Author Archives: keenosafc

Who could replace Bukayo Saka for Arsenal?

One area we can improve the team is back up to Bukayo Saka.

He and Thomas Partey are the only players in our team that do not have a quality “natural replacement”. Although we do now have Jorginho.

Arteta expects players of Saka’s quality to play 60-70 games a season, and he is correct in that thinking.

World Class players rarely get rested or rotated. From Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Vinicius Junior. All of these have regularly played 60+ games a season for club and country since they were Saka’s age.

If Saka wants to be in the discussion of “generational great” alongside someone like Vinicius, he has to play almost every game.

But that does not mean we do not need cover and competition.

An injury is always one bad tackle away, and Saka receives a lot of late, bad tackles. Also you need someone who will keep Saka on his toes. Someone to push him.

When looking for someone to replace Saka, they need to have certain qualities:

Left footed – you always want a replacement to be a “like for like”. This allows you to make a change without altering the structure of the team. Saka coming inside is such an important asset to our attacking play. A right footed player would not offer that option (unless they are two footed).

U24 – not a huge issue, but I would be concerned about a 28-year-old being happy to join Arsenal knowing they would be second choice to a 21-year-old, and only really play when that individual is injured. You want someone who is young and hungry and see joining Arsenal as a chance to progress his career. An elder player happy to sit on the bench would probably only be looking for his last big pay day.

Technically sound – Saka does not try and pace and power to beat players. He has fantastic balls skills, a great touch and eye for a pass. He is a goal scorer and creator. He is not a “head down and run” winger that puts a ball in and hopes a striker gets on the end of it. He gets his head up to put a cross in. His replacement also needs to be technically sound.

Defensive work rate – Arsenal defend from the front. Jesus, Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard and Xhaka all put pressure on the opponents defence. We do not carry any player defensively. And it would make no sense to have a junior player (ie Saka’s replacement) thinking they do not need to put in the same defensive shift as the man he is replacing. He should be working harder than Saka to impress.

Versatile – finally, Saka’s understudy needs to be versatile. He might not get much game time on the right so will need to also provide Arteta an option elsewhere. Mikel loves his versatile players, from Ben White at right back and centre back, to Gabriel Jesus down the middle and on the wings. Almost everyone in the squad can play in at least two positions. Saka’s cover needs to be able to play either inside or upfront, which will further strengthen the squad.

So who are the options to be Saka’s replacement this summer? We discuss that tomorrow.



Can Arsenal sell XI, buy 2, and have a stronger squad as a result?

Yesterday, I wrote a blog how Arsenal were likely to sell a full Starting XI in the summer, raising close to £150m.

The XI was:

The most predictable response was “how can we sell 11 players? We need squad depth”. And yes, you are correct, we do need squad depth. But that depth needs to be filled with quality.

We could, for all intents and purposes, sell the above XI and replace them with just two or three. And the squad will be stronger.

For a starting point, lets look at minutes played.

The XI above have played a combined 756 Premier League minutes for Arsenal this season. 7 of the players have not played a single minute.

Runarsson – 0 minutes
Trusty – 0
Mari – 0
AMN – 0
Pepe – 0
Balogun – 0
Tavares – 0
Soares – 28
Nelson – 103
Smith Rowe – 111
Tierney – 514

So straight off the bat, the 7 with 0 minutes could exit the club without having an impact on where our squad is now. And Balogun aside, I would be surprised if anyone would debate keeping any of them

Of the 756 minutes, Kieran Tierney has played 514 of them.

As I mentioned in yesterdays blog, I like Tierney. He is not a bad player, but he does not fit Arteta’s system.

Takehiro Tomiyasu (when fit) has been the preferred option as Olexsandr Zinchenko’s replacement over Tierney.

The Scotsman is a proper good honest pro, and wants to play first team football. I think even if Arsenal did not want to sell him, he would push through a move. And Newcastle is the obvious option.

