The assessment of the summer transfer window
While the international break takes over our weekly Arsenal schedule, let’s use the time to reflect on the rather interesting and intensive transfer window. With the following disclaimers:
I will base my evaluation based on the public information. The actual outcome may vary. Many players develop synergies with Arteta, but not everybody progresses in the optimistically expected trajectory. We’ll see…
A particular player, Arteta or time obviously may prove me wrong (in some cases I hope for that), but I did base my assessment on the most likely scenarios as of today (last weekend).
As many of you already know I honestly don’t believe in the „the bigger the better” squad theory. So I rate a signing high if – and only if – it improves on the first team. Squad depth is not my main concern.
Since some country’s (Netherlands, Russia, Portugal) as well as the domestic EFL transfer window closes later, there might be a few transfers (mostly loans) in the queue this year. I hope there will be players leaving the squad temporarily, but I assumed only a ’Saliba going on loan to the Championship’ at this point; which is not even an ’almost certainty’ since Monday morning…
Transfers and loans in the U23 team – albeit interesting – are out of the scope from this analysis.
Within the respective categories I tried to list the transactions chronologically, or position-wise (from defense to attack). Value or importance have nothing to do with the order. However the financial aspects of the transactions were taken into consideration.
High scores represent proper decisions and good news, low scores imply errors in judgement, bad decisions and missed opportunities, or just my sorrow that it turned out that way.
Pablo Mari – 4 – he came on a cheap for a tall, left footed center-back, but eventually this is not a niche position any more. We saw him play only a couple of games before his unfortunate and long injury. While familiar with the PL, speaks a few languages, I wonder where and how he will be reintegrated. It would be a shame if he finds himself on the periphery, but the odds are against him.
Cerdic Soares – 6 – a free transfer is (almost) always welcome. Soares is an experienced and reliable player, and he made a great debut as a supersub against Norwich. He didn’t really shine ever since, but he wasn’t the weakest link either. With the dramatic improvement of AMN I’m not sure we needed Cedric, but he provides competition and alternative to Hector, which is a good thing.
Willian – 7 – another free transfer, but cost an arm and leg on salaries and signing on fees, as he became the club’s second highest earner. (He slipped to the 4th place now, as PEA and Partey overtook him, though.) Willian had an unbelievable first game – with 3 assist in the opening round – but nothing spectacular ever since. He is contracted till his 35th birthday, which is kind of a liability, but that is a risk we had to take for a marquee signing. +1 point already added for sucking Chelsea in.
Gabriel Magalhães – 10 – unexpected as it is, the fairy tale and clear winner of the transfer window is the tall young Brazilian. Settled to London and Arsenal quick and vell, played great in each of the games involved (won all 3), Gabriel is commanding in the air and unaffected by the concentration curse that is typical of Luiz, Shkodran, Rob and Sokratis. He even scored a goal. And the best is that we bought him for a reasonable price. Sven ’diamond eye’ Mislintat would be proud of such a signing – the next Virgin van Dijk…
Rúnar Rúnarsson – 3 – apologies for the low score but/albeit I haven’t seen him play. Rúnar, 25, became a Gúnar for a low price based on his history with our goalkeeping coach – that is a promising sign. He is surprisingly short for a keeper yet has huge shoes to fill taking Emi’s place at #2 (pun intended). I hope that we can see him play in the Europa League and the early rounds of the FA Cup, so he can convince us.
Thomas Partey – 8 – I admit if this post would have been created a week ago I would have given Thomas a 6. I don’t follow La Liga that closely and while I appreciate I don’t really like Simeone nor Atletico. We paid a 60% surcharge on his TM market value, and we already had capable DMs. But reading posts and comments on Bergkampesque the enthusiasm here infected me, and reading how much more than a brutal enforcer he is made me infatuated with Partey. He earns double than he should, but if he really becomes the missing piece from Arteta’s master plan, then he can earn it next year in the Champions League.
Mohamed Elneny – 6 – another case when I have to admit being wrong (don’t get used to that). When I learned that he didn’t stay in Turkey I quickly jumped to the conclusion to sell him at almost any price as the reduced wage bill should have been the main target with Mo. But he put in some mature and disciplined performances. Still nothing spectacular, but more reliable and versatile than he was under Wenger. Even though we won’t see him playing in the PL much when Partey settles in, he could be the calm midfield presence our youngsters need in EL and cup games. And he is still the great amiable guy that he always was.
