It’s not uncommon for Arsenal to be linked to purchasing a slew of different players over the course of a season. Take this year for example. Willian, Coutinho, Gabriel, Partey, Aouar, Max Aarons, Szoboszlai, N’Dicka, Upamecano… the list goes on and one.
What is a bit unusual for Arsenal this year, and in its own way unsettling, is the number of links Arsenal need to have that see their players move away. The unsettling part has been the fact that early on, Arsenal’s sale links seemed all but non-existent — a worry to those that believe Arsenal’s outgoing production is the critical key to unlocking incoming purchases.
To make matters a bit more daunting, many of the easier or obvious sales Arsenal have within their menagerie of central defenders are currently hurt, making the prospect of their departures murky. What it leaves Arsenal with is the harsh reality that a few players they may have only wanted to sell for the right price, are now more urgent to cash in.
In recent days, that a few sale links have begun to surface and paint a picture of some of these realities.
When Lucas Torreira came to Arsenal from U.C. Sampadoria, he appeared to have filled a defensive midfield hole that had plagued Arsenal for quite some time. He offered hard nosed defense, fantastic workrate, and a decent level of quality on the ball. To his credit, he succeeded at that in his first season with the Gunners making a massive 50 appearances across all competitions, 34 in the Premier League, and accumulating over 3,000 minutes played.
Coming into this season, Torreira was someone I pointed to as a player I would have thought key to Arsenal’s success. In fact, when there were reports of his discontent with life in London and at Arsenal, I was very concerned. Whether it was that discontent in his personal life, a disconnect with his team, or the the disarray of Arsenal in general this year, Torreira took a fairly large step back.
While he still managed to make 39 appearances on the year, a lot came off the bench and his performance often left a lot of people wanting more. He was played in a different role, unsuccessfully, and his end product lacked the toothy, hard-nosed, gritty, stuck-in defending many wanted. He lost his spot to Guendouzi under Emery and when Arteta came in, he suffered a fairly significant injury early on that would have ended his season if not for the pandemic. Even once he returned, few would argue he wasn’t a bit off the pace.
In the past few days, it has been reported that Arsenal are open to a sale of Torreira and that AC Milan has shown a keen interest. This lines up with past interest from Milan and reports of Torreira’s desire to return to Italy.
Arsenal are looking to recoup the funds they spent on Torreira at the very least, which means they are looking for at least £26m. Given his £33m market value, according to Transfermarkt, it’s not an unreasonable fee to ask for.
Perhaps the better example of these times calling for harsh decision-making is the links to Hale End product and young Arsenal defender/midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Reports have surfaced that the club has alerted Maitland-Niles to their intent look for a buyer.
Much like the club as a whole, Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ year has been a rollercoaster of form and confidence. From success when Bellerin was out, to losing his spot, to reports of not wanting to play as a defender, to being willing to play as the “Swiss Army Knife” role in Arteta’s tactics, ending with two spectacular performances in the FA Cup semifinals and finals. His versatility and ability to be what Arteta needs him to be is a fantastic quality, especially in a club often plagued by injuries or lacking depth.
The issue could be where he fits in squad in the future. As Arsenal look to bring in better players, work Bukayo Saka in more, and switch away from a 3-4-3 formation to a 4-3-3 there are things to question. Not to mention, that versatility hardly goes unnoticed by other clubs within the league and has led to Brighton and Everton knocking on the door. To add to the issues, when Ainsley Maitland-Niles had seemingly fallen out with Arteta, Arsenal sealed the signature of Cedric Soares on a four year deal. Personally, I would love to see Arsenal consider moving Soares along instead, but that may be out of the question.
The truth is that both of these sales may not be ones that a club with financial security would need to consider, but Arsenal feel forced into. With £20m offers being tossed around, Arsenal stand to make more than the £5m spent on Soares’ loan before signing him to a 4-year deal to likely back up Hector Bellerin.
It’s definitely an unfortunate situation given Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ potential, but hardly something Arsenal can refuse to objectively consider. In all likelihood, this won’t be the last reminder of Arsenal’s situation during this window. In a positive light, it is nice to see critical links to sales start to turn up.