The cliché is that Christmas comes earlier every year. At Arsenal, perhaps, the case is that spring cleaning is coming sooner. Mikel Arteta is spending January tidying up his squad, removing clutter by disposing of deadwood. If Arsenal’s summer window was about arrivals, the winter one is more about departures.
The most welcome, certainly for the accountants, would be Mesut Ozil’s. Whether the German goes to Fenerbahce or DC United, to somewhere else or simply with a pay-off, the removal of £350,000 a week from the wage bill would be beneficial; Arteta may also appreciate that an issue disappears with the best-paid player in Arsenal’s history. Questions about Ozil may vanish with him.
Ozil’s friend Sead Kolasinac was the first to go. If the Bosnian deserves praise for accepting a reported pay cut to play first-team football at Schalke, where a fringe figure at the Emirates Stadium was promptly appointed captain, he has also displayed bravery for leaping aboard a sinking ship. Sam Allardyce may have suggested that Arsenal were in a relegation battle this season; one of their players will experience a demoralising demotion.
William Saliba’s loan to Nice does not solve a mystery, but at least allows the young Frenchman to salvage something from what was shaping up to be a wasted year. It remains perplexing how the £25 million defender was so highly rated in France and yet found himself so far down the queue for Arsenal’s centre-back positions, and it feels an example of ineptitude that, if he was not to play, he was not loaned out sooner.
Perhaps Sokratis Papastathopoulos, whose only appearance this season came in an Under-21 defeat to Wimbledon where Saliba was sent off, will be the next to head for the exit. Certainly Arsenal have reasons to be rid of him. They have had too many players: too many to fit them all in the Premier League squad, with Ozil and Sokratis notably exclusions, and too many for the Europa League, where Saliba was also not registered.
Stockpiling players has produced a lopsided squad that can reflect poor recruitment. The accumulation of eight centre-backs, even without counting Kolasinac or Kieran Tierney, who have each been used in a back three, highlighted confused thinking but also an unwanted common denominator. Arsenal acquired injury-prone centre-backs, who got injured, thus in turn meaning they needed more, who also turned out to be injury-prone. It also underlined that they have been poor at offloading the unwanted, often a problem for those who overpay their players: Shkodran Mustafi has been available for many a window.
There is a logic of disposing of the unused; still more so when the performances of players like Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka offer more reasons to trust in the talent of the untried. Arsenal’s plight makes an exodus still more desirable. If they spent too much in the summer, and the signings of Thomas Partey and Willian both suggested a belief Champions League football could be secured, now their aims have to be reduced. Realistically, despite their recent revival, they will not finish in the top four. Nor, contrary to Allardyce’s predictions, will they go down. They need to save some money. Transition can entail younger players, but rarely a surfeit of older ones. And, with the exception of Saliba, they could do with consigning some of those who have gone or could go to their past.
Clearing the decks indicates a need for change. New year, new start, perhaps. It can also free up room in the long term for future arrivals. And for all the focus on shiny new signings, it does raise the possibility that one of Arsenal’s best windows could be when no one joins, but several players leave.
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