Emile Smith-Rowe – 5 – I’m genuinely glad he’s back, but I’m not too happy if he stays for the season with us as our central midfield is already crowded, and so far the AM role is not-existent in Arteta’s main formation. (Even if that changes there are players ahead of Emile in the pecking order.) He is a good boy who will surely become a great player, but could probably use another loan stint in the Championship. I see him in Arsenal’s future, but maybe not in the immediate future, and playing 270 minutes a season would be arrested development.
Dani Ceballos – 8 – his second spell at Arsenal obviously makes the squad stronger and tactically more versatile. The midweek international game showed that he can be deployed even further ahead, even though he has remarkable defensive statistics with us. He wanted to come back, which is always flattering. I know I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, but if his cooperation with Partey (and Xhaka) turns out to be fruitful, he should be our #1 priority signing in the next transfer window. Let’s hope, Real Madrid won’t be aware of that.
Misses (didn’t come):
Hossem Aouar – 3 – let’s face the reality: without selling Guendouzi and Torreira there was no way to buy both Partey and Aouar. From the age, technical skills, market value and chance creation points of view I would have gone with Hossem, but I can easily accept that the purchase of Thomas was more urgent and pivotal to Mikel’s plans. Again, Arsenal is known to suck at selling players, and unfortunately this case we needed that to buy proper reinforcements.
David Raya – 10 – this rumor was nonsense from the start. No doubt David being a fine keeper, but Arsenal’s 10M offer for him (which was allegedly turned down) was probably a lie fabricated by rubbish journalists or his agent; as Raya is 25 years old, has never played in the top division – in fact he played against a PL team only once – is 183 cm tall, thus would never justify us paying 87% of Martinez’s fee for him. There were similar stories where Arsenal was rumored to pay crazy premiums for unproven players (most notably Sporting teenagers Joelson Fernandes and Nuno Mendes), but only David Raya was taken seriously by sane people…
Donny van de Beek – 4 – we let another gem fall to the wrong hands. The young Dutchman can play CM and AM and is a key pass machine. It breaks my heart that MU will inevitably ruin him playing second fiddle behind Fernandes who is his more experienced, more successful clone. Solskjaer didn’t really need him, the 35M is a steal for a player who is already (or soon will be) as good as Coutinho was before being sold to Barcelona for 130M. And he dates Bergkamp’s daughter, so joining Arsenal would have been the obvious – as well as win-win – solution. Maybe we can sign him in 2-3 years if ESR might not live up to the expectations.
Zaha – 9 – come on; not another expensive winger. No disrespect to Wilfried, but we are properly packed on the wings, and then some. We have some proven professionals as well as young starlets, so Zaha and Arsenal is not a match made in heaven. There will be rumors on our scouts eyeing the Ivory Coast international in every transfer window, but don’t worry: they won’t be true.
Emiliano Martinez – 2 – my biggest sorrow for the window, but I don’t really know whose fault it was, if anyone is to blame at all. We had a nothing short of fabulous setup with Bernd and Emi, that is unfortunately gone now. They both played more than 2000 minutes last season, were incredibly popular and the „there is no dedicated #1 keeper” principle provided healthy competition keeping both guys on the edge of their seat in a positive way. Apparently Martinez couldn’t accept him not being given the #1 pledge, and became discontent after his first – but truly incredible – streak of remarkable performances, so Arsenal had no choice, but to sell him below his value.
Henrik Mkhitarian – 3 – this is a similarly low score, however for different reasons: I’m less upset about Henrikh leaving than how he left. Terminating a contract in order to let the player leave on a free transfer is a beau geste. Something that was apt in Jack Wilshere’s situation, but an unexplained 20M gift to Rome this case. We were interested in a few players from AS Roma anyway (Diawara, Ünder, Kluivert), at least some swap or player + cash deal would have been reasonable. I know we managed to remove his 180k salary from the wage bill, but that was a sad – and seemingly unprofessional – depreciation of what Alexis Sanchez was for Arsenal in 2016.
Konstantinos Mavropanos – 5 – I’m not at all prone to conspiracy theories, but it is hard to find a reasonable justification how come the career of the promising yet low-concept Mislintat signings (Guendouzi, Mavropanos Torreira) turned into a disaster in the last 6-8 months. Mavro was probably our best performing loanee last season, and since we are packed in the back a last Bundesliga trip could be understood. I hope we’ll not let Konstantinos get wasted and give him a chance to prove himself next season (without Luiz and Sokratis ahead of him in the team).
