In January Edu and Mikel Arteta took a risk.
Arsenal’s squad was bloated and haemorrhaging money on wages that were not getting a sniff.
With no European football, out of the League Cup and the early exit to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, Arsenal had just 18 games left to play following the Forest defeat.
The opportunity arose to shed some of the wage bill as loan (and transfer) offers came in for players who were clearly surplus to requirements.
Balogun, Kolasinac, Chambers, Mari and Maitland-Niles had started just 8 Premier League between them, with only Maitland-Niles making a start since August.
If “surplus to requirements” was in the dictionary, a picture of all 5 would be next to the definition.
Letting all 5 go was a gamble, but probably the right move.
Balogun clearly needed game time to develop ahead of next season; whilst the senior 5 had sat patiently for 6 months (and longer for some) without really contributing.
Kolasinac, Chambers, Mari and Maitland-Niles needed a move away for the sake of their own careers, their own states of mind.
None of the 5 were replaced in the squad. And at the time there were very few complaints that none had been replaced.
It still left Arteta with 2 right backs, 3 central defenders and two left backs to pick from. Maybe one player light, but with just 18 games to play it did not feel like a huge gamble.
Takehiro Tomiyasu’s never ending muscle strain and Kieran Tierney’s now-predictable end of season injury have left us without our first choice left backs.
Cedric Soares has stepped up admirably at right-back, but Nuno Tavares has collapsed mentally on the left hand side.
Despite us having 7 players that have regularly played full back on the books (Kolasinac, Chambers, Maitland-Niles alongside Tomiyasu, Cedric, Tavares, Tierney and Bellerin), we are now short at full back.
With Tierney’s injury, just one of those still being at the club would have resolved the issues we had against Brighton.
Keeping Maitland-Niles feels like it would have been the most logical move – he could have covered left back, right back and the middle of the park.
But we have messed around the Englishman’s career in the last 2 years. He has gone from 5 caps for England to not even being in the conversation.
It would have been unfair on his career had we kept him “just in case” with no guarantee of football. And we could not have predicted Tavares’s collapse!
The biggest risk they took was up top.
I still back the decision to let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave.
He had not performed for 18 months and his behaviour had become detrimental to the side.
Edu and his team had their list of replacement strikers. They went hard for Dusan Valhovic but were not able to secure the deal.
They had others on the list – the likes of Dominic Calvert Lewin and Alexander Isak – but a deal could not be done for either. In the end Edu took the risk and decided to sign no-one, rather than end up with a striker that we did not really want.
This was the right decision, but one that has not come off.
The boost in performance of Alexandre Lacazette is now over and he is looking out of form and out of puff. His back up Eddie Nketiah – surely now deserves a chance; but he will not resolve our issues.
Auba has been in sparkling form since joining Barcelona. This was predictable. He is that sort of player that will do it somewhere for a bit before becoming distracted.
Tottenham have turned their form around – led mainly in part to their January signings.
Rodrigo Bentancur has been a solid addition in the middle of the park whilst Dejan Kulusevski has quickly found his feet.
Edu decided to “keep his powder dry” in January and not sign someone that he or Arteta were not completely sold on.
This decision might have saved Arsenal millions down the line (it could have left us with a Lucas Perez situation); but in the short term it is likely to have cost us Champions League football.
Europa League was always the target this summer.
Edu will claim the risk has paid off if we finish top 6. We then build in the summer on the youngest squad in Europe.
But there will be a nagging thought that had we pushed for a new striker in January – regardless of if he was 1st or 6th choice – we might still be in pole position for Champions League football.
On the back of 2 defeats, it feels like a risk that has not paid off.