Six players who appear to be in the mix for next season



By Sir Hardly Anyone

It is being widely reported that William Saliba has signed (or if not signed then at least “agreed”) a new four-year deal with Arsenal.   This adds a fifth player to the list already containing Gabriel Magalhaes, Gabriel Martinelli, Aaron Ramsdale and Bukayo Saka all of whom have signed contract extensions.

And the general chitchat is that “Arsenal have moved a step closer to clinching the record £92 million signing of Declan Rice, with West Ham chair David Sullivan reportedly confirming that the club had promised the player he could leave at the end of this season.

Indeed I suspect almost everyone is utterly convinced that it is all pretty much done and dusted and that Rice will play for Arsenal as a defensive midfielder this coming season were it not for the fact that everyone was utterly convinced that Mykhailo Mudryk was moving to Arsenal not that long ago.  Indeed Untold charted  53 separate reports claiming that if it was not already done and dusted there was just a matter of tiny detail to be sorted.

When that deal did not happen there was the usual chatter about Arsenal not offering enough, and the deal being hijacked by Chelsea, and of course, there is no proof either way, but the player’s subsequent performances and his lack of historical achievements on the big stage suggest that it might all have been a hoax. 

Indeed, a hoax maybe even started by Arsenal and taken up by an increasingly gullible and totally careless media with great relish.   (If you want to go back over that fiasco you may enjoy Did Arsenal really go for Mudruk or was it all a clever trap for Chelsea?  For whether it was a trap or not for Chelsea the club is still paying for it in terms of the way its financial fair play sums are totting up – not that this means much these days, the way Manchester City have got away with their “21st century accounting” techniques.

Arsenal are said by the Telegraph to want to start harvesting the benefits of Rice (geddit?) as soon as possible so he can be ready for the opening game against Manchester City in the so-called “Community Shield” on 6 August.  But Rice is also said to be of interest to Bayern Munich and has admirers at Manchester United but Arsenal are “understood” (by the media with a 97% inaccuracy rating on transfers) to be the “frontrunners”. 

Having Rice come in will then allow Granit Xhaka to transfer to Bayer Leverkusen for something around £13m, which will go a little way to help balance the books.  But of course, the size of the Rice fee means that the media are now having fun digging up the details on what was the record fee paid by Arsenal before this one.

The answer to that of course is the £72m paid for Nicolas Pepe in 2019.  He has played 80 games for Arsenal and scored 16 goals (which is one in every five games), and last season played 19 times for Nice and scored six (one in every 3.12 games).

Meanwhile the Athletic recently ran an interview with Arteta on a different aspect of Arsenal’s game which reflected on the fact that the level of direction of passes in each match by Arteta has declined considerably in the past two seasons.

Indeed Arteta is reported as saying at the start of 2022-23 that he was coaching the players so that they can “make decisions by themselves and those decisions are right in (terms of) execution, timing and purpose.”

As the article points out, in the season just finished, 11.2% of passes were forward, as compared to 9.8% the year before.   What’s more the number of passes has increased slightly as well.  

But this is not to say that Arsenal are “rushing to get the ball forward. For large stretches of the [last] season, they had the composure to keep the ball before cutting teams apart with forward passes.”   As Arteta said at the start of  2023, “It’s just understanding what the team needs in every moment,” before adding that it is also about, “What’s the emotional state of the game and what is required to do? They are understanding that better and better and they are free-flowing at the moment.”

In short, having started his time as coach at Arsenal with a view on how to reduce the number of yellow cards and fouls against, which he most certainly has achieved, he is now working on the project of how to pass the ball forward.  

Thus it may well be time to add another analysis to our review of how Arsenal play.  We’ve been focussing on tackles, fouls and yellow cards.  Now what can we learn about passing?  I feel an article will follow.

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