Newcastle need a left back, Tierney would walk into their team, and they could easily pay us the £30-40m we would command. Move up north would also see Tierney be back closer to his family.

In terms of replacing him, if Tomiyasu gets fit I think the Japanese full back will be 2nd choice on both flanks. He will then be backed up by Lino Sousa, Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Reuell Walters.

Sousa is an exciting left back who has been playing in the “inverted” position for the youth team this season, whilst Walters is a centre back turned right back in the same mould as Ben White.

I still hold a candle for Norton-Cuffy, but he is more a traditional “chalk on the boots” full-back.

Could we let Tierney leave without replacing him? Our options would then be White, Zinchenko, Tomiyasu, Sousa, Walters. It would come down to Tomiyasu’s injuries issues.

That leaves 3 players. Cedric, Nelson and Smith Rowe.

We will not miss the 28 minutes played by Cedric this season. The only issue will be whether we can find a buyer – he has yet to start a game for Fulham in the Premier League since joining them on loan.

One thing is for sure, whether we sell him or loan him, we do not need to replace him.

That brings me onto the final two with minutes – Nelson and Smith Rowe.

After his goal against Bournemouth, I questioned whether 10 seconds of greatness was enough for a new Nelson deal?

My gut then was no, and what has happened since reinforces that opinion.

A few fans got caught up in the post-Bournemouth excitment, saying things such as “Arteta clearly likes him” and “he deserves a new deal.

Arteta likes Nelson so much that he has not started him in gthe Premier League this season. Just 103 minutes played. Last season it was just 19. Season before that 70.

192 minutes of Premier League football in 3 seasons. But some people think Arteta really rates him.

We take the squad forward by buying better than what we have.

Next season, we need better cover and competition for Bukayo Saka. Nelson is not it. Neither is Pepe. That means a new signing. And what then for Reiss?

He barely got on the pitch when Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were our only 2 wingers. Now we have Leandro Trossard and hopefully a new right winger coming in, how many minutes will he play?

Nelson is 23-years-old. It would make zero sense signing him up to a new 5-year deal on £60k a week for him to not play. That is £15million better spent elsewhere.

And for those that say “well lets just give him a 2-year deal”; get in the real world. Nelson would not accept that. This is real life. Not a game.

Finally Smith Rowe.

In yesterdays blog I spoke about how much I like Smith Rowe, but he just can not shake off his injuries.

Were he to stay fit and stay, I would be delighted. But I also think if a big bid came in for him – £40m+ – we would be crazy to turn it down.

Smith Rowe is cover on the wings and can also play inside as an 8.

Were we to sign a new winger, he would be 5th choice outwide behind Saka, Martinelli, Trossard and the new guy.

Inside, we have Martin Odegaard, Fabio Vieira and Granit Xhaka. I also expect us to sign another midfielder who will provide cover and competition for Thomas Partey at 6 and Xhaka at 8. That does not leave much room for Smith Rowe.

An offer of £40m for your injury prone 5th choice winger / 5th choice 8? That income would basically fund the Saka cover…

Smith Rowe is one of those that we will get a replacement in for. But that replacement will be someone who plays the duel role of 6 and 8. A certain West Ham midfielder springs to mind.

And if we need further cover? We still have Charlie Patino. And I have not even mentioned Albert Sambi Lokonga’s future in either of these blogs…and I forgot about Jorginho.

Finally Balogun.

He has not played a minute for us, and I understand those saying “give him a chance”. But I can not see how we can accomodate Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun.

Remember, before Jesus’s injury, Nketiah had not started for us in the league this season. And we have since added Trossard as an extra option upfront.

So it comes down to Nketiah or Balogun. The double striker dilema I spoke about in December. I goes, one stays.

If you want us to retain Balogun, then Eddie must be sacrificed. And you are still in the same situation as above with us selling a striker this summer.

