A late flurry of departures on deadline day nicely summarised Arsenal’s January window; one focused on outgoings rather than incomings.
Arteta himself admitted at the beginning of the window that the squad was too big, meaning several players were not getting some much-needed minutes. Özil and Sokratis were even omitted from the Premier League and Europa League teams altogether. The squad was unsustainable.
A much-needed clear out was long overdue, but Edu and Arteta certainly delivered. Let’s recap on the business Arsenal conducted during Arteta’s third window in charge.
The first signing of the January window was the Socceroos’ number 1, Maty Ryan. The Australian international arrived on a 6-month loan deal from Brighton, to provide some much needed back up for Bernd Leno. Having kept 27 clean sheets in 121 Premier League appearances, Ryan will more than likely occupy the number 2 spot, pushing Rúnarsson further down the pecking order.
Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s goalless draw with Crystal Palace on the 14th January, Arteta admitted that the plans for the goalkeeper position in the summer window turned out “a little bit different” to what had been planned. A string of poor performances from our Icelandic international, culminating in an error-ridden performance against Man City in the Carabao Cup, fast-tracked Maty Ryan’s arrival. However, with no cup games left and Leno in scintillating form, it is unlikely we will see much of Ryan in an Arsenal jersey this season.
The much anticipated arrival of the highly rated Martin Ødegaard was confirmed on the 27th January. Unlike the Maty Ryan transfer, this one was no secret. Talk of M1Ö’s replacement arriving in the form of M1Ø was rife on social media in the days leading up to the official announcement. Rather disappointingly in the eyes of some fans, Ødegaard opted for the number 11 shirt, following in the original footsteps of his predecessor (Özil started his Arsenal career in the number 11 jersey). But more importantly, Arsenal have added some much needed creativity to their squad, something fans were crying out for during the 7 game winless run.
Ødegaard arrives on a 6-month loan from Real Madrid, with his future set to be discussed in the summer – a 6 month audition perhaps? Having several loan spells in La Liga and Eredivisie, Ødegaard is quite the journey-man. He arrives in England with 188 league appearances under his belt, at just 22 years of age. Ødegaard will bring some much needed craft and guile to the Arsenal midfield, adding attacking depth alongside Emile Smith-Rowe. Will Arteta opt to play both in the same side? Or will he stick with a base of Partey and Xhaka, and alternate the attacking pair in front? That decision is yet to be seen.
Although rare and unusual, contract terminations were a feature of Arsenal’s January window. But then again, these are rare and unusual times. Arsenal terminated four player contracts this window, facilitating a pre-mature spring clean. Mesut Özil, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi and Matt Macey all had contracts expiring in the summer, so letting them go slightly early makes sense from a financial standpoint.
Having been omitted from both the Premier League and Europa league squads, the futures of Özil and Sokratis were finally resolved. Özil joined Turkish side Fenerbahce on a 3 year deal, the club he supported as a young boy. Although a divisive figure amongst fans, Özil was undoubtedly a fantastic servant to the club, playing over 250 games and helping end the club’s trophy drought, lifting the FA Cup in his first season as a Gunner. His charitable work in North London often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. A great player, and a great human being.
Having signed from Dortmund in July 2018, Sokratis made 69 appearances in two full seasons for the Gunners. A highly rated defender, Sokratis was signed as a short-term solution, an attempt to plug the gaps in our leaky backline. At the age of 32, his better years are no doubt behind him. Surplus to requirements, Sokratis has joined Olympiakos on a free transfer.
Another defender following the Greek out the door is Mustafi. The World Cup winner turned heads following his £35m arrival from Valencia, striking up a solid partnership with Koscielny and becoming the Arsenal player with the longest unbeaten start to his Gunners career. However, Mustafi’s career went steeply down-hill from there; continuously making errors, blaming teammates for his own mistakes, and marking referees. Mustafi is considered one of the most underwhelming signings of the Emirates era and I’m sure many Arsenal fans will be glad to see the back of him. He joins Schalke on a 6-month contract, with Arsenal receiving a small compensation fee.
Matt Macey, Arsenal’s third choice goalkeeper, still considered an academy prospect at the age of 26, didn’t make much of a name for himself at the club. Having enjoyed loan spells at Accrington Stanley, Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle, Matt has joined Hibernian in Scotland – best of luck!
Alongside four contract terminations, Arsenal also loaned out four players. Sead Kolašanic has returned to Schalke until the end of the season (at least!), in search of some much needed minutes. His departure leaves Arsenal short of a natural left-back to cover Kieran Tierney, but Cedric’s recent performances must have done enough to impress Arteta. The massively frustrating Saliba situation has finally been resolved, for now at least. Lacking a much needed ‘transition season’, Saliba did not fit right into the heart of the defence as many had hoped. He has joined OGC Nice until the end of the season, already impressing in his early performances. Saliba will return in the summer, and remains an integral part of the club’s future plans.
Deadline day saw the loan departure of two Hale End graduates, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock, joining West Brom and Newcastle respectively. AMN was a vital cog in Arsenal’s impressive end to the 19/20 season, attracting several potential suitors. A £15m summer move to Wolves was blocked, but AMN has delivered several lacklustre performances this season, struggling to get game time. A three-way chase between Southampton, Leicester and eventual winners West Brom, show he is still highly sought after. Ainsley will hook up with Big Sam’s Baggies until the end of season, in hope of improving his international prospects for the European Championships this summer. Likewise, having impressed in the Europa League this season, Joe Willock has struggled for minutes in the Premier League. The breakthrough of Smith-Rowe and the arrival of Ødegaard will further hamper this. Willock, Arteta and Edu made the joint decision that a loan is Joe’s best option right now – he will join Newcastle until the end of the season.
Given the current financial situation, this was an impressive window from Arteta and Edu. Outgoings were publicly prioritised, and this goal was ruthlessly executed. Although little is known about how much the contract terminations will cost the Gunners, they have undoubtedly shaved hundreds of thousands off the weekly wage bill. Perhaps most importantly, a repeat of the summer has been avoided – Arteta does not have to leave any big name players out of his Premier League side.
The squad is beginning to look more like Arteta’s. The issues he inherited are now largely resolved. But there are still areas for improvement – a backup left back, a midfielder and a striker are likely to be on Arteta’s wish-list in the summer. But for now, we exit January in a better shape than when we entered it.
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