Transfer season is upon us. And that means some turnover in the squad, especially now. Between the titanic financial impact caused by the pandemic and the very real threat of no European football next season, Arsenal will likely have to sell some players in order to bring new ones in. Obviously, some players are likelier candidates for a departure than others. But who should stay and who should go? This article will go through each of Arsenal's goalkeepers and full-backs, summarize their performance this season and what they bring to the squad, and sort them into one of three categories based on their attributes and contributions -- Do Not Sell, Keep At Most Costs, and Catapult Out of the Club. Below is a brief description of what each category entails.
Do Not Sell: This player is of the utmost importance to the squad, hasn't been around long enough that a sale would make sense, or both. We're talking about a player who may very well be built around by Arteta. Or we're talking about a player who just walked in the door and hasn't failed extravagantly enough to have the club scrambling for the eject button.
Keep At Most Costs: This is a player who puts in a solid contribution at the very least, but may be worth selling for the right price. As we all know, Arsenal don't have Russian oligarch money lying around, so we will have to do some business with the aim of putting some cash in the war chest. Players in this category are the most saleable assets in the squad. A few of these will likely be shipped out to supplement whatever transfer budget the club does have.
Catapult Out of the Club: Please, PLEASE, get this guy out of here. These are the players who have been absolute catastrophes and need to be shipped out at the first sign of a bid. Anyone in this category had to go yesterday.
Bernd Leno: Up until he got injured, Bernd Leno was firmly in the running for Arsenal Player of the Season. Despite being out of action since June 20, Leno finished with 113 saves, which sees him finish seventh in that category. The German keeper has at times singlehandedly kept the Gunners in matches. Especially earlier in the season, his spectacular shot-stopping ability has prevented many teams from plundering goals against Arsenal's shoddy defense. Additionally, he's fairly comfortable with the ball at his feet. And the fact that he called out Neal Maupay for his despicable mid-air foul that saw Leno leave on a stretcher doesn't hurt matters either. Verdict: Do Not Sell. After years of relying on average keepers such as Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, and David Ospina, Arsenal have an outstanding shot stopper between the sticks in Leno. He provides stability in a key position and is still fairly young. While it remains to be seen how good of a keeper he is when Arsenal aren't allowing several chances a game to opposition, Arsenal right now are best served focusing on less stable parts of the squad.
Emiliano Martinez: Martinez was an unknown quality for quite some time. He has spent most of his Arsenal career on loan at other clubs, finally earning a spot in the team after playing 18 matches for Reading last season. Taking over starting duties for Leno after the Brighton match, he managed to equal the assuredness in goal that his colleague brought, and even added a long ball distribution ability the German doesn't quite possess. His saves and great passing ability played important roles in Arsenal's wins against Liverpool and Manchester City earlier this month. Verdict: Keep At Most Costs. Martinez has shown the world that he is a Premier League-level keeper. However, Leno has a more undeniable record at the highest level of the game and is a slightly better keeper, particularly when it comes to 1-v-1 situations. If Arsenal can hold on to Martinez, then great. But after the last few weeks it wouldn't be surprising if he didn't want to play second fiddle anymore. With that and Arsenal's financial situation considered, it would be prudent for the club to capitalize on the Argentine keeper's moment in the spotlight and walk away with a tidy sum of money they can inject into their transfer efforts.
Matt Macey: Standing at 6'7", you'd think that Macey would eventually have his chance to shine in the goalkeeper. Unfortunately, that moment hasn't come for him, and it's beginning to look like it never will. After making 38 appearances at Plymouth Argyle last season, he only managed to play in three EPL Cup matches this season. Granted, he was competing with Leno and Martinez for a single spot on the pitch. But it is clear that Macey is very much viewed as backup at the moment. Verdict: Keep At Most Costs. Macey technically falls into this category, but only because his current value (just under £213,000 according to Transfermarkt) is so low, the club might as well hang on to him until his contract expires next summer. In the event that Martinez is sold, Macey would at least be a body to provide cover for Leno.