As a side note, I would also expect us to look at having Saka’s understudy being able to play through the middle. Arteta likes his forward line to be versatile and mobile. Martinelli is also a striker option.

So the XI above. We could sell them all and replace them with:

New central midfielder who can play 6 and 8
New winger who can also play up top
Potentially a new left back if Tomiyasu injuries continue

11 out, 2 or 3 in. And becauce we are buying so few, we can invest more heavilly and recruit a better quality of player.

“But that still leaves us short Dan” some will now say. Lets look at the XIs:

White Saliba Gabriel Zinchenko
Saka Odegaard Xhaka Jesus

Tomiyasu Holding Kiwior Sousa
NewRW Vieira Jorginho Trossard

Others: Hein, Walters / Norton-Cuffy, Elneny, Lokonga, Patino, Marquinhos

If we make the two big signings (DM, RW), we would have 21 senior players and 5 development as part of the first team squad. Plus Elneny and Lokonga (who the new DM would be replacing).

This season we have had 17 players play 200 or more Premier League minutes.

Adding a new DM and new RW who are better than Nelson, Lokonga and Elneny would strengthen the squad and replacing players who just do not play.

We would be retaining 16 of the 17 players with more than 200 minutes to their name, and adding a further 2 senior players.

“But Manchester City have greater strength in depth, and we have Champions League football”

Manchester City have 18 players that have played 200+ Premier League minutes. They have 24 players in total in their first team (including thier 2 back up keepers).

So what I am proposing above is a very similar squad size to City’s.

We would have 18-20 players that you would consider “senior” and would play 200+ minutes. then the 2 spare keepers and the younger players.

“But City’s players are better than ours”. Granted. But this is because they recruit quality over quantity.

Would Smith Rowe, Balogun or Nelson get near City’s squad? No.

We move forward from this season by buying better than what we have. And that means the likes of Nelson, Balogun (or Nketiah) and Smith Rowe get moved on for a Declan Rice, a Michael Olise and others.

So can we sell XI, buy 2, and have a strong squad?



Arsenal set to sell an entire starting XI this summer – raising almost £150m

With Chelsea’s recent transfer spending, a lot has been written about how bloated their squad is. But they are not the only ones who will be looking to rid themselves of double figure senior players this summer.

As it stands, we have a 26-man senior squad – although not all of these need to be registered under Premier League rules. We also have 8 senior players out on loan taking us to a 34 man squad. And that is before any further academy promotions (we have a huge chunk of players that have recently turned 20).

We will need to sell (or loan) a dozen players this summer to bring Arteta’s “working” squad back down to around 25/26.

(Note: Before a smartarse says “34-12 is 22” you have to take into account 2 or 3 new signings and a couple of youth promotions that would take us back up to 26).

Kieran Tierney

I suspect Tierney will be Arsenal’s biggest name first team player to leave us in the summer.

The Scotsman has seen himself drop down in the pecking order at Arsenal with Oleksandr Zinchenko as first choice.

Tierney is not a bad player, but he does not fit Arteta’s system.

We play with our full backs tucked in, with Zinchenko and Ben White looking to add extra midfield options in attack. Tierney is more of a traditional full back who likes to get chalk on his boots, get round his winger and put crosses in.

I do think this is a valuable option for Arsenal when we are chasing a game. Someone that can come on and make the pitch a bit wider in attack. But the modern game is about having a “like for like” replacement in case of injury rather than a “different option”.

Earlier this season, we saw Takehiro Tomiyasu start ahead of Tierney when Zinchenko was out injured.

With Ben White’s form, I expect Tomiyasu to become “first replacement” at both left and right back. New signing Jakub Kiwor has also previously played left back, defensive midfield. You would have to think that experience would make him another option behind Zinchenko.

Throw in Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Lino Sousa, and the strength in depth is added to with the presence of the teenagers.

Tierney’s unsuitability is shown in his passing – this season he is our clubs worst passer with a pass accuracy of just 79.3%. He has never finished a Premier League season with an 80%+ pass accuracy.

