Despite unveiling only two new signings during last month’s window, Arsenal had the best of a slow January Transfer Window of any Premier League side.
The Gunners added Real Madrid’s 22-year-old attacking-midfielder Martin Odegaard and Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to their ranks; both on loan until the end of the season.
However, where Arsenal’s achieved their success was in the number of outgoings, and a series of deals which saw the club cut ties with several high-earning fringe players. Exiled duo Mesut Ozil and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were both binned by manager Mikel Arteta, while defender Shkodran Mustafi sealed a late deadline day exit.
Ozil and Sokratis had both been left out of both Arsenal’s Premier League and Europa League squads for the 2020-21 season, and had not featured in a single senior game this term.
Both players were out of contract in the summer, though Arsenal reached an agreement to allow them each to leave six months early. Ozil moved to Turkish giants Fenerbahce, while Sokratis sealed a move to Greek outfit Olympiakos.
Mustafi, meanwhile, moved to Schalke in the German Bundesliga, having featured nine times in all competitions for Arsenal. He joins up with Sead Kolasinac, who had earlier joined the club on loan.
A late flurry of departures saw Joe Willock (Newcastle) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (West Brom) also leave on loan.
The moves, in particular that in axing the unsellable trio of Sokratis, Ozil and Mustafi, made significant progress towards trimming the deadwood in the squad, and also in reducing the wage bill.
One concern would be the failure to recoup any transfer fee from the three permanent departures, as the deals to sign them had totalled a combined £95 million.
Arsenal would never have got anywhere close to recouping those fees, although some kind of transfer fee might have been beneficial. Still, to get them out of the door remains a triumph in itself.
As for the decision to allow both Willock and Maitland-Niles to depart on loan, it’s clearly a case of gaining first-team experience.
Both players have struggled to establish themselves as regulars under Arteta this season. Willock, 21, does not have the seniority to command a starting role. Meanwhile, Maitland-Niles simply isn’t at the front of the queue in either a full-back or midfield role.
He has featured more prominently for Arsenal at full-back, but it is understood that Maitland-Niles prefers a central role in the midfield. With the European Championship on the horizon, the 23-year-old’s recent involvement with the England senior side encouraged his pursuit of more regular opportunities so as to avoid being snubbed this summer.
Both moves are understandable, however it does raise one significant concern. With four central midfield options now out on loan, Arteta has just four remaining options at his disposal.
Matteo Guendouzi (Hertha Berlin) and Lucas Torreira (Atletico Madrid) are the other two seniors currently out on loan, leaving numbers in the midfield ranks on the light side.
Should one of Thomas Partey or Granit Xhaka pick up a long-term injury, Arteta and Arsenal have only Dani Ceballos and Mo Elneny to choose from.
Partey has already been sidelined through injury this season, so they’ve had a glimpse of what life could be like without their star midfielder. It perhaps seems even odder that Arteta would allow both Willock and Maitland-Niles to depart without adding sufficient cover.
Consider also that Maitland-Niles provided further cover at full-back, any injury to either Kieran Tierney or Hector Bellerin also leaves them short in that regard. Cedric Soares, Calum Chambers and Bukayo Saka will be required to fill in if and when required.
Arsenal is still competing on multiple fronts – including a Europa League knockout round tie against Benfica – and will need substantial squad depth to safely negotiate those challenges over the coming months.
They sit 10th in the Premier League after a 2-1 defeat to Wolves on Tuesday night, where a win could have sent them as high as sixth. Instead, the defeat ends an unbeaten run of seven league games. Yet regardless of what position in the league standings Arsenal can restore themselves to before the end of the season, the club will need to ensure they retain their transfer strategy in the summer.
They would undo all the hard work achieved this month if they were to return to their old ways of handing out unprofitable contracts and deals to any potential recruits; a flaw that has haunted them for the best part of a decade now.
Arsenal needs to be smarter in the transfer market, and there are already signs beginning to show that they are learning from their mistakes.