At Arsenal, it is officially “open” season for the January transfer market. With the promised land of Champions League qualification within reach, business that might otherwise have waited until the summer could yet be brought forward to the midseason window.
For most of the season, the expectation had been that Arsenal would keep their power dry until summer. After all, they had invested the most of any Premier League club in the summer, a $200 million spree that has been an indisputable success. Indeed, part of the argument for pushing summer business ahead is simply that any additional expenditure could be offset by the rewards that would come from getting back into the Champions League.
There are more immediate factors to consider heading into Sunday’s FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest. COVID-19 cases have hit Arsenal, though the number is currently not thought to put the game at risk, at a time when their squad has been stripped back to its bare bones. Four players — Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang — are on Africa Cup of Nations duty while their midfield has been further weakened by Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ move to Roma on loan, a move Mikel Arteta felt compelled to sanction for the good of the 24-year-old’s career.
Then there is the matter of center forward. This summer had long loomed large as the moment to add to Arteta’s forward line. Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah will be out of contract then, Aubameyang will have a year left on his deal. However, with the latter ostracized from the first team and available to any interested parties, a new striker could arrive as something of a belated Christmas present.
Arsenal have long been preparing for the summer move. Among their list of targets are Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak, Jonathan David of Lille and Dusan Vlahovic, the striker whose goalscoring exploits with Fiorentina have caught the eye of a host of European sides. The Gunners are one of them, though that interest has not crystalized into an offer. With the Serbian international out of contract in the summer of 2023, Fiorentina are keen to cash in on a player whose goalscoring figures have been buoyed significantly by plenty of penalties and a streak of overperformance compared to his expected goals.
Asked to address whether a signing such as Vlahovic would be considered this winter, Arteta indicated that the club would be looking to continue its aggressive approach in the transfer market. His comments should perhaps be treated as more general than specifically in relation to the Serbian striker, but they certainly indicate a willingness to push the boat out once more. “With the amount of things and the way we want to evolve the squad, we have to maximize every window in many different ways,” he said.
“We are alert. Edu and his team are working very hard because we know exactly what we need to do. Whether we can accomplish that in January or in the summer is a different question related to other stuff but we are there.
“If it is the right player and we can afford it and we can do what we want to do, we will discuss it and make the best possible decision. We are open.”
In the case of a striker, Arsenal are open for business but will not be rushed into a deal. When it comes to their midfield there are more immediate pressures after Maitland-Niles’ move to Italy. With Partey and Elneny absent for most of this month, the only senior players that Arteta can place in his engine room are Albert Sambi Lokonga and Granit Xhaka. The latter has not been pictured at training ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest, a match in which highly rated youngster Charlie Patino is expected to feature.
Arteta is usually taciturn in the extreme when it comes to transfer business, particularly incoming signings, so it felt particularly notable when he acknowledged that “obviously we are going to move, and we are going to look for options, because we are very short.”
Arsenal had intended to strengthen their midfield in the summer, when they planned to secure an upgrade on Xhaka, who they were ready to sell to Roma, to place alongside Partey. Ruben Neves featured prominently in their thinking at the time and the Wolves midfielder has enjoyed an impressive season under Bruno Lage. Equally, with numbers so light in that position there is more possibility of stopgap solution being sought, as opposed to at striker where the process would be bringing summer business forward.
One player who will not be under consideration is Jack Wilshere. The Arsenal academy graduate, who left the club in 2018, has been training with Arteta’s first team since October but there are no plans to offer him a playing contract. “I think I was very clear with the situation with Jack and the role he was going to have, we will continue in the same way,” Arteta said.
To top up their transfer funds, Arsenal would be prepared to listen to offers for Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers, though they may opt to keep one of the two at the club to mitigate against any numerical issues at center back.