As it stands, Zinchenko completes 89.2% of his passes, Ben White 86.3% and Tomiyasu 84.9%. Throw in Tierney’s injury record and it makes complete sense to cash in on him.

Tierney would have no shortage of interest from home and abroad. Could easily see the likes of Leicester City and West Ham entering a bidding war for him which would see a fee towards £30m.

Emile Smith Rowe

I love Emile Smith Rowe. He is a fantastic player. But he also has huge injury issues.

His latest injury has resulted in him playing just 111 Premier League minutes this season.

I have followed his career since his academy days. And even back then he had injury issues.

Last season was his first injury free one of his career and he showed what he can do. But this seasons groin injury is a repeat of an injury he has had a few times.

A groin injury wrecked his expected breakthrough season in 2018/19. He later also suffered a hamstring injury which saw his season end.

He has suffered muscle injuries in four of his five seasons since 2018. Injuries have led him to miss nearly a year of football.

Like Jack Wilshere, I feel he will never be injury free. And at 22, this summer might be a good time to cash in on him.

You would expect Arsenal to be able to get around £40m for him. And my concern is the next long term injury he suffers will see his value plummet.

Cash in this summer and replace him with someone who has a better injury record.

Nicolas Pepe

Whenever Arsenal’s record signing leaves, we will take a big loss on his transfer fee.

The Ivorian joined us for £72million in 2019, meaning that he will have just one year left on his contract this summer.

Due to the way the accounting works, any sale in excess of £15million would result in a “book profit” for the financial year:

2019/20 – £14.4m amortised
2020/21 – £14.4m
2021/22 – £14.4m
2022/23 – £14.4m

That means that come the 2023/24 financial year (and season), we will have just £14.4m left to account for. Any incoming transfer fee will be considerd a “profit” in the 2023/24 accounts.

He has played OK at Nice, so I would be surprised if did not get an offer in that region for him. Would not be surprised if we try and get around £20m for him, but then agree to pay half his £140,000 a week wages (with his new deal at a name club being £70,000).

That would make a deal be worth £16.36m net to Arsenal, and a small profit based on what is left to be amortised.

Cedric Soares

The Portuguese right back looks on his way to Fulham on loan (it might even be completed by the time we hit publish on this).

Initial reports are this deal will not contain an option to buy. But if he becomes a first team regular for the Cottagers, and they stay up (they will!), a permenant deal will probably be done in the summer. I would expect around £3m for him.

Nuno Tavares

Arsenal need to get better at selling players. And Nuno Tavares will show if we have improved in this region.

It has not really worked out for the raw Portuguese full-back in the 2-years since signing for us.

He is clearly a physical talent, and a very naturally gifted technically footballer. But he does not have the positional discipline to play in Arteta’s structured system.

Capable of brilliance one minute, and then found horrendously out of position the next, he has remained inconsistent whilst on loan at Marseille.

Whilst he is erratic, he has also established himself as Marseille’s first choice left back as they chase a top 3 finish in France. That will be enough to see them qualify for the Champions League.

Arsenal blocked an “option to buy” clause when he went out on loan. Signed for £7m, you would have to think a sale will be done for any offers over £15m.

Reiss Nelson

I feel for Reiss Nelson. He has not had it easy.

In 2017, it was predicted he would be the next superstar to come out of the academy. A loan deal to 1899 Hoffenheim could not have gone better and comparisons were being made between himself and childhood friend Jadon Sancho.

2019/20 was supposed to be a breakthrough season for him. And he was expected to make a huge impact in the Europa League. But then hamstring and ankle injuries began to take hold.

In his place, another academy graduate was given the chance – Bukayo Saka. And just like that, Nelson’s route to the first team was blocked by someone 2-years younger and more talented.

As Saka grew in importance, Nelson disappeared off the scene, playing just 70 minutes of Premier League football in 2020/21. A poor loan spell at Feynoord followed.

