To loan or not to loan?
That is the question facing a number of Arsenal squad members this week as the deadline for the winter transfer window heads rapidly towards closure.
Overall, the club has done good business, with players hanging around the periphery of the squad sent out while some pressing squad needs have also been addressed with shrewd additions. Assuming all incoming business is now done, attention can turn to the fates of several squad members who, while important, may not have been getting as many minutes as their development or prospects require.
The most important of those players are Reiss Nelson and Ainsley-Maitland Niles, who have struggled to get enough first-team minutes this season. Shkodran Mustafi, while a useful fall back option in case of a defensive crisis, is coming to the end of his contract and, if we’re being honest, is unlikely to commit himself wholeheartedly to a cause that won’t be his own in less than six months.
Lucas Torreira has also struggled to find enough minutes on loan at Atletico Madrid owing to the good form of Diego Simeone’s favoured starting XI. It doesn’t serve Arsenal’s interests in the long term if his value diminishes while warming the bench in Spain.
Asked about these players in his pre-Manchester United press conference, Mike Arteta said:
on talk of Torreira going to Monaco on loan…
We have been talking to Lucas, Edu has been very close to the situation. He hasn’t been playing as many minutes as he would like, as we would like, but to be fair the team is doing so well in Spain and it is understandable they don’t change the team so much. We just want to be right behind Lucas, protect him, help him make the right decisions for the future, so let’s see what happens. But we are monitoring the situation very closely.
on whether his loan could be cut short at Atletico Madrid…
I don’t know. At the moment he’s going to stay at Atletico, that’s my belief and I don’t know if that is going to change in the next two or three days.
on whether other players could leave…
When there are still days left in the market there is still the possibility for things to happen. We are in close contact with all the things that can happen and we will see.
on Reiss Nelson not making the last two squads and if he expects that he’ll leave on loan before the deadline…
That’s a conversation that we are having with the players that are not having a lot of time. Obviously we want to keep their development going and we will make decision in the next three days with some of them on what the best thing is to do. We try to be clear and transparent with what the plans are and their roles in the team and after that, we decide on the best thing for the players and the club.
on whether Ainsley is concerned that he needs to be playing more football to keep his England place…
Yes, it is a concern when there is international football involved as well and the chance to reach that opportunity. I understand that Ainsley wants more minutes and what he needs to do is fight, train and challenge his teammates and show us that he can be one of our starters.
on if Mustafi will stay until the summer or if a mutual termination may be agreed…
Again, he’s another situation at the moment that is opening and we are having conversations internally with the player and agent. We will see what the right solution is for this one as well.
on whether he expects him to stay…
We are monitoring the situation, I cannot say much more than that. We have conversations ongoing and we’ll see what’s the best [decision] at the end of the transfer window.
In an ideal world, we’d pay Mustafi what is required to terminate his contract and well and truly move on from a lamentable period in Arsenal’s recent history. It seems unlikely at this stage that we will secure any sort of fee for the German and he is unlikely to serve any purpose for us on the pitch or behind the scenes other than hoovering up wages. Hopefully we can find an agreement here in a similar vein to those struck with Mesut Ozil and Sokratis.
While Torreira is probably well-suited to the environment and style of Madrid, his lack of minutes will be frustrating for the player and for Arsenal. The talk of a Monaco move is promising but I wonder if being part of a title-winning Madrid side might carry more cache in the short term than a Monaco side that will, in all likelihood, finish somewhere in mid-table in Ligue 1. Time is still on the Uruguayan’s side but, if Arteta doesn’t see a future for him at the club, generating a decent transfer fee has to be the priority.
On Maitland-Niles, I wonder if a permanent change of environment for the young man might be best for all parties. His failure to hold down a regular place in the team or, indeed, a preferred starting position, means his role has become that of useful utility man. He may well be happy with that and, if so, great, perhaps he can prove an important part of the squad in years to come but I don’t believe that’s the case. It feels like a plateau has been reached in Ainsley’s development and I doubt a loan will help that at this stage. A new club, new targets, and new surroundings may fire something in him and, if a suitable bid were to be made, I wouldn’t have any objections to seeing him depart. It seems apparent at this juncture that the manager doesn’t see enough from Ainsley on the training pitch to convince him that greater opportunities are warranted.
As for Reiss Nelson, the number of players ahead of him on the right wing, not least because of the emergence of Bukayo Saka, means a loan move is the only realistic option. Unlike with Maitland-Niles, I don’t think we have yet seen Reiss’s limits, with injuries hampering flashes of good form and promise. With Saka, Nicolas Pepe and Willian vying for game time on the right side of the pitch, only a move will ensure Reiss, 21, can get the time on the pitch he needs to get that much-needed experience. Loan moves to Germany in recent years have been promising but haven’t been enough to force a regular starting spot for the youngster. We are approaching an important point in his career and, in order to make the best decision for all parties, a loan move would seem the best option for now. Let’s see what he can do given a run of games.