Mikel Arteta says Arsenal have begun planning for the January transfer window with the Gunners looking to further strengthen their midfield options.
Arteta has long viewed central midfield as an area in need of strengthening and wanted to sign two players in the summer, though ultimately Arsenal would only recruit Thomas Partey after paying his $60million release clause.
The former Atletico Madrid midfielder, who is bidding to shake off a thigh injury in time to be fit for Sunday's Premier League match at Tottenham Hotspur, has added valuable dynamism to Arsenal's engine room during his five appearances for his new club. However the north London side had also been in the market for a midfield playmaker and saw two offers for Houssem Aouar rejected by Lyon in October.
Any attempts to strengthen the squad next month risk being complicated by the size of the squad. Arsenal had hoped to trim it back in the summer but did not find takers for the likes of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil. It remains to be seen whether they will attract interest in January with Sokratis, Mustafi and Ozil among those whose contracts expire at the end of the season.
Arteta acknowledged that the current state of his squad, in which he could not name Sokratis and Ozil due to Premier League restrictions, could make it more difficult for Arsenal to strengthen in January but insisted he and technical director Edu would be ready for the window.
"We are planning, talking with Edu and with the club about the things we can do in January," he said. "But at the moment it's pretty difficult, unpredictable as well in terms of [squad] places we are very restricted in the moment.
"We'll see what happens, I think things will move in the market, we will be prepared, we will need to do something knowing the limitations of that market in January and the limitations we have as well to sign players."
Aouar, Arsenal's primary creative target before the season began, has already confirmed that he will see out this season with Lyon. Christian Eriksen, an outcast less than a year after leaving Tottenham for Inter Milan, has been mooted as a potential stopgap option.
Meanwhile Arsenal are long-term admirers of Dominik Szoboszlai, who they have been scouting since the 2018/19 season and who was viewed by former members of their scouting department as a potential successor for Aaron Ramsey after he left for Juventus. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the Hungarian midfielder had been earmarked as a potential target though sources have confirmed to CBS Sports that the Gunners hierarchy made no contact with his representatives or Red Bull Salzburg during the summer window.
Salzburg expect Szoboszlai to depart in the January window with RB Leipzig, AC Milan and Napoli among the leading contenders for his signature. The 20-year-old has eight goals and nine assists in 17 games this season, an impressive return from the left of midfield that contrasts sharply with Arsenal's midfield options, who have struggled to weight in with sizeable goal returns for several years.
Arsenal's five senior central midfielders - Partey, Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Mohamed Elneny and Joe Willock - have scored a combined 26 goals in 411 games for their club side with the latter the only player to average better than a goal every 10 games. Indeed no Arsenal midfielder has reached double figures for goals in all competitions since Aaron Ramsey in the 2017-18 season.
|Arsenal midfielder||Games in all competitions||Goals|
Last season and the early months of this campaign have emphasised the extent to which Arsenal, who have become ever more reliant on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, are missing goals from midfield. Aubameyang scored 29 of his side's 93 goals last season, the combined return of Arteta's central midfielders was 10. This season only Willock has found the net of the midfield corps.
Arteta seemed to hint that adding goals to the likes of Xhaka and Ceballos may be beyond him, indicating that if Arsenal are to start finding goalscoring central midfielders they may need to look in the transfer market.
"It's very clear. If you say 'can they do it?' it's a question mark. Have they done it in the past? The answer is no," said Arteta. "We haven't had any goals from midfield, it's not something that happened [just] this year, it happened in other years and is something that has to be addressed.
"To change the qualities and characteristics of players is very, very difficult.
"A big team needs players in midfield who score goals. They need central defenders that score goals from set-pieces to add to that. If you start to lose those margins, you start to lose points, you start to be away from the top team, this is not any science."