Arsenal are standing by Mikel Arteta while they recover from their worst start to a season in generations but whoever their manager is he faces the task of reinvigorating an imbalanced, oversized squad riven with divisions.
That has been reflected on the pitch where Arsenal dropped to 15th in the Premier League on Christmas Day, out of the EFL Cup after a bruising defeat to Manchester City. Only the Europa League, preserve of the Hale End academy's bright young things, offered a silver lining to the unremitting gloom of 2020, although wins over Chelsea and Brighton inspired by those youngsters offered hope for the years ahead.
Arteta will have Arsenal's backing in the transfer window, they will look to add to their midfield in January. If a long-term solution to their creative difficulties can be resolved then there is a readiness to do a permanent deal but if, as is distinctly possible, such a player is not available midseason then there are loan options being explored, including Isco. They do, however, need to trim back a squad that was already too big before the season began.
Young centre-back Omar Rekik has joined in a $670,000 deal from Hertha Berlin. A ball-playing central defender, the 19-year-old defender will join Arsenal's Under-23 squad initially.
Arsenal are looking to trim their squad and have already loaned out William Saliba and Sead Kolasinac and hope to move Mesut Ozil on in January rather than pay the remaining months of his $470,000 a week contract. He is negotiating with D.C. United and Fenerbahce.
Emiliano Buendia would be willing to push for a move to Arsenal if the Gunners come calling.
Fabrizio Romano's take on Arsenal
Quality in midfield, this is what Arsenal needs, technical director Edu confirmed recently. The club were targeting Dominik Szoboszlai before he signed with RB Leipzig, the dream for months has been Houssem Aouar but Lyon do not intend to discount and the decision of the player with more than three interested clubs will be key. An attempt will also be made to sell Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mesut Ozil, who are both out of the project.
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Players Arsenal should target
Speaking at a fans forum last month Edu specifically noted the need to add creativity to midfield with summer signing Willian yet to fire, Emile Smith Rowe confined to a fringe role and no indication that Ozil will be restored to the Premier League and Europa League squads in January. Aouar's commitment to Lyon for the remainder of the season means that interest in the Frenchman has not been revived. Arsenal have been offered Inter Milan outcast Christian Eriksen but so have a host of other clubs and a reunion with former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint-Germain could prove to be more tempting.
Arsenal also hold a formative interest in Isco and have a half season loan on their list of potential January options. They would need Real Madrid to pay at least part of the wages of the 28-year-old. The Gunners hierarchy do not want to panic buy a new creator in January and lose the ability to recruit in the position next summer, when the departure of several high earners will somewhat increase their financial flexibility.
The Gunners are not the only club monitoring Isco's situation with Sevilla also interested in his services.
Norwich playmaker Emiliano Buendia has been scouted extensively by Arsenal's recruitment team during this season's Championship campaign although the club's preference is for an option to play in central areas. The Argentine plays off the right in Daniel Farke's side.
Arsenal's doubts over the long-term quality of Alexandre Lacazette, despite his recent run of three goals in three games, have been apparent in their allowing his contract to tick down towards its final year. The likes of RB Leipzig's Patson Daka and Celtic's Odsonne Edouard are options they have for replacing him, potentially in the summer.
Edu and his scouting department are also tracking potential partners for Gabriel on the right side of defense but that is with a view to a summer move with David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis out of contract at that time, although there is still the development of William Saliba to consider. That business alone may not get Arsenal back to where they feel they belong but for now it is about putting themselves on the right track.
Players most likely to leave
This could go on a bit... Sokratis and Ozil are among several Arsenal players who are available in January with Saliba available for a loan move. Saint Etienne are the leading contenders but fellow Ligue 1 side Nice and several English teams have expressed an interest in the highly-rated young centre-back.
CBS Sports revealed before Christmas that Italian clubs are targeting Mustafi, who can agree a pre-contract agreement in January. The same is true for Sokratis and Ozil, making it a challenge for Arsenal to receive a significant fee for three outcasts. Sead Kolasinac is available for transfer but although Bayer Leverkusen were interested there was never an agreement between the two clubs for the left-back, who is out of contract in 2021.
Edu would also be open to selling Lucas Torreira but although he is struggling on loan at Atletico Madrid, the Spanish giants do not currently intend to send him back to the Emirates Stadium. Matteo Guendouzi has enjoyed a more successful period away from the club with Hertha Berlin but the Germans do not have a purchase option, should Arteta still be at the helm come the summer Arsenal will assess the market for the highly-rated but temperamental French youth international.
Prior to Christmas Smith Rowe was the subject of interest from Premier League clubs and several abroad for a potential loan move. He was expected to look for regular game time in the second half of the season but his sterling display against Chelsea means those opportunities could well come in an Arsenal shirt, always his preferred scenario. Though the Gunners still want to add a creative player to the squad the 20-year-old has shown in European and domestic games that he is ready to play a greater role. Indeed Arteta's long-term preference to play a 4-3-3 with two attack-minded eights means there ought to be chances for Smith Rowe over the coming months.
Reiss Nelson turned down an October loan move away from the club - Crystal Palace and Hertha Berlin were keen - but has struggled with injuries and could consider heading elsewhere with fewer Europa League games likely to be available to him.
Young striker Folarin Balogun, who scored two goals in the Europa League, is out of contract at the end of the season. Arteta has publicly expressed a desire to keep him but so far club and player have not found agreement. Clubs in Europe and the Premier League are keen to secure his services with Stuttgart among those at the front of the queue.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it is, and much of it will fall on Edu and a streamlined recruitment team. Lead negotiator Huss Fahmy departed in October and although Arsenal are looking for a replacement sources close to the club indicate it is unlikely a successor will be found in time to be involved in the bulk of work in the window. Instead it will fall on the technical director to do much of the negotiation and the club's sizeable legal team to complete contractual work.
Transfer prediction for Arsenal
Arsenal want to back Arteta and will look to get the creator that his midfield needs early in January, ideally without making a long-term commitment unless they are sure the player is the right one for the future. The loan market may offer a temporary salve but to add anyone they must trim back a squad that was already so sizeable that Ozil and Sokratis had to be excluded.