Arsenal transfer window: Defence and midfield need bolstering – but loans more likely than buys

Mikel Arteta could not have put it more plainly: “We need players.”

The Arsenal manager is not shy of letting the club know his expectations ahead of a transfer window. Speaking after the 2-0 win over Brighton on December 17, he left Arsenal’s hierarchy in little doubt about his desire for mid-season reinforcements.

But do Arsenal have the funds to make significant signings? What part of the pitch does Arteta require reinforcements in, and who could they be? A spate of injuries has shifted Arsenal’s recruitment priorities, as The Athletic explains.

Arsenal agreed deals for Matt Turner and Auston Trusty, but these were completed the following summer

Out: Ainsley Maitland-Niles (loan), Sead Kolasinac (contract termination), Calum Chambers (free), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (contract termination)

In January 2021 and 2022, Arsenal’s main expenditure was on terminating the contracts of unwanted stars like Ozil and Aubameyang. In 2023, there was clearly a different strategy: with the team on course to regain Champions League football and its associated revenue, plus the fact they were challenging for the title, Arsenal bolstered their squad with three new signings.

They might have spent even more — Arsenal only turned to Trossard after missing out to Chelsea on €100million target Mykhailo Mudryk.

How much money is likely to be available?
That’s the £105million question.

After a huge summer of spending, including that record-breaking deal for Declan Rice, Arsenal are definitely operating under some restrictions. When they signed David Raya from Brentford towards the end of the summer window, they cited Financial Fair Play regulations, insisting they could only take him on an initial loan. The Raya deal effectively means Arsenal have a £27million commitment to Brentford to fulfil, which must be taken into consideration when it comes to any further transfers.

Arsenal have been working hard to control their FFP situation. The recent raft of contract extensions, for example, enables them to amortise player costs over longer periods.

With revenues rising this season, Arsenal are likely to have some wiggle room when it comes to FFP — but just how much remains to be seen. FFP also permits equity injections of £30million per year by a club’s owners, but Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) do not tend to operate in that manner.

Who makes the key decisions about signings?
It’s a collaborative process at Arsenal. Sporting Director Edu oversees a recruitment department charged with identifying and following talent. Those players are then shared and discussed with manager Mikel Arteta, who will consider their merits with his wider coaching staff.

What are the priority positions?
At the moment, the top priority is the defence, with possible consideration given to midfield.

It’s worth saying “at the moment” because January windows are, by their nature, quite reactive. A couple of injuries can change the priority very swiftly. Even a few weeks ago, there might have been a different answer to this question, with the centre-forward and wide-forward areas both under consideration.

For now, however, the back four is where Arsenal’s recruitment team are focusing. Arteta has already admitted Arsenal are “really short at the back”.

The cruciate ligament injury sustained by summer signing Jurrien Timber on his Premier League debut was a tremendous blow. His recovery is progressing well, but he is not expected back for some time yet. The loss of Timber has been compounded by an injury to Takehiro Tomiyasu — and even if the versatile full-back returns to fitness in January, he could still miss a month representing Japan at the AFC Asian Cup.

Thomas Partey has filled in at right-back occasionally, but he too is injured — and scheduled to take part in the Africa Cup of Nations. His absence, plus relatively minor injuries to Mohamed Elneny and Jorginho, has also put central midfield in the spotlight. None of Partey, Elneny or Jorginho are considered long-term solutions in this area, and Arsenal know that at some point soon they will need an alternative to Declan Rice.

There is one other position to consider: goalkeeper. If Aaron Ramsdale were to leave the club in search of first-team football, that would also necessitate the signing of a backup to Raya.

What do we know about who the targets might be?
Arsenal must first consider the long-term implications of any January signing.

In defence, Timber and Tomiyasu are both a big part of Arteta’s plans, with the latter expected to agree a new contract. The club recognise the need for cover but will be wary of upsetting the squad balance.

A loan deal would be preferable, although finding someone who is both good enough and available on those terms is challenging.

There are long-term defensive targets, such as Dortmund’s Nico Schlotterbeck. Arteta’s coaching staff also admire Bayern Munich’s Dutch international Matthijs de Ligt, but the price-point and contract situation of both players make them infeasible January deals.

Arsenal are also interested in Ajax’s 17-year-old defender Jorrel Hato. The teenager has been a rare bright spot in a troubled season for the Amsterdam club, wearing the captain’s armband on occasion, and has already received his first cap for the Dutch senior team.

Hato plays as a left-sided centre-back or left-back, so would complement Timber. Arsenal believe Ajax’s game model is analogous to their own, hence Timber’s swift adaptation. Hato would not come cheap, however, and Arsenal may decide they need someone more experienced to help in the run-in.

A short-term loan signing remains the most likely option.

The same can be said for midfield. Arsenal’s previous interest in Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz is well documented — they made three fruitless bids for the Brazilian on deadline day in September 2022. Arsenal highest offer then was £25million, and Luiz has since signed a new contract and helped propel Villa into the title picture. There are no developments expected in January regarding Luiz.


The same is true of long-term target Martin Zubimendi. He is very loyal to Real Sociedad, and may be reluctant to leave partway through a Champions League campaign — and that’s before considering the costs.

Arsenal would look at a loan if an appropriate midfield candidate became available, but a marquee midfielder is unlikely.

Arsenal remain interested in injured Wolves winger Pedro Neto, with manager Gary O’Neil recently describing the 23-year-old as “very close” to a return. While a wide forward is on Arsenal’s mid-term to-do list, it has been overtaken by more immediate priorities for January.

The same could arguably be said of centre-forward. Arsenal hope to recruit a new striker in 2024, although that is more likely to be on the summer’s agenda. While the club has been linked with a move for Brentford’s Ivan Toney, there have been no significant developments on that front as yet.

Who could be on their way out?
Much of the pre-January speculation has been about the future of Aaron Ramsdale. The England international has played just one Premier League game since September 3 — and that came against Brentford when Raya was ineligible due to Premier League loan rules.

Ramsdale has admirers in England and abroad — including Newcastle, who have lost Nick Pope to a shoulder injury. A loan move would grant Ramsdale an opportunity to play regular football and keep his place in the England squad. Arsenal are reluctant to sanction such a deal, however, and would like to keep hold of Ramsdale for the second half of the season. If a club made a substantial offer to sign Ramsdale permanently, or with a compelling option or obligation included as part of a loan, that could change things.

Jakub Kiwior has admirers in Italy, but it’s hard to imagine Arsenal sanctioning a move at a time when they’re so light in defence. Even Cedric, who is on the very fringes of the squad, may be required to stick around. There is some interest in the full-back from Villarreal, but Arsenal may determine he is needed as cover — at least until they have some new faces through the door.

The Saudi Pro League are likely to be in for significant players in the market again during this window. They have a long-term interest in Gabriel, but it would take something extraordinary for Arsenal to contemplate allowing such an important player to leave. Speaking after the 2-0 win against Brighton, Arteta was emphatic: “I want him here.”

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