Matteo Guendouzi – 7 – probably the best outcome would have been selling him for 43M realizing a profit of 500% in 2 years, but since nobody was willing to pay him above 20M sending the young Frenchman on loan was a reasonable alternative. After a good season in Berlin Arteta can reintegrate him into the team, to continue his stellar trajectory under Emery, but it would definitely increase his value as well as marketability, so if we sell him eventually it could be for a decent fee. I wasn’t a huge fan of Matteo, but he didn’t cross a line to deserve being buried, which wouldn’t do the club any good either. I hope this story is still salvageable.
Lucas Torreira – 3 – the other painful decision besides Emi, and it was at a similarly large extent the player’s fault. But while Martinez left on a high, Lucas failed to adapt to the new environment, language and culture. I don’t think his downfall had much to do with the physicality of the PL, as 12 months ago he thrived here and was considered one of the world’s top6 DMs and a signing masterstroke. Maybe he’ll rediscover his future in Spain, but due to the loan contract details with Atletico we will not benefit from him getting back to his proper 50M value. The only positive thing about his suspenseful transfer saga is that we didn’t sell or loan him to those stingy, petty Italian barstewards.
Deyan Iliev – 5 – some may not know him at all, but we have the future North-Macedonian keeper in our books (for 8 years now) who never featured for the first team in competitive games, but has 13 junior caps under his belts and sat on the bench of his country’s senior team 17 times already. He is tall (Runarsson + 20cm / 8 inch), but no other traits of a world class keeper. It would be fair to sell – or even release – him as this neverending loan pressure is a lose-lose. Deyan is 25, worth 270k, contracted to Arsenal until 2022 and not among our top 4 keepers.
William Saliba – 4 – I didn’t want to include him in 2 places as he recently joined, but (hopefully) already on his way to the Championship. To summarize his story it is rather sad, as we were so proudly bought him as one of the most valuable U18 player in the world, solving our defensive woes, but due to a nasty injury, the coronavirus, the cancelling of Ligue 1 last season, the low-life negotiation tactics of Saint-Etienne with regards to the French cup final, a personal tragedy and some unfortunate mis-coaching he slipped from his supreme trajectory. From the loan point of view it is positive and necessary to bring him up to speed for the PL, but William’s journey from being our defensive savior to looking for a lower league host team is just painful.
Misses/fails (didn’t leave):
Sokratis Papastathopoulos – 2 – that was lame. Sokratis is 32, yet has market value and suitorsd all over Europe. The Greek – who helped us big time when the club was in an injury-stricken defensive crisis – is no longer a first team contender under Arteta, earns around 5M a year, and is in the final year of his contract. He should have been sold without hesitation. Period. PSG wanted to sign him on a free (when did the club funded with oil billions become so pathetic?) which we properly turned down, but some of the 5-7M proposals from other clubs should have been accepted as Sokratis will not play much this year. And if he does, it will be on the expense of other defenders.
Rob Holding – 7 – young Rob arrived with plenty of promise and ambition, but after convincing performances injuries set back his development and his position in the pecking order, hence not-so-young Rob is not an obvious starter albeit his fine performances in the last 2 FA cup finals. Therefore it was a major surprise that he started the first 5 games of the season alone, and while made a few mistakes under pressure, none led to goals conceded. Holding is not particularly fast, but makes it up with clever positioning, winning most of the aerial duels and providing plenty of clearances. With Luiz and Mustafi back to fitness he is no longer the first choice RCB, but could get plenty of further minutes in cup ties. He has a great personality; I’m happy he stayed, and hope he remains injury-free this season.
Sead Kolasinac – 4 – I always liked and appreciated him more than the average fan, but Sead could have been sold too, as he is #3 at LB/LWB, however he is still a more active and useful player than Papa. If rumors were true (which surprisingly often not true at all) he had some serious offers from Italy and Germany. Arsenal should have been following them through. He is not that marketable as – being a free transfer – Arsenal pays his signing on fee in his 100k weekly salary, but it didn’t seem impossible. Sead is contracted to us for 2 more years, but we should sit back to the negotiation table during the winter transfer window. He can still be a frequent (super)sub this season with his versatility, but I don’t see the club really stronger with him sitting on the bench.
