Arsenal were just entering a new era under Mikel Arteta when the coronavirus pandemic brought the entire global system, including organised professional football, to a standstill.
The Spanish tactician replaced Unai Emery as the head coach at the Emirates in December last year following the London giants’ worst run without a victory since February 1992. While the former Manchester City assistant manager has received some acclaim for changing the mood at the club and injecting discipline into the squad, the results have still been consistently underwhelming.
The Gunners, who squandered their chance to re-enter the Champions League through the Europa League, currently sit at ninth place on the Premier League table, eight points away from fourth-placed Chelsea.
If the players are unable to translate their manager’s tactical philosophy into results when Premier League football resumes, Arsenal will not only be missing out on Champions League football for a fourth consecutive season but they could also be dropped out of European football for the first time since 1996.
Meanwhile, Arteta’s plans to begin his first full season at the club with a carefully-built team is likely to hit a roadblock as his summer transfer strategy is set to be affected by the financial repercussions of the ongoing global health crisis.
The inevitable economic ripple that will engulf the football transfer market, coupled with the staggering amounts already being paid to certain players within the Gunners squad, will likely force Arteta to offload players this summer to maintain some balance in the books.
With all that in mind, we take a look at three players who could leave Arsenal at the end of the season.
#1 Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has made almost 100 first-team appearances since his debut for Arsenal but has largely struggled to establish an identity for himself within the team, with the likes of Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery having utilised him as a makeshift defender on a regular basis.
The 22-year-old was handed starts in Mikel Arteta’s first five Premier League games as Gunners boss and was deployed as an inverted full-back to limited success. During this time, he displayed remarkable athleticism and intelligent positioning, with his scintillating performances against Manchester United, Newcastle United and Aston Villa enough proof that he could have a future in the right-back position if he worked towards it.
However, the former Ipswich Town man believes that his technical ability and pace can be put to better use in a central midfield role and has publicly questioned his deployment in the full-back position. Furthermore, he is believed to have taken his protests to another level by turning up late to training sessions at London Colney, thereby forcing Arteta to freeze him out of his starting eleven.
The Englishman’s off-the-pitch antics, coupled with Hector Bellerin’s slow return from fitness, has seen him immediately dropped from the team, with centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos even starting before him in the right-back position.
Arteta have already indicated that Maitland-Niles would have to start working on his attitude and fight for a place in the Arsenal team, and if he does not find a position and start performing soon, he could well be on his way out of the Emirates.
#2 Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived at the Emirates in a swap deal involving Alexis Sanchez more than two years ago and has since fallen deep into the dead-weight territory at the club, having been sent out on loan to AS Roma in September last year.
The Armenia international only managed 9 goals in 59 appearances for Arsenal but has been in scintillating form for the Giallorossi, registering 6 goals and 4 assists in just 20 appearances for the club.
The Gunners are understood to be willing to sanction the midfielder’s permanent departure if their £22 million valuation of him is met this summer. Meanwhile, Roma boss Paulo Fonseca has openly expressed his desire to sign the former Borussia Dortmund man on a permanent deal at the end of his loan spell and is confident that the playmaker himself is keen on staying at the Stadio Olimpico.
However, Arsenal’s chances of recouping a decent fee for Mkhitaryan in the post-coronavirus transfer market are increasingly slim and it remains to be seen if the Giallorossi will offer an acceptable deal for his permanent services when the time comes.
#3 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s future at the Emirates has been the subject of extensive speculation in the last few months, with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona believed to be incredibly keen on acquiring his services.
The Gabon international is understood to be disillusioned with life at the north London club and is said to be looking for a new challenge elsewhere. The lack of Champions League football and the Arsenal’s perennial absence from the Premier League title race are said to be the primary factors that have contributed to his desire to leave, with the club’s current position in the top flight also offering no assurances.
Moreover, the 31-year-old, whose current deal is set to expire in the summer of 2021, has shown no signs of wanting a contract extension. This could be bad news for Arsenal, who will not be too keen on repeating the Aaron Ramsey saga by letting the striker leave as a free agent at the end of the next season.
Aubameyang has been one of the best players in Mikel Arteta’s squad this season, registering 17 goals and 1 assist in the Premier League, and it remains to be seen if he will commit his future to the club in the near future.
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