Maddison to Arsenal? Why Arteta's 'unprecedented' squad overhaul has stalled

Ben White Mikel Arteta James Maddison Arsenal Leicester GFXGetty/Goal

“I think what we have to do in the summer is unprecedented for a club of this stature.”

Those were the words of Mikel Arteta in March as he looked towards the summer transfer window and the work that Arsenal had to do to improve on what would be another eighth-placed finish in the Premier League.

But with the 2021-22 campaign now just over a week away from kicking off, the level of turnover at Arsenal has been far from unprecedented.

In fact, as it stands, the Gunners have added just three new faces to their ranks – with Ben White the only player you would say is a certainty to go straight into the starting XI against Brentford on August 13 .

Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares are clearly smart additions who will improve the squad, but it’s asking a lot for both players – who are still just 21 – to make a huge impact in their first seasons in England.

If Arsenal are to claw back the gap that has opened up between themselves and the top teams in the Premier League, they need more – much more. But they are running out of time.

So, why has a summer that was expected to see a dramatic overhaul in north London so far failed to really kick into gear? The key issue has been the lack of departures.

It’s an area Arsenal have been trying desperately to address, but the lack of movement in the market has complicated matters.

So far, the club have managed to agree three loan deals for their players, with Konstantinos Mavropanos joining Stuttgart and both Matteo Guendouzi and William Saliba leaving for Marseille.

Granit Xhaka

However, players who were given the green light to leave, such as Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah, are all still part of Arteta’s squad with the new season just a week away.

Given the financial difficulties currently being suffered by all clubs across Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic, money just isn’t being thrown around as before. Arsenal have been, thus, been unable to find buyers for those deemed surplus to requirements.

Xhaka’s situation is the perfect example.

He wanted to leave for Roma, and Arsenal were willing to let him go. But the Italian club refused to meet Arsenal’s £20 million ($28m) valuation and so the Switzerland international is now staying put and will soon sign a new contract.

Why exactly Arsenal felt it necessary to give the midfielder an extension, when he still had two years left on his current deal, remains unclear. But the net result is that the major central midfield addition Arsenal had been targeting this summer will now more than likely not arrive.

In addition, there remains doubt over whether the Gunners will be able to finalise moves for all of positions that were viewed as a priority this summer, which included a new back-up goalkeeper, a new right-back and perhaps most pressing of all, a new attacking midfielder.

On the plus side, Emile Smith Rowe has been tied down to a new deal, along with Folarin Balogun, Kieran Tierney and Arthur Okwonko.

Mikel Arteta

Securing Smith Rowe’s future amid such strong interest from Aston Villa was key, but the 20-year-old shouldn’t be expected to carry Arsenal’s creative burden on his own.

He needs help and that’s why getting a deal over the line for a new attacking midfielder, with Leicester’s James Maddison a big target, is so important before the window shuts at the end of the month.

Ideally, Arsenal would have sorted this already, so that all of their new recruits would have been in place before the new season kicked off.

But that is rarely the case and it must be noted that Arsenal are far from the only club who have struggled to do the business they wanted this summer.

But there is a belief at Arsenal that they will end the window with more signings and that a lot of the dead wood will be offloaded.

Sources at the club continue to plead for patience from the fans, arguing "judge us at the end of the window".

Certainly, an outlay of around £75m ($105m) on White, Lokonga and Tavares is nothing to be sniffed at in the current economic climate.

James Maddison

But it's clear that Arsenal will need to raise more money from sales if they are to land their top targets, especially with Leicester wanting more than £60m ($84m) for Maddison.

The sale of Joe Willock could generate around £20m ($28m), but Newcastle have yet to make a suitable offer – with the northeast outfit favouring an initial loan deal for the midfielder.

It’s a similar story with Bellerin, who was expected to leave this summer. Inter are interested but, again, the Serie A side would prefer to take the Spaniard on loan, while Arsenal are looking for a permanent deal.

The fact that Bellerin is still at the club is causing issues at right-back, with Cedric Soares and Calum Chambers also still around.

There has been interest in Soares from Fenerbahce, but he is happy in London and his preference is to stay at Arsenal and to fight for his place in the team.

The Gunners now have less than a month to sort out their squad, with club sources and agents expecting an incredibly busy final few weeks of the window as the market begins to come to life.

For Arsenal, the priority is clear, with Maddison and a new goalkeeper at the top of their to-do list.

But finding buyers for some of their players is just as important and unless that happens quickly, a summer that was billed as being unprecedented could end on an underwhelming note.