Shkodran Mustafi – 7 – the German-Albanian world cup winner is difficult to sell when fit (due to his 90k salary and unfairly bad reputation), and it is practically impossible when injured. He is in his last year of his contract, but this is not a bug but a feature in his case. Let’s not forget that Shkodran is our best man-marking defender, the true clearance master; only his frequent lapses of concentration made Mustafi a constant liability under Wenger and Emery. He clearly improved under Arteta, and could return to the first team in a back three. So at the end of the season we can decide whether to offer him a new contract, or part ways. Unlike Sokratis, he does make Arsenal a better team.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – 8 – for long years Ainsley was kept around the first team for his loyalty and history with the club rather than his performance, but the investment in his career finally started to pay off. He is not merely a versatile sub, but a proper substitute for either side wingbacks and could become more in midfield. AMN is not yet first team material, but in the cup matches he is no longer the main liability any more, and his penalty kicks make up for all the dull moments in the game. I’m glad he stayed, and good luck to him with his England career.
Joe Willock – 4 – I expect this being the main area of disagreement, but I would have sent young Joe on a loan. Regular minutes could have done good to his confidence and tactical maturity, as currently only his relentless pressing is his main asset. Apparently I’m not his only critic; he lost his place in the England U21 setup as well. At Arsenal he is far from the top of the pecking order in CM/AM/RM position, but his pace and strength can still be useful as a late substitute. However we are full of players who can make game-changing supersubs (Pepe, Saka, Ceballos, Nketiah), so keeping Willock at the Emirates without giving him 1500 minutes is a bad decision for me.
Mesut Özil – 6 – this is not just me being a fan of Mesut’s technical skills as well as charitable personality, but due to his astronomical wages there was never a chance to sell him, and almost 0 probability to even give him away wrapped up in a gift box. Arteta’s principle about everybody starting with a clean sheet is promising, but is probably not literally true either. Whatever happened to Özil – starting from him reaching his final year of contract without a proper extension offer, through to his weekly 350k new contract without performance bonuses, to his underutilized (forgotten?) talent in the last couple of years – were/are all signs of serious unprofessionalism, that would call for board member(s) to be fired in a proper company, but somehow Mesut ended up being the lazy and greedy bad guy. It will be a shame if we won’t see him in an Arsenal jersey, but even so it is 8+14 million pounds away.
Reiss Nelson – 3 – we had this argument with TA (and many others when Willian signed) 2 months ago, but 8 attackers is way too many, and Arteta didn’t yet prove otherwise. Since Martinelli is currently injured so far only Nelson seems to be the victim to our oversized attacking contingent, but unless Mikel starts employing Saka or Willian in an AM capacity it is going to get worse in 2021. While the Championship would be a clear step back from winning young player of the months awards for Hoffenheim, I think Reiss should go for loan this season as he is not any less talented than Saka, just didn’t get the same opportunities to prove himself as young Bukayo (whose luck was his ability to play LB). Throwing away a talent that was often considered ’the twin of Jadon Sancho’ would be a federal offense.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 9 – I am really glad that our Gabonese captain decided to pursue his legend status rather than a CL title with Barcelona or Real Madrid. So far his new contract that put him on par or even ahead of Mesut Ozil didn’t improve his effectiveness and clinical finishing, but that might not be such a bad thing as Arsenal was too dependent on Aubameyang scoring the equalizer or the winning goal. I’m not happy that we had to make a habit out of astronomical wages; but if it is the economical necessity to fight for trophies then I’m glad PEA at least has performance related bonuses in his contract.
Alexander Lacazette – 7 – I’m not sure that young Eddie and Auba (moved to ST) would have been sufficient in covering the central forward position, and I would have been strongly against replacing Lacazette with Jovic, Daka or Edouard, who would cost around the same figure what we could have received for Alexandre but have no PL experience. I think it is great he stayed and he already proved Arteta right by scoring goals in every game he started. And let’s not forget, his 3 goals came in 238 minutes (he was substituted in all his 3 PL games), so mark my words: there is more to come.
In spite of my best efforts, this list is inadvertently subjective. We see players, we treat news sources, we assess possibilities and we evaluate outcomes differently. It is absolutely natural that we celebrate and complain about different events. Don’t hesitate to challenge my views; especially if there is more than 2 points between your score and my rating.
The average of my 30 evaluation above is 5.7 – however the scores should be weighted as the signing of Gabriel or Partey are obviously not at the same importance as sending Iliev on loan or failing to sell Kolasinac – making me generally satisfied and slightly optimistic about the future (as delineated in my reply to TA’s previous post); but I indeed wish we didn’t sell Emi, sold a handful of fringe players, and sent more youngsters on a meaningful loan, as the current squad size of 31 is way too large to my liking. Overall this was a good, but not great transfer window in my opinion.