At a risk of overlooking our last two opponents, it’s worth looking ahead to summer business. One can walk and chew gum at the same time, after all. Yes, we’d do well to be wary of Nottingham Forest, who are still struggling to stave off relegation, and Wolves are always up for a feisty scrap (should we celebrate if we beat them? Hmmm…). Without ignoring those speed-bumps, it’s well-worth looking at some vital summer business that has nothing at all and also everything to do with key players like Xhaka, Smith-Rowe, and Tierney, among others. Let the culling begin.
The highlight has to be Granit Xhaka. I’ve written before about his apparent swan-song, and we’re all familiar with his redemption arc. Rumours continue to swirl around a move to Bayer Leverkusen, and one has to wonder whether those rumours suggest anything about internal discussions around the likelihood of us signing one or both of Rice or Caicedo. Either one would likely force Xhaka to accept a reduced role. Signing both, though unlikely, might relegate him to dead-rubber matches and mop-up minutes. Don’t overlook Arteta’s relationship with Xabi Alonso. They came through La Masia together, which might grease the wheels just a little bit.
On to Emile Smith-Rowe. This one is a conundrum. He’s been fit enough to be named as a sub for the last 12 matches but has only played a grand total of 99 minutes. This doesn’t add up, and I’m not just talking about my maths. If he’s fit, why isn’t he playing? He could have added another dimension to our one-dimensional attack, giving Martinelli, Saka, or Ødegaard a rest even if he’s not a one-for-one replacement. If he isn’t fit, why has Arteta so often added him to match-day rosters? It starts to feel like there’s something else going on…
Kieran Tierney. Is he this season’s Bernd Leno? Like Leno, he’d been one of the best in the squad only to find himself relegated to the bench. He’s stepped up in Zinchenko’s absence but hasn’t gotten the minutes that he must feel he’s earned. I’ve suggested a few times that he should have been given a chance at CB, where he plays for Scotland, but, apparently, neither Edu nor Arteta frequent this blog. Consider this post a polite but firm letter to Mr. Arteta’s underlings, who with some cajoling, will pass it along to him or at least give him the gist of it. Play the lad or sell him. Stick or twist.
Those, in my mind, are the big ones. Looking further down the list, only Reiss Nelson stands out as someone who poses difficult questions. He seems hungry, dynamic, and full of potential. He wants regular football but isn’t yet on the level to earn it—yet. A few more moments like that stunner against Bournemouth, or even the hunger and desire he showed against Brighton, when senior members could hardly be bothered, would clarify his situation. Let’s hope he gets—and takes—his chances in Martinelli’s absence.
Looking further afield will have to wait for another day. We have all sorts of players we really should sell at almost any price—Pepe, Soares, Holding….The bigger questions come around players who might come good if we’re patient. We’re talking here of the likes of Tavares, Lokonga, Vieira, Balogun, and Patino. On one hand, I want us to stay true to the ideal of making superstars rather than buying them. On the other, we have to swim or drown in the water in which we find ourselves. Who among these players will be the next Saka, the next Martinelli, the next Saliba?
We’ll have to make room for the next Partey, the next Ødegaard, the next Jesus. To do so, we may have to jettison a few players, maybe even one or two such as Xhaka or Tierney who have earned our respect if not our adoration.
It’s a cold, cruel world out there. To one degree or another, we’ll have to adapt or risk being left out in the cold.