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Mikel Arteta running out of time as Arsenal face triple transfer decision

There is no great debate about where Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu are being tasked with taking the club.

The simple fact of the matter is that the twosome have been handed the job of leading the Gunners back to European football’s top table, into the Champions League.

That looks extremely unlikely this season, with the North London club sitting 10th in the Premier League table and pained by inconsistency.

Nine points behind the top four and having lost 10 of their 23 games, their hopes through the league are minimal at best.

The Europa League – they face Benfica in the last 32 – offers an alternative route of course, but with a host of major European sides standing in their way, as well as Premier League rivals Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City, their chances appear slim once again.

Which leaves Arteta, Edu and the rest of the hierarchy looking at how best to improve for next season.

Arteta has solidified his side’s defence – but the attack has struggled

Certainly, in the coming 12-18 months, there is going to be changes in attack, whether enforced, or through choice.

And the clock is ticking, on a fast-moving situation with a number of interlocked parts.

This year’s attacking struggles

Arsenal’s defensive record after 23 games (23 conceded) ranks third best in the Premier League, behind only Man City and Spurs. Their expected goals against (xGA) of 26.64 ranks them fourth best, behind City, Chelsea and Aston Villa, according to Understat.

So defensively, there’s few issues; they’re a well-organised side.

But in a campaign where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has struggled for his best form, goals have been somewhat hard to come by and the attack has faltered.

Only seven teams have scored less than their 27 this term thus far and according to expected goals (xG), they’re not as clinical as they should be, with that number standing at 30.04

Alexandre Lacazette is the top scorer in the Premier League with eight so far.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Handed a huge contract last summer, it’s been a tough season for the captain

Familiar problems looming once more

In recent years Arsenal have been stung by contract situations, both in terms of players they ultimately lost – Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez – and those whom they paid big to keep: Mesut Ozil and Aubameyang.

As it stands, Aubameyang is one of five bona-fide forwards in the first-team squad and both he and highly-rated Gabriel Martinelli signed new contracts in 2020.

Contract issues however surround the other three: Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun.

The first two are out of contract in 2021, but Balogun’s deal expires this summer.

Folarin Balogun celebrates scoring for Arsenal
Balogun has broken into the senior ranks but chances have been few and far between

So give them new deals…

If only life was so simple.

Right now, Arsenal chiefs know that they are on the clock and every move the Spaniard makes is being analysed by the players, their representatives and rival clubs.

Balogun is giving serious consideration to leaving the club due to a lack of minutes at senior level.

The US-born 19-year-old is being targeted by a number of Bundesliga clubs having made just five senior appearances this season.

Unless there is a sudden upturn in the coming months, he’s going to depart in a bid for opportunities elsewhere.

Nketiah is in a similar boat, albeit the situation isn’t as desperate.

England Under-21’s record goalscorer has made 24 appearances in all competitions scoring five goals, but has only three Premier League starts. He turns 22 in May and no doubt will want further opportunities before committing his future to the club.

Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah
Eddie Nketiah hasn’t had as many chances as he would like this term

What about Lacazette?

As mentioned, Lacazette has found form recently and is the club’s top scorer this term. But that brings its own set of problems.

The Frenchman, who the club were open to selling last summer if an acceptable offer arrived, has 10 goals in 27 games in all competitions and stepped up during the club’s fine recent run.

Now the £52million man, who turns 30 in May, will be looking for a new deal of his own and may well be looking for improved terms.

But while there’s been no urgency from the club up until now, there will need to be movement at some point

So do Arsenal pay him? He’s on £180k-a-week now and if you take that as a base, then a possible three year deal is costing at least £27m. Worth it?

Do you keep him for a year, scan the market and he leaves on a free in 2021?

Or do you sell, knowing you aren’t going to get anything like the £52million transfer fee you paid in 2017, but with the potential to save on wages and bring in some sort of funding to finance a replacement?

Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal
Lacazette is Arsenal’s top scorer, but has he ever truly convinced?

Choices

Certainly, it’s a conundrum.

That’s all three of Arteta’s senior No.9s – given his preference for Aubameyang to operate from the left rather than through the middle and Martinelli’s greater use out wide – with big question marks over them.

And given the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic, notably the toll it has taken on club finances, there are no guarantees with regards how much money would be available to spend on potential replacements.

So Arteta, Edu and the rest of the club’s hierarchy have choices to make in the coming months – as do the strike trio themselves.

And while we are certainly talking about the future with regards messrs. Lacazette, Nketiah and Balogun, it is the choices that have already been made and are being made now, which will ultimately determine the respective outcomes.

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