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Arsenal's Aubameyang transfer gamble leaves Arteta and Edu in the firing line

11:00 GMT+3 02/02/2022
Edu Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Mikel Arteta Arsenal GFX
It's no surprise that the Gunners were willing to let the Gabon striker join Barcelona but the lack of a replacement is alarming

It was a deadline day that summed up Arsenal’s transfer window.

At times, it seemed like things were running quite smoothly but, in the end, it all felt a bit chaotic.

Arsenal went into January with what felt like a sense of purpose – with the club hoping to add two new additions, a central midfielder and a striker.

However, they were left empty-handed after failing to bring in anyone to strengthen their push for a top four spot during the second half of the Premier League season.

They will now go into the final 17 games of their campaign with a squad that is undeniably weaker than the one with which they started the year.

In all, six senior players left the club during the window – with former skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joining Barcelona just a few minutes before the Monday night’s 11pm deadline.

The Gabon international, who was still Arsenal’s captain just seven weeks ago, was released from his contract 18 months early, bringing to an end his Arsenal career exactly four years to the day since he arrived from Borussia Dortmund.

Aubameyang becomes the latest in an ever-increasing list of players to be just given away by the Gunners. Some of their own supporters are now labelling the club as ‘Free Transfer FC’.

The striker’s departure will save the North London club around £20 million ($27m) in wages the long run, however, and given his relationship with Arteta had totally broken down and there was little chance of him bring brought back into the fold, it’s difficult to argue that a move away wasn’t the best solution for all concerned.

What can be called into question, however, is the failure of technical director Edu and the club to replace him.

Aubameyang’s exit has felt inevitable for some time now, yet the Gunners have not been able to bring someone in to fill the void he has left in the squad.

The Dusan Vlahovic saga resulted in the Fiorentina striker joining Juventus, while long-term targets such as Alexander Isak, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jonathan David proved to be unattainable.

That means – with a top four spot very much up for grabs this season – Arsenal will now go through to the end of the campaign with just Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah as their only recognised central strikers, both of whom are out of contract in the summer and expected to leave on a free. 

They have also scored just three Premier League goals between them this season, with Lacazette accounting for all of them.

While other teams have strengthened their options during the past month, Arsenal have undoubtedly weakened theirs.

It looked for a time that they would at least land Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo on loan from Juventus, but Edu was unable to close a deal with the Italian side following a disagreement over the length of the 25-year-old's stay.

“The market is difficult and complicated,” Arteta had warned following Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Burnley on January 23.

That goalless draw against the Premier League’s bottom-placed club was the fourth game in succession that Arsenal had failed to score.

A month that had started full of hope and excitement for the Gunners, ended in frustration.

Fans left Emirates Stadium hoping that the final days of the transfer window would lift some of the gloom caused by a winless January, but instead it only added to it.

"The players who come here have to take us to the next level,” Arteta had said earlier in the window.

“We already have a level and we want to set much better standards than we already have. That's how we want to recruit."

On the face of it, those are comments few can argue with. 

But given Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac, Folarin Balogun and Aubameyang were all allowed to leave during January, the need for new additions felt particularly pressing. 

“We are very short,” Arteta himself admitted earlier in the month. “I think with the way we want to evolve the squad we have to maximise every window in every way.

“Edu and his team are working very hard because we know exactly what we need to do.”

Arsenal’s results between now and the end of the season will ultimately shape how the decisions taken in January will be viewed.

Should the Gunners’ new streamlined squad go on to secure a return to the Champions League, the past few weeks could be seen as a masterstroke ahead of what would be a busy summer.

But a difficult end to the season will see Arteta and Edu come under huge pressure.

With no new sign of a striker coming in, Arteta could have taken the decision to patch things up with Aubameyang and bring him back into the squad. That would have at least given Arsenal another attacking option during the closing months of the season.

But he went down the other route and sanctioned the striker's exit, leaving himself with Lacazette and Nketiah as his only central striking options.

Should that backfire and Arsenal miss out on the top four due to a lack of goals, then the finger of blame will quite fairly be pointed firmly in the direction of Arteta. This was his decision; he will now have to live with the results.

There’s no doubt Arsenal’s transfer strategy in the summer was smart, with the additions of players like Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Martin Odegaard breathing new life into a squad that had gone stale,

Few would have given Arsenal a chance of competing for the top four at the start of the season, especially after they opened with three successive defeats and went into the first international break rooted at the bottom of the table.

But the revival that followed raised expectations and with Arteta’s side now sitting just two points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with a game in hand, there was a sense that a strong January could have seen them steal a real march in the race for Champions League.

It wasn’t to be, however, and now Arsenal must hope their young squad has enough knowhow and firepower to get them over the line between now and May 22.

The club has taken a big risk. If it works out, they will have put themselves in a fantastic position for the summer.

If they fall short, however, then they will only have themselves to blame and it will be Arteta and Edu who will be left squarely in the firing line.