Now 23, and injured again, you have to feel his time at Arsenal is over, despite that goal against Bournemouth.

Nelson’s contract expires this summer. The clubs only hope of a fee will be compensation if he joins another English side. If he moves abroad, it will be a free transfer. £0m.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

We triggered the one year extension in Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ contract last summer, prior to loaning him out to Southampton.

The hope would have been that a good loan spell would see his value rise, and we could then get a decent fee for him this summer. If anything, his stock has further fallen at Southampton.

It would have been 3-years since Arsenal pulled the plug on a £20m move to Wolves. And also 3-years since he won his 5 England caps. His fall off has been dramatic.

It is not just his fault, we have also messed him about.

Nlocking that Wolves move was a mistake all round – it would have generated Arsenal key funds and allowed AMN to get on with his career. He would play just 486 minutes of Premier League football in 2020/21 before being loaned out to WBA as they got relegated.

We then blocked a move to Leicester the next summer. He would play just 265 minutes before another January loan. This time to Roma.

In 2022, we tried to sell him but there were no takers and he ended up on loan with Southampton. He has started just 5 league games for the side proping up the table.

With a year left on his contract, I would not be surprised if we sell him for any offer in the summer. Even if it is under £5m.

Folarin Balogun

With 17 goals in 24 games in France for Reims, Balogun is showing that he is transitioning from talented youth product to senior staff. But it could be too late for him to have an impact at Arsenal.

Gabriel Jesus is the clubs first choice striker, and Eddie Nketiah is proving week in, week out that he is a suitable replacement.

At this point, some will argue “with Champions League football next year, we need more squad depth”. But I feel that depth is provided by both Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard – both of whom have played down the middle and could do the job as 3rd choice striker.

When you look beyond the goals of Balogun, he is a player that our Stad DNA system would probably reject.

For Reims, he has a pass accuracy of just 67.4%. That is way down on our worst passer of the ball Kieran Tierney (76.7%). Jesus (81.9%), Martinelli (82.3%), Saka (82.8%) and Nketiah (83.3%) are all vastly superior on the ball.

With just 1 assist this season, you have to question whether he has the all round play to be a striker at Arsenal.

4 of Balogun’s 17 goals have also come from the penalty spot and he sits 5th on the Ligue 1 top scorers list – below the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Wissam Ben Yedder.

He turns 22 in July, so he is probably at his peak transfer fee wise whilst he still has the “potential tag”. I would expect £30m with some sell on clauses and maybe even a buy back clause.

Pablo Mari

I refuse to accept Pablo Mari as a flop signing.

Gabriel Magalhães was always our main target to play left sided centre back, but was not available in January 2020 when we were desperate for extra defensive reinforcements.

Mari was probably the best deal we could do in terms of the attributes Arteta wanted, his experience level and cost.

He was signed with an obligation to buy, which covered the Gabriel deal which was not complete.

Covid and then injury did disrupt his Arsenal career, but cost just €7m

Monza have an obligation to buy if they do not get relegated (currently sit 13th), with the clause reported to be in the region of €7m (£6m).

Auston Trusty

The American was signed from Colorado Rapids in 2022 and immediately loaned to Birmingham City.

At the time, the feeling was we had signed him to “put him in the European shop window”. We paid just £1.5m for him.

He has been exceptional for a struggling Birmingham City this season. Probably their Player of the Season. And this will lead to plenty of interest from top-end Championship sides or those lesser Premier League teams. You could certainly see someone like Leeds United moving for him with their American links.

A case could be made that he returns to Arsenal as 4th choice centre back, but this would require Rob Holding leaving. The fact Trusty would take up a non-home grown playing spot makes this scenario unlikely.

I can see Arsenal trebeling their money on Trusty. Would not be surprised if he left us after a single year for £7.5m+.

Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson

Anyone need a keeper for 5-a-side on Thursday?