Hector Bellerin: This has not been a season to remember for Bellerin. Having been sidelined since last January with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, he returned to action at the beginning of November only to miss the holiday fixtures with a hamstring injury. After returning once more, he struggled for form until the Leicester match a few weeks ago. Against the Foxes, Bellerin resembled more of the player fans had come to love, contributing heavily to Arsenal's attack down the right while also putting in a solid shift defensively. Curiously, this came two matches after Cedric Soares, signed to provide competition for Bellerin, scored a cracker of a goal against Norwich during his debut for the club. Still only 25, Bellerin is established as one of the more senior members of the squad. He is one of the most outspoken players in the Premier League and was instrumental in convincing most Arsenal players to take a pay cut due to the pandemic. Verdict: Keep At Most Costs. Bellerin is a very talented right back, although there are a few aspects of his game that need work. He also is a leader within the squad and a great ambassador for the club. However, he faces more competition for his job than ever at Arsenal and with a value of roughly £30 million according to Transfermarkt, a possible sale of Bellerin could provide a much needed boost to the budget while leaving Arsenal with players who can still play in his position. However, a sale at this time is unlikely, especially with Ainsley Maitland-Niles supposedly planning to leave the club this summer.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Maitland-Niles considers himself a midfielder, but has been deployed as a full back in the majority of his appearances, which is why he is discussed here. At the beginning of Mikel Arteta's tenure as head coach, Maitland-Niles appeared to get the cold shoulder treatment that typically results from failing to satisfy the "non-negotiables" Arteta demands of his players. However, he seems to figure heavily in the coach's plans now, being deployed as an impact substitute in the Premier League against Wolves and Liverpool and playing the full 90 minutes in the FA Cup against Sheffield United and Manchester City. A natural defender, he has proven particularly adept at quashing the threat of direct wingers. The Englishman has been able to nullify talented wide players like Adama Traore and Riyad Mahrez, making him a prime candidate to compete with Hector Bellerin for the right back role or fill in for Kieran Tierney on the left in the event of an injury. Verdict: Keep At Most Costs. Maitland-Niles is an underrated prospect for the inverted full-back role Arteta might hope to employ in future lineups. He is a physical and quick defender who can be relied upon to handle some of the more intimidating forwards in the Premier League. However, David Ornstein recently reported that Maitland-Niles is set on leaving the club this summer in search of more playing time. Perhaps Arteta may be able to win him over in the end but should Maitland-Niles leave, he would earn the club a helpful sum.
Cedric Soares: After a series of injuries, Cedric finally managed to make his debut for the club almost six months after he was signed. His time as a Gunner started in spectacular fashion, scoring a long-range effort after entering the match against Norwich as a substitute. His performances have been a mixed bag. In his first few matches, he demonstrated an ability to switch play that neither Bellerin nor Maitland-Niles have showcased, as well as better technical prowess than the other two right backs. However, in more recent matches, his defending has been a bit suspect. Arteta clearly rates him and he seems to have elicited a return to form from Bellerin, but at this point it is hard to judge how good a signing he has been. Verdict: Do Not Sell. Cedric has not been at Arsenal long enough to be thought of as a saleable player anyway. And in the event Maitland-Niles leaves for pastures new, Cedric would be among the best cover Arsenal could find for their full backs since he can play on either flank. An experienced defender with great technical ability, Cedric might be exactly the kind of player the squad needs on the roster.
Kieran Tierney: When Nacho Monreal departed for Real Sociedad last summer, there were worries over whether Arsenal would be able to find a player to fill the void left by the reliable left back. Kieran Tierney was signed from Celtic in the same window, but was unable to find his rhythm in the squad until the later parts of the season due to injury. However, he did provide a glimpse of what he was capable of earlier on, providing two assists in two matches in the Europa League before succumbing to a shoulder injury. Now, we're seeing much more of his talent. He has proven to be an extremely adept defender as well as a very viable attacking threat. Recently, he set up Aubameyang's second goal against Manchester City, and then set him for another against Watford after nabbing a goal for himself. His workmanlike attitude toward playing for the club is also highly encouraging. Arteta's approach has been compared to Liverpool's before, and Tierney seems to bring for Arsenal what his compatriot Andy Robertson brings for Liverpool. Verdict: Do Not Sell. This is one of the easier determinations to make on this list. Only 23 years old, Tierney has been immense since coming to Arsenal, making the left back position firmly his own. He has "future captain" written all over him and is exactly the kind of player Arteta is looking to build around. He should not be allowed to leave under any circumstances, now or for the next several years should he continue to perform the way he has been.
Sead Kolasinac: When he was first signed to the club in the summer before Arsene Wenger's last season at Arsenal, Kolasinac was coming off a year that saw him make the Bundesliga Team of the Season. He was signed on a free transfer, making him a good bit of business, and he scored in his debut against Manchester City in the FA Community Shield. But those days are long gone for the Bosnian. Kolasinac has far and away been the biggest liability at the back for Arsenal this season. His defending ability has drastically atrophied and he has seemingly forgotten how to pass the ball forward. This of course led to him handing Spurs a goal three minutes after Arsenal had taken the lead in the North London Derby, an event that deflated the match and contributed to the Gunners' eventual loss. Tierney's ability to effectively play both left back and center back has hopefully made Kolasinac an obsolete commodity on the team. Verdict: Catapult Out of the Club. Kolasinac is now a woeful player, plain and simple. He can't defend, he can't pass, he can't attack. At this point the only thing he seems good at is being Ozil's bodyguard. And yet he's on £100,000 a week. Arsenal need to get rid of him however they can before he's able to do any more damage.
The center backs will be discussed in Part 2.
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