Ian Henry explains Premier League squad rules that could affect Arsenal transfers.
As we learn to cope with the government’s policy of ruling by numbers, and as the end of the 'summer' transfer window approaches, we Arsenal fans need to pay attention to a few more numerical rules.
Premier League and UEFA ruless state that a first squad can contain a maximum of 25 players aged 21 or over - and of those 25, a maximum of 17 can be non-home-grown.
The remaining eight have to be club-trained or association trained.
For UEFA there is a graduated rule coming into force which means, ultimately, the eight club- or association-trained platers will have to be made up of a maximum of four association-trained and four (or up to eight) club-trained players.
A team can actually have more than eight home-grown players, over the age of 21 - but if this is the case, the number of non-home-grown players has to fall correspondingly.
So, a club with 10 home-grown players could only have 15 non-home-grown players. In addition, a team can have an unlimited number of U21 players, with apparently no restrictions on whether home-grown or not.
So, when reading what the pundits, experts, bloggers and the occasional serious journalist say over the next few days, it’s worth bearing these rules in mind.
How the rules impact Arsenal's squad
At the time of writing I am writing Arsenal have a total of 32 players listed in their first team squad.
Of those, three are home-grown and club-trained: Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Matt Macey.
Two are association-trained: Rob Holding and Calum Chambers.
We have 19 non-home-grown players (including Kieran Tierney who counts here), and eight under 21 players - William Saliba, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Matteo Guendouzi, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli.
Willock, Guendouzi and Nketiah are already 21, but because they were not 21 on January 1, 2020, they count as U21s for football reasons.
The critical issue facing Arsenal from a squad structure and numbers point of view is the 19 non-home-grown players on the books.
Why is this so important?
This is especially so given that the players which Arteta appears to want to bring in – Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar especially – are also non-home-grown.
The arrival of any more non-home-grown players will require more to leave.
Given who has arrived already and who Arteta wants to keep – as evidenced by his team selections – the most obvious candidates from the non-home-grown cohort to go would appear to be Sokratis, Lucas Torreira and Shkodran Mustafi, with Sead Kolasinac. [Ed's note Mesut Ozil is another but he 100 per cent won't be leaving if it means taking a pay cut - and there aren't many clubs who can afford to foot the bill for even half his £350k a week wages.]
Torreira could on the way to Atletico Madrid. Sokratis may go to Napoli.
Some speculative reports suggest that Mustafi could be interesting some Italian teams too – but he is injured and there seems little likelihood of him being fit before the transfer window ends.
I know Arsenal have a habit of buying players with ready-made injuries (Kim Kallstrom, Dennis Suarez and Cedric for example) but will other teams do that? Not in the current climate I suspect.
So even if a deal can be done with Atletico and we can get Partey for Torreira and some cash (assuming we have some), two non-home-grown players will have to go to comply with the rule of 17.
Sokratis might help and move on, but then what?
Whatever your view of Kolasinac, it seems that Arteta sees him as a useful squad member, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay.
If that happened, could Ozil and Mustafi move on?
And if not, who would they decide not to register as squad members in order to keep to the rule of 17.
If Ozil says he won’t go, we could have the ludicrous situation of him staying at the club, drawing wages, but not playing (no change there then) and with the added twist of Arsenal not being allowed to play him.
Of course, a left-field decision could be made to free up a non-home-grown player place could be made; Pepe out on loan?[Ed's note: No chance]
Could Alex Lacazette back to France or off to Spain perhaps? Arteta could decide he has to let Mohammed Elneny move, although I really don’t think he wants to do that.
And, letting Lacazette go would mean another striker would be needed, so that wouldn’t really help the situation. Guendouzi may go and raise some cash but as he counts as under 21 that would not help with the rule of 17.
Turning to the rule of eight, or four and four
I never understood how the idea of Arsenal selling Maitland-Niles or letting Holding go on loan was logical or realistic?
It wouldn’t help the squad structure problem and would create gaps in the squad in areas where we have current injuries and a history of injuries.
We have four players who are currently classed as under 21 but would count as over 21 next year – Nelson, Willock, Nketiah and Guendouzi.
I doubt Guendouzi will be here next year, but hopefully the others will be and they will take up places within the home-grown allocation.
The more home-grown players over 21 we keep on will only add to the 'pressure' on the 17 non-home-grown players.
Finally, it’s worth noting how with several senior players injured, selling any fit defenders would seem an odd thing to do, even for Arsenal.
Tierney is a great player but seems to be prone to small injuries. Chambers may or may not be back this year - and Mari and Mustafi are also out with no definite times for coming back.
Plus Cedric and Sokratis are currently out with short term injuries.
No doubt the powers-that-be at Arsenal know this and will be factoring this into their transfer planning.
Equally, there is no doubt that most of the pundits, experts and journalists pontificating about what Arsenal should do, must do, and have to do, may not - or choose not - to understand this.