Arsenal are three places above the relegation zone and have just lost 2-0 to North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who are top of the league. Things, surely, can not get much worse and with a new year and new transfer window around the corner this feels like a good time to look for new sources of hope.
As we begin to consider how Arsenal move forward it is important to begin by addressing the situation with manager Mikel Arteta. There have been plenty of negative stories surrounding him in recent weeks, with speculation growing that his job could be in danger. That is not the case.
Arteta is staying at Arsenal for the foreseeable future. In fact, he is one of the most trusted figures within the club as they attempt to turn around a pretty miserable season. The Kroenke family are taking a pretty hands-off approach to how he copes with running things. They will deal with big business decisions but indications from well placed sources around the club insist they seem to have full faith in his football expertise.
Arteta had his job title changed from head coach to manager in September as his influence runs throughout the club and he has a major say in everything - from how the side is shaped in terms of analysis and recruitment, to who gets starting roles. And as we head towards the January window the most pressing matter on Arteta's mind is to bring in a creative midfielder.
Szoboszlai emerges as top target
Dominik Szoboszlai of Salzburg warming up before the UEFA Champions League Group A match between RB Salzburg and Atletico Madrid
Image credit: Getty Images
There have been plenty of articles written across various outlets about the club’s plans to pursue Houssem Aouar of Lyon and Dominik Szoboszlai of RB Salzburg and it is true those two figures have been high on the agenda during internal discussions. Right now, it’s Szoboszlai that is spoken of most often. There is a feeling among many around the club that he will be their number one target for January.
It will be difficult to sign him because half the elite clubs in Europe seem to want him. Furthermore, Salzburg’s sister club RB Leipzig believe they are close to winning the battle for his signature. We will have to wait and see how the situation opens up, but an inventive player is something Arteta is crying out for.
There has been some disappointment about how Willian has failed to take on that role of main creator this season, since his move from Chelsea. Supporters are also questioning the decision to leave Mesut Ozil out of the squad. We’ll come back to Ozil later, but the fact we have heard Arteta talk so passionately about how many crosses Arsenal have been producing recently helps explain just how short they are of a player who can spark the attack into life with moments of genius.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals have dried up this season and people around the club believe that is because there is a lack of nous to supply him in good areas. Arteta has been trying to find ways to get him scoring but has been left frustrated. Szoboszlai, Aouar or someone else with guile is needed to bring this team to life and that will be one of the most important factors they seek to address in January.
Xhaka, Saliba facing exit
William Saliba of Arsenal U21 looks on during the EFL Trophy match between AFC Wimbledon and Arsenal U21
Image credit: Getty Images
Arsenal might look into signing a defender too but a more pressing issue will be getting a few players out the door and beginning to deal with contract situations of a couple of big first-team names.
They would love to get Ozil off the wage bill but realise it is pretty much out of their hands as his contract winds down. There is still a good chance he agrees a move to DC United, as previously mentioned in Inside Football. Fenerbahce are regularly mentioned as a potential destination but there are real doubts about how they could fund such a deal.
William Saliba is available for a move as sources indicate that there is no future for him while Arteta is in charge. He was signed 18 months ago when head of football Raul Sanllehi was at the club, but various insiders say there is a belief the defender is not ready for the Premier League.
One more surprising name being mentioned for the exit door is Granit Xhaka. It appeared he had come through his darkest days at the club but at a time when Arteta is trying to create a harmonious feel across the squad and aiming to build for the future, it is said Xhaka does not quite seem to fit. His future at the club is being cast into doubt and serious offers would be considered.
Three defenders will see their contracts end in the summer - David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos - which is reason to think thoroughly about potential replacements in that area. But another big name dilemma is Alexandre Lacazette, who is now entering the final 18 months of his contract. Arsenal are beginning to consider his situation as Lacazette turns 30 at the end of the season and the club need to decide whether to extend his deal or entertain offers.
There is plenty of uncertainty about Arsenal and where they are heading under Arteta but he has time to find solutions. There will always be pressure to deliver, of course, but for now there is no threat over his future. That confidence from above will give him space to plot his route to success.