Arsenal facing transfer dilemma as Leno and Mari injuries hit Arteta's plans

Neal Maupay Bernd Leno Mikel Arteta 2019-20Getty/Goal

Project Restart is less than a week old and already the problems are stacking up for Mikel Arteta.

Things couldn’t have gone worse for Arsenal’s head coach during the first week of the Premier League’s resumption, with his side suffering two defeats and three serious injuries to key players.

Both Pablo Mari and Granit Xhaka were forced off with injuries before half-time against Manchester City, with Mari now ruled out for the rest of the season and Xhaka not expected to resume training again for at least two weeks.

Now Bernd Leno looks set for an extended spell on the sidelines after the horrible knee injury he sustained against Brighton on Saturday.

The true extent of Leno’s injury has yet to be confirmed, but there are fears he has damaged the cruciate ligament in his left knee and could be facing up to a year out.

That will be a hammer blow to Arteta ahead of a summer that was already shaping up to be an incredibly difficult one for Arsenal, as they attempt to overhaul a squad that is in desperate need of a rebuild. 

With money set to be severely limited and so much to do in terms of improving the squad and contract renewals, the last thing Arteta and Arsenal needed was a problem in the goalkeeper department, the one area of the squad that was settled.

Leno has been exceptional since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen two years ago and has arguably been Arsenal’s player of the year this season. If the worst is confirmed and he has damaged his cruciate ligament, Arteta must now decide whether to bring in a new No 1 for next season or trust Emi Martinez to fill the void left by the German.

The Argentine has been an able understudy when he has filled in for Leno this season has always stated he believes he is good enough to be first choice at Arsenal.

Emiliano Martinez, Arsenal

Speaking to after the defeat at Brighton, the 27-year-old, said: “In the goalkeepers' union, you don't want the other goalies to get injured because it can happen to anyone. We train every day together, we support each other, we're really close, we even have a WhatsApp group - it is devastating to be honest.

"I wish Bernd a speedy recovery and if he needs the rest of the season, me and Matt [Macey] will try to do a good job in the Premier League and try to cover him as much possible.”

Arteta now must weigh up whether he trusts Martinez to be his No.1, potentially for all of next season, or whether he needs to spent some of his limited transfer funds on a new keeper.

Signing someone on loan is an option, but even that would involve having to commit money on a loan fee and wages that Arteta would prefer to spend elsewhere.

The situation just adds to the problems facing the Spaniard this summer, with the issues needing to be resolved stacking up by the week. 

Saturday’s defeat at Brighton all but ended Arsenal’s hope of securing Champions League football next season and the riches that come with it.

With transfer funds expected to be limited this summer due to massive financial implications caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Champions League qualification would have given Arteta some leeway in the market to try and bring in key targets.

It now looks like the best case scenario is another season in the Europa League and even that is far from a given considering Arsenal’s current form and injury issues.

Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2019-20

Should the Gunners miss out on Europe altogether for the first time in 25 years that would be a huge strain on finances which are already stretched to the limit due to a £230 million wage bill, three successive seasons out of the Champions League and the potential of having to play the majority of next season behind closed doors.

Should that happen, Arsenal are predicted to lose up to £144m ($178m) for the year 2020/21.

So having to spend even a small amount of money on a goalkeeper would be a major blow to Arteta, but that now looks certain as even if he sticks with Martinez, a new back-up would have to be found - with third choice Matt Macey widely expected to leave this summer.

It’s a blow that has been compounded by the injury to Mari, who Arsenal were planning on signing permanently following his loan spell from Flamemgo.

The Brazilian club have already said the transfer is guaranteed - something sources at Arsenal insist is not the case - but Arteta has stated that he wants the deal to be done despite the ankle injury Mari picked up against Manchester City which could keep the centre-back out for several months.

“This cannot be affected just because a player gets injured doing his job and defending our club,” the Spaniard said when asked whether he still wanted to sign the 26-year-old.

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Should Arsenal push through with the transfer as expected, it will mean committing even more of their limited funds for a defender who could miss a chunk of next season - albeit the money that would be owed to Flamengo, which could total £8m ($9.9m), would be paid over instalments and only when certain clauses were met.

Even so, it is another complication for Arteta and Arsenal to ponder ahead of a summer when they will need to resolve contract talks with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka, try and deal with the Mesut Ozil situation, and also reshape a squad that has flattered to deceive for years.

When Arteta arrived in December he said he was under no illusions about the size of the task he was facing at the Emirates. Less than six months later, he must be be wondering exactly what he has let himself in for.