need to rebuild this season but who should be part of that transition and who should be offloaded to fund new additions.

Name: Bukayo Saka: Age: 18. Apps: 38. 

It was a breakthrough campaign for the youngster. He started the season playing for the youth team and ended it with a new bumper contract and with the iconic number seven shirt. 

After impressing in the Europa League, he got game time in the Premier League but it was an injury crisis at left back where he really made his mark. It started under Unai Emery but it was Mikel Arteta’s tactics that made it work.

He may have been playing at the back but Arteta ensured he was able to put his dribbling ability and precision passing to good use. 

In the final third he is cool under pressure and always finds his man no matter the angle. He has proven he can play at wing back, wing forward or in midfield and doesn’t look out of place in any of those positions.

After breaking in to the team last season, this could be the year where he becomes the star.

Verdict: Keep. 

Name: Mesut Özil. Age: 31. Apps: 23.

It was another difficult year for Özil with his relationship with the club even more strained than it previously was. 

Emery opted to leave him out for “tactical reasons” before calling him back when things were going wrong. 

A dazzling display against Liverpool in the EFL Cup aside, the German failed to make his mark with Freddie Ljungberg leaving out the playmaker before Arteta’s arrival.

The Spaniard relied on his former teammate before the lockdown but that wasn’t the case once football resumed with Özil not playing a single minute in Project Restart.

His £350k-a-week wages weigh heavily on his reputation and relationship with the fans, although there are still those who will support him until the end. 

It’s clear the club wants him to go but the midfielder has insisted he will see out his contract and so the Özil saga will go on for one final season. 

Verdict: I would sell but he isn’t going anywhere.

Name: Lucas Torreira. Age: 24. Apps: 39.

Torreira made almost 40 appearances for the Gunners last season but hasn’t made a place in midfield his own yet. A lot of his appearances were either out of his natural position or as a substitute

He was signed as a midfield anchor but Emery played him further forward while injury interrupted his momentum under Arteta, and a lot of progress was made in his absence.

The Uruguayan has plenty to offer and I think he could do the job he was bought in to do but it seems like he hasn’t settled in to life in North London and a return to Italy is probably best for all parties. 

Verdict: Sell.

Name: Mohamed Elneny. Age: 28. Apps: 36 (for Besiktas).

The Egyptian is a solid if not spectacular midfielder. You know what you are going to get with Elneny and that can be good for a manager.

He is a safe option, will recycle possession and keep hold of the ball. He specialises in playing the safe passes and isn’t the player to produce that killer pass or spot the run of a player. 

His performance in the Community Shield showed that he can do what Arteta wants him to do and he was very effective in playing out from the back. 

Elneny isn’t someone to build the team around or be a first-team starter but he can certainly add some depth to the midfield. 

Verdict: Keep. 

Name: Joe Willock. Age: 21. Apps: 44. 

It’s still uncertain what type of midfielder Willock actually is. He has been touted as a number 10 and box-to-box player but has played as a deep-lying midfielder at times while most recently he has been utilised as a substitute on the right wing. 

He has attributes that can see him do a job in several positions but he doesn’t have a specific skill-set suited to a particular role.

He played more than any other midfielder in the last campaign but a loan move may allow him to discover himself as a player a bit more.

However, we don’t have the numbers in midfield to let him go yet.

Verdict: Loan (if we sign other midfielders).

Name: Mattéo Guendouzi. Age: 21. Apps: 34.

It’s been a meteoric rise for the Frenchman over the past two seasons but the progress he made has been lost in the space of two months.

A row in Dubai created tension between Guendouzi and Arteta and that was heightened with more petulance and a bad attitude post-lockdown, which saw the midfielder dropped. 

The manager has said the midfielder knows what he has to do to get back into the team but with no sign of a recall, his days look numbered.

The relationship between player and coach seems broken beyond repair and his holiday post when the Gunners won the FA Cup did his reputation no favours.

There seems to be little interest in a young player with a poor attitude and perhaps that is no surprise but we need to get him off the books at all costs. 

Verdict: Sell. 

Name: Granit Xhaka. Age: 27. Apps: 41.

Few would have expected Xhaka to still be an Arsenal player after his clash with supporters in the draw with Crystal Palace. Already a divisive figure, the Swiss looked certain to leave the club until Arteta persuaded him to stay and it’s been a move that’s paid dividends. 

I’m no fan of Xhaka but you can’t deny the impact he has on the team. When he doesn’t play, we struggle. 

The fact he is our best midfielder says more for the lack of talent in that area of the pitch than it does for Xhaka’s ability and if we are to take the next step then I think we have to shred the reliance on him but with the futures of so many midfielders unclear, Xhaka’s presence at least adds some stability.

I would be keen to keep him this year ahead of a possible exit next summer.

Verdict: Keep. 

Name: Emile Smith Rowe. Age: 20. Apps: 25 (19 for Huddersfield)

After bursting onto the scene in 2018, his development has been halted with an injury ravaged loan spell at RB Leipzig in 2019. This season started in the youth team and ended with a more productive loan at Huddersfield Town, where he impressed.

Having got some more playing time in a more competitive setting, the youngster is ready to fight for his place in the Arsenal midfield.

There are plenty of academy players in the first team and Smith Rowe is one of the most technically gifted and with creativity a real problem, he may be able to force his way into Arteta’s plans. 

Verdict: Keep.  

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