Despite winning the FA Cup in glorious fashion, Mikel Arteta has a big rebuilding job on his hands at Arsenal.
With funds tight, despite the added revenue from qualifying for next season’s Europa League, the Gunners boss will have to generate cash from players sales to boost his summer transfer kitty.
Mark O’Connell takes a look at the players Arteta could sell in order to raise revenue to fund new signings, including long-term transfer target Thomas Partey.
Granit Xhaka –
Xhaka has had emotional rollercoaster of a year. A ‘Marmite’ player that splits opinion, while Xhaka is an exceptional passer of the ball he also has many obvious flaws – a questionable temperament and a serious lack of pace to name but two.
An ever-present starter under Unai Emery until the fiasco which took place during the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace last winter, in which Xhaka was subbed off to some boos which he then proceeded to egg on, bringing a chorus of boos ringing around the Emirates for the then-Arsenal captain.
His season turned around under Mikel Arteta, who installed Xhaka back into the team after a month of exile. Using Xhaka deeper as a makeshift left centre back when in possession protected Xhaka, as he occupied smaller spaces. Xhaka's performance levels increased hugely in 2020, and the team did not seem to function properly at all during any of his absences.
Although Xhaka has turned things around, the question still remains on how far Arsenal can actually go as a team while Xhaka is the base of our midfield. When looking at the other top teams in England, their midfielders are either fast, athletic or prominent goal scorers/ assist makers.
Kevin De Bruyne, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Naby Keita, N’Golo Kante, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to name but a few. Xhaka is a good footballer, but does not possess any of these traits.
Arsenal need to start thinking about a life beyond Xhaka, while simultaneously acknowledging how important he is to our team currently. An upgrade is needed in defensive midfield either way. I believe £20-25 million would be sufficient asking price for Xhaka.
Ainsley Maitland Niles –
I love this player. Coming through Hale End as a midfielder, AMN found his place as an important Arsenal player at right-back when Hector Bellerin sustained a long term injury in 2018. A supreme athlete, Ainsley is a good stand-up tackler and dribbler, who can pass with both feet.
Very easy on the eyes when on the ball, he can sometimes be a victim of his own confidence, as he often lacked urgency in his movement, admittedly a trait he has now minimised under Arteta. After a long time away from the team Maitland Niles impressed hugely in the FA Cup semi-final and final as a left-wing back, showing his value to this team.
The ability to play in multiple positions is such a valued trait in modern football, especially given how important the position of full-back has become. AMN has played at right-back, left back, right-wing and central midfield.
Rumours surrounding his future surfaced recently, as Ainsley apparently doubts he can become a first team regular under Arteta. I would be really sad to see him go, but I also understand that he will soon be entering his prime years and needs to become a consistent starter. I hope it can be at Arsenal. If Arsenal decide to sell, £25-30 million should be AMN's starting price tag.
Shkrodran Mustafi –
Like Xhaka, Mustafi has had a wild year. Told he had no future at the club by Emery, Mustafi did not play a minute of Premier League football until Freddie Ljungberg took over as interim coach in November 2019.
Mustafi is surely one of the most error prone players ever to play for Arsenal. It is maddening to watch it happen, as Mustafi can play like a legitimately great defender for most of a game.
He is amazing in the air, a good ball player and is quick for a centre back. The problem is his mistakes are never small. When he makes an error, perhaps his only one for the game, it usually leads to a goal conceded, or a penalty or a red card. These mistakes almost completely vanished when Arteta took the reins.
Mustafi became our most reliable defender, with his aerial ability proving hugely important in many big games. Arteta must be credited hugely for his coaching of Mustafi, turning him from one of the worst signings in the club's history back into a decent Premier League defender.
However, Mustafi's talent can only take him so far, and his errors are bound to resurface at some point. I wouldn’t be disappointed if he stayed, nor very sad to see him go. But certainly, more reliability from the centre back position at Arsenal is needed if we are to go to the next level. Arsenal should ask for at least £15 million for Mustafi.