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YAMA Weekly Roundtable: January transfers, PL officiating, and Arsenal’s Player of 2021

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Each week, a few of the writers at You Are My Arsenal will answer questions regarding recent matches, transfers, squad developments, and other goings-on at Arsenal Football Club. This week, Andrew The Hinckley Gooner (@fromdialsquare on Twitter), Morgan Ofori (@cruciateblog), Aaron Jaffe (@AaronJaffe11), and Dope Gooner (@dopegooner) have tackled a handful of Arsenal-related questions below:

Because we’re not where we want to be, in the Champions League, is it more sensible to make loan moves in January than permanent big money moves?

Andrew THG: I’m firmly of the opinion that the summer transfer window was the best one we’ve had in many years. It showed a cohesive thought process between the hiararchy at the club over a strategic squad improvement with very talented young players. With this in mind, I’d only make moves if the identified players fit within this plan. Last January, we made the excellent loan of Martin Ødegaard who was identified by Arteta as a player he desperately wanted at Arsenal, as he fitted his profile and plan perfectly. If someone became available who also is identified by the Manager as a potentially key player long term, then I’d love to see them come in, but to loan someone who is a short term option, I’d rather pass on that opportunity. It could disrupt the changing room harmony and we’ve been burnt before by doing this. I’d rather wait for the right player rather than try and take short cuts. 

Dope Gooner: To be quite honest, I am really over loan moves at this point. Especially up front, I don’t see how a loan move would benefit us over a permanent move, even if the long-term transfer is expensive. I think Arsenal needs to add a striker who can be a significant part of the core we currently have for years to come. Any striker we loan at the moment is unlikely to fit the age profile we are looking at – loaning a striker usually means we’re getting someone in their late 20s who isn’t playing enough minutes, which probably lowers the quality of our side overall to be honest. Additionally, they will be gone at the end of the season, and if they help us achieve our objectives, they will probably be more difficult to acquire again. 

With regard to our midfield, I think we have more flexibility in terms of who we get and how we get them. We can go down the loan route with someone like Gini Wijnaldum, and simply plug the holes for the next several weeks until Partey and Elneny return from AFCON. We can bring in someone for cheap like Denis Zakaria who can be a role-player and still a saleable asset a couple years down the line. Or we can pull forward a potential summer transfer and go for someone like Bruno Guimaraes to be a long-term part of the team’s spine. In short, the answer is it depends on how things shake out with injuries, COVID, and AFCON, but it is preferable to keep building this squad with long-term intent.

Cruciateblog: How many loan moves have truly worked out for Arsenal in January? I view Martin Odegaard as a special and unique case. He was being touted as an elite talent from the age of 15, but went to Real Madrid and got lost in a sea of loans and had a crisis of confidence. His loan move and subsequent permanent move to North London is more in line with how we used to operate. Pick up top class potential that is unfulfilled either due to competition or supposed injury issues and giving them a stage to flourish. In the main, loan moves leave a lot to be desired and so many have not really worked out in the past for Arsenal in January.

Although links to Gini Wijnaldum on loan make sense due to the absences for AFCON, it would be much more prudent and smart (more like the club these days) to make an investment in a long term deal to increase competition and help the team sustain their shape for the run-in. If a player is young enough, has enough upside, and can be a good addition, I think you do a permanent deal straight away. The Mattias Svanberg rumours interest me, as that looks a fairly easy deal to do and will add specific value to an area of the squad that needs competition.

AJ: Loan moves are the new normal due to COVID and many clubs not being able to afford players on permanent moves. However, I think that when you think of players that Arsenal should be signing, they shouldn’t ideally be available on loan and should be excelling in the starting XI at their club bar Martin Ødegaard who was an excellent find and the links surrounding Gini Wijnaldum. Due to many loan offers it’s no doubt that clubs will reduce their evaluations on permanent deals for players and this could be where Edu & Arteta could pick up players like Bruno Guimaraes for a cheaper fee.  

Easy thought is that Arsenal need a hold-up striker. Do you think that Arteta will go a different way and buy a technical pivot instead? Or both?

ATHG: I’m of the opinion that we’re going to go down the Manchester City route and buy a player who can play anywhere across the front 3 positions. I think we’re building a front line which is inter-changeable and it’s more likely that we’ll buy a player in the mould of a Gabriel Jesus rather than a more orthodox central target man. Dusan Vlahovic is a really interesting link as he’s not an out and out striker, he’s very much a roaming linking player who would fit the profile as well as the age profile of players we’re targeting. 

DG: I think we’ll go more for a technical pivot than a hold-up striker. But that doesn’t mean we won’t sign a player who can do a bit of hold-up play as well. So far, the strongest links have been to Dusan Vlahovic and Alexander Isak, both of whom can link play decently with their back to goal but can also turn and run at the opposition with the ball. They’re both also very young, which makes them malleable enough that Arteta can coach them up to be better technical pivots than they currently are. But the thing these guys bring that we have lacked for a while now from our strikers is the ability to make things happen on their own. I think our next striker will remedy that, which requires them to be technically adept enough to not only connect with their teammates and create dangerous situations with them, but to (and no apologies for the Walter White callback here) be the danger themselves.

CB: There are really strong reports linking Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic. I’ll leave the deeper analysis on him to my friends on the twittersphere. I think we are likely to go for a goalscoring technical pivot that is an upgrade on lacazette. We require someone that gets the best out of our wide players that are exploding, Saka and Martinelli.

AJ: The real answer is I’m not sure. I like the prospect of Alexander Isak and Lille’s Jonathan David a lot. They are natural goalscorers whether it involves hold up play, general movement or technical ability. There’s no argument that closely linked Fiorentina target Dusan Vlahovic is a good signing for the Gunners if they choose to pursue it, but I am a bit skeptical of his flaws such as outside the box and aerially. I think it’s down to Mikel with what he thinks will suit best for the second half of the season, but hopefully there is some trust that it will be one of the three mentioned. 

