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Arsenal's big summer overhaul: How Arteta and Edu plan to return to the Champions League

11:00 AM GMT+4 12/05/2021
Mikel Arteta Alexandre Lacazette Odsonne Edouard Arsenal Celtic GFX
Big changes are expected at Emirates Stadium at the end of the season as the Gunners look to bounce back from a disappointing 2020-21 campaign

What a difference nine months make.

Wind the clock back to August 1, 2020 and Arsenal were celebrating their record-breaking 14th FA Cup success at Wembley, having beaten Chelsea 2-1 thanks to a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang double.

Under the youthful guidance of Mikel Arteta, the Gunners seemed to be on the up again, while Chelsea and Frank Lampard were left to lick their wounds.

But less than a year later and the fortunes of both London clubs could not be more different.

Ahead of Wednesday night's meeting between the teams at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal sit ninth in the Premier League and are still trying to come to terms with last week’s Europa League semi-final exit to Villarreal, a defeat that leaves them facing up a first season without European football in 25 years.

Chelsea, meanwhile, sit third in the Premier League and will soon take on Leicester in the FA Cup final. They also have the small matter of the upcoming Champions League final against Manchester City to worry about.

Ever since Thomas Tuchel was appointed as Lampard’s replacement in January, the Blues have been on an upward trajectory. 

Arteta’s Arsenal, however, have been completely unable to build on last season’s FA Cup success and find themselves lagging behind their London rivals again.

Big changes are needed at Emirates Stadium during the summer to try to get the Gunners competing for trophies again and it is expected Arteta will be given the opportunity to lead the upcoming overhaul, despite this season’s struggles.

“There are so many things to do because we have a lot of players on loan and a lot of players with contracts that we still have to sort,” said the Spaniard. 

“It will depend on what happens with a lot of those players and what we are able to recruit to improve the team. That is going to determine where we are."

Arsenal are keen to strengthen in several areas once the transfer window opens, with two new full-backs, a central midfielder, a striker and a goalkeeper on the agenda.

Arteta and technical director Edu are aware that the club's options up front need freshening up, with Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah both potentially on the way out.

Nketiah, who will have just one year left on his contract at the end of the season, looks almost certain to leave, while talks will soon take place with Lacazette over his situation.

Atletico Madrid are long-term admirers of the France international and while the 29-year-old remains a popular figure at Arsenal and is liked by Arteta, there is a feeling that his departure could bring in valuable funds to help land a replacement.

Arsenal continue to watch Odsonne Edouard, with the 23-year-old expected to leave Celtic at the end of the season. They will face strong competition from Leicester City for the young Frenchman, however.

Sporting Lisbon’s 18-year-old forward Tiago Tomas is another who is on the agenda, while Lyon’s Moussa Dembele – who is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid – has also been linked.

Having initially switched his formations on a regular basis, Arteta has settled on a 4-2-3-1 system since Christmas and favours that as his long-term formation going forward.

While results have been disappointing this season, since moving to the 4-2-3-1, only Manchester City (57), Manchester United (44) and Chelsea (39) have amassed more Premier League’s points than Arsenal (38).

“We have made progress in many areas,” said Arteta ahead of Wednesday’s game at Stamford Bridge. “I would say performance included, and that is supported by many factors that we have looked at. 

“But, results-wise, to be where we want to be, we have to improve.”

Arteta has some key players in his squad that he wants to build Arsenal’s future around. 

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith are now established first-team stars despite their age and will play prominent roles in the forward line next season.

Thomas Partey has endured a difficult first campaign in England due to injuries, but Arteta maintains full belief in the 27-year-old and could pair him with a new midfield partner, with Brighton’s Yves Bissouma understood to be a target.

In defence, there is Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Magalhaes, while captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will remain a key figure in Arteta’s squad and centre-back William Saliba will be given an opportunity to impress following his loan spell with Nice.

Other than that, however, and there are very few who would be deemed ‘not for sale’ this summer by Arsenal, should a suitable offer arrive.

“We have to be ruthless,” Arteta said. “There is no time to waste and there is a lot to do.”

A key decision facing Arsenal surrounds the future of Bernd Leno.

Arteta backed the German goalkeeper heavily last summer when he opted for him as his No.1 and allowed Emiliano Martinez to leave for Aston Villa.

But Leno’s form has been inconsistent this season and he has admitted he could be open for a move away

Arsenal are looking at Ajax keeper Andre Onana and Brentford’s David Raya as possible alternatives to Leno, who has two years left on his contract and has yet to enter talks over a new deal.

One player who looks almost certain to leave this summer is Hector Bellerin. The Spain international almost left after last year’s FA Cup final but was convinced by Arteta.

A move away from north London now looks on the cards, however, with Arenal looking to bring in an attacking right-back who will offer them a similar sort of quality as Tierney on the opposite side of the pitch.

Arsenal also want to bring in a back-up for Tierney, with talks ongoing with Ryan Bertrand, who will be available on a free transfer having opted against signing a contract extension with Southampton.

As always, what money is made available this summer will be key to Arteta and Edu’s plans for the squad.

Some substantial funds could be raised by selling Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira – who are all currently away on loan – while Bellerin, Leno and Lacazette would generate healthy transfer fees, should they be sold.

Whether owner Stan Kroenke opts to make other further funds available remains to be seen.

“I think it is clear that if we want to improve the team we need some resources,” Arteta said, when asked about possible support from the American billionaire. 

Arsenal manager is well aware of how important the 2021-22 season will be for him and his future. 

While he still maintains the backing of the club’s hierarchy, a poor start to the campaign will see his position under massive threat.

He has called on the club to be "ruthless" and the arrival of Richard Garlick as head of football operations will help with the vast amount of work that needs to be done.

Garlick, who had been working as the Premier League's Director of Football, is due to start at Arsenal on Monday and will lead all contract negotiations, with the future of Smith Rowe a priority. 

Arsenal’s attempts to reshape the squad will start in earnest once they have brought the curtain down on their season against Brighton on Sunday, May 23.

Arteta knows exactly what he wants to do to get his side back competing alongside the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City.

Putting it all into practise, however, may just be his toughest job yet.