What is one way you would change officiating in the Premier League?

ATHG: I’d like to Mike up the referees so that we can hear the talking between all the officials and VAR. It’d stop players back chatting with the referee, and it’d stop the referees from being biased, both overnight. I’d like to add that viewers wouldn’t have to hear everything throughout the match, just as and when needed, like the replays we get on TV. Secondly, the Premier league is the best league in the world. We get the best players and managers in the world as a result, so why don’t we get the best referees in the world? We should pay more to attract them which will help us improve the standard straight away. 

DG: It’s tough to pick just one thing. But a change I think would have the greatest long-term impact on Premier League officiating is increasing the diversity within the PGMOL. I think a massive issue with English referees is that it’s a group of people who largely resemble each other, not only in appearance, but in how they approach their jobs as well. There should be more officials from other ethnic backgrounds. There should be more women officiating in the English top flight. I think there should even be a larger age range among officials. Because when you have a diversity of people in an organization, you also have a diversity of thought process. You have people from different backgrounds and upbringings and experiences, and therefore people who can all look at the same issue and come up with a plethora of different ways to combat it. Hopefully that would then organically lead to solutions just as requiring officials to give post-match interviews, micing up officials (including VAR operators) during matches, and other measures that increase transparency.

CB: I think, in the long term. We need greater clarity on what “clear and obvious” is. VAR is here to stay. Now it’s time to explain more and make it understandable for the average spectator. 

AJ: Officiating is a controversial subject as every team in leagues across the country will feel like the referees are against them in at least one match a season. It’s just how it goes when the game suddenly switches and the momentum changes. I think that VAR needs to be redefined not only to officials and managers, but a clear explanation to the fans. I don’t like that on TV or at the stadium there is no explanation until after the decision and your eyes are stuck to a blank blue screen saying ‘checking decision’. I feel that the ‘clear and obvious’ term needs some more clarity as seen against Manchester City and if VAR is present it should be used. It may take a minute of the game but if it’s necessary it’s necessary. 

It’s January, which means transfer season is upon us once more. Which realistic signing would you most like to see arrive at Arsenal?

ATHG: I’d love to get Dusan Vlahovic due to the quality he already has, but also the quality improvements that are yet to come due to his age. He could be a game changer. I’d also love to get Renato Sanchez in our midfield. Again, he’s the right age profile and he’s definitely git the right qualities and technical ability to play brilliantly alongside Thomas Partey. He’s also available for less than £30m by all media accounts, so I don’t think we can lose at that price and because of his age. 

DG: In all honesty, I think it’s Dusan Vlahovic for me. And yes, I think he is a realistic signing. We need to make moves in midfield, but striker is the position in which we need a legitimate upgrade. Relying on Lacazette, Martinelli, and maybe Nketiah for the rest of the season feels too much like leaving a top-four finish to chance for me to feel comfortable. Vlahovic is an excellent finisher, is physical enough to hang with Premier League center-backs, and is decent enough at linking play while being young enough for Arteta to mold him into a better player. He can truly take our goal output to another level, and Arsenal need to do everything they can to get him.

CB: I think midfield is the most pressing, the most realistic signing out there? Mattias Svanberg, 18 months left on his contract, would be picked up for maximum value and is an opportunity to potentially bring more players with the specificity that Arteta wants in midfield.

AJ: It’s between a striker and a centre-midfielder but with Arsenal missing Granit Xhaka and loaning Ainsley Maitland-Niles out to AS Roma, it’s going to have to be the latter. My preferred option is Lyon’s Bruno Guimaraes who’s fee is affordable and would be a real valued asset to the club. Obviously there are multiple options for the midfield spanning from Gini Wijnaldum to even the return of Aaron Ramsey. But Bruno Guimaraes would hopefully give us some reassurance in the midfield and a bit of logical aggressiveness like Xhaka but without the consistent fouling. For a fee of around 45 million euros, it’s no bargain but I wouldn’t feel like it’s overpaying. 

Who was your player of 2021?

ATHG: Without question, it has to be Emile Smith-Rowe. The way he’s transformed our attacking play has been utterly transformational. He’s fulfilling his potential, scoring goals, speeded up our attack and he’s providing assists. I’ve not included Bukayo Saka as he’s been brilliant since before 2021, so I think ESR is definitely the player of the calendar year. 

CB: Emile Smith Rowe started the year breathing new life into Arsenal, and there’s no doubt the gunners play better when he is in the lineup. The Hale ender’s took on the number 10 shirt and has not looked back. Goals against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United show his potential as a big game player and as he physically develops, you would expect him to make a bigger impact going forward. 

DG: It’s gotta be Smith Rowe. He came in and transformed the side at the end of 2020, and has consistently been one of our best players since. Halfway through this current season, he has nine goals in all competitions along with two assists. It’s rather remarkable how so soon after Saka’s emergence, another academy talent has made the step up to the first team and become such a vital part of how we play. The best part is, he’s only going to get better.

AJ: I’m going to have to agree and say Smith Rowe. I think Nicolas Pepe does deserve a mention for his part in the second half of the season and it shows that anyone can stand out when called upon. But Emile Smith Rowe’s rapid graduation to the first team and into the starting lineup has been brilliant to watch. His dribbling and finishes against Spurs, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea etc. you name it and he’s already doing it. A call up to the England squad was well-deserved and on the form he is in, he’s in serious contention to be in the World Cup squad in my opinion. I also think that Bukayo Saka has been immense and his recent work on his end-product has made him even better in the last year. I just think that Smith Rowe edges the award and he’s transforming game by game. 

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