Go to Grow: Arsenal's relationship with Olympique de Marseille
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)
Boy howdy, it's been a while, hasn't it?
I want to first and foremost apologize to my three (3) diehard fans for my lack of consistency. I didn't reckon how difficult it would be to work a full-time job and also write and podcast. Spoiler alert. It's hard.
But enough of my whinging. You're not here to read about my life. You're here for the best Arsenal content the internet has to offer, though I'd recommend checking out Jahid and Sumaiya's recent pieces if that's your goal. Stay, though, if you'd like to hear my ruminations and ramblings about a little club called Olympique de Marseille.
In the past few seasons, Arsenal have made multiple inroads to La Commanderie, in order to bolster the French side's ranks with players deemed unready for time in the Premier League. First went William Saliba, he of youth locker room fame, to mature into the absolutely monstrous defender who now returns to London Colney ready to tough it out for a starting berth. A successful loan, to be sure.
Matteo Guendouzi, whose crazy flame of hair can only be topped by the passion and pure attitude in his heart, followed suit. He suits manager Jorge Sampaoli's eclectic, free-flowing football to a tee, where positional nous is held to a minimum, and discipline is thrown out the window. Sampaoli's style, which often matches the near-rabid fans of the Orange Vélodrome, is all about hectic, fast-paced football, with high pressing and a constantly changing look. It's no surprise Marseille often rank high in both pressures and red cards—and it's no surprise Guendouzi has made his Marseille move permanent.
Nor is it a shock that the calm-headed, poised Saliba has chosen to sever ties to pursue higher competition; his ambition has been evident from the off. He has been vocal about the joy he found playing in France, but also about his intentions to start at Arsenal, and his disappointment about a lack of selection in previous years. Though his fate at the Emirates may appear suspended by a thinner thread than most, he is the exact profile of player Arteta would want as an understudy and competitor to Benjamin White. He'll have no short supply of gumption this season, not to mention the opportunities to make it count.
And now, Marseille appear to be in for a third Arsenal starlet, and one who seems to fall in between Saliba and Guendouzi in the public eye. You might know him as the Portuguese Sead Kolasinac, or perhaps the player who ranked second-worse in our WLYA Squad Ranking this past season. I am, of course, speaking of Nuno Tavares.
Some see Tavares as a diamond in the rough, a player who needs shaping and polishing, but has a future at the club, and a bright one at that. Others see him as an athletic specimen without the technical quality or decision-making to back up his physical acumen, and a player to be sold. Most see him as a mix of both, and given the highs and lows he provided us last season, my personal views fall much in that middle camp.
One thing is clear, though. Tavares is not ready for Premier League football full-time. With links abounding both to Lisandro Martinez, who can moonlight at left back, and Scotsman Aaron Hickey, who started 11 games opposite Takehiro Tomiyasu at Bologna, and has stepped up into a prominent role this past campaign as the Japanese international thrived in red-and-white, there may not be enough room in the squad for Tavares to understudy Kieran Tierney any longer, at least for the time being. Though the temporary departure of Tavares appears to be contingent on the signing of Martinez, it's also a deal Arsenal are growing more confident in completing, especially due to the general lack of competition and the player's personal interest in joining the club.
And if history tells any tales, a loan to the south of France might be the perfect injection into Tavares' career. The Ligue 1 tends to draw a good middle ground between the Premier League and the Primeira Liga, combining the physical nature of the former with the open nature of the latter. And knowing how the mental side of Tavares' game works, the type of confidence fostered by playing for the fans at the Orange Vélodrome, and in the freer structure of Sampaoli's attack, could work wonders for his ability on the ball, and his hunger if he makes a return to England. Marseille will also be playing UCL football next season.
It should be noted that Kolasinac, a player we've compared heavily to Tavares, and who has been maligned in North London for his lack of footballing talent as much as he's been praised for his strength of character, recently made a Marseille move permanent after being informed he was not a part of Arteta's plans. The fact that Kolasinac's profile fits the club speaks dividends about the potential success Tavares could garner within the squad.
But on a more general note, this relationship with Marseille could pay dividends for Arsenal. Though our talent ID has been stellar in recent years, and appears to be burgeoning further this summer, with strong ties to Gabriel Jesus, Raphinha, Lisandro Martinez, and Youri Tielemans, along with the signings we've already completed, there is always the potential for young signings to pan out poorly. In those cases, a mutually advantageous relationship centered around simultaneous development of our players and the strengthening of the Marseille squad could be just what the doctor ordered, for all parties involved.
We're in a very promising transfer situation right now. With nearly all of our dead wood gone, and very few key pieces left to sell—Nicolas Pépé is the only player who comes to mind—Arsenal have the luxury of filling their squad with those perfect sort of players who can both impact the present and provide for the club's future. However, there will still be a few odd ducks in that nearly seamless row, and Tavares seems to be one.
So please, Arsenal, take advantage of the situation and strike while the iron is hot. As this football club continues to evolve and take shape under Mikel Arteta, the most important thing we can do is avoiding previous mistakes that have plagued us for decades. Not giving players proper playing time, either at this club or another? That's called stagnation, and nobody wants that. This loan deal, and this sort of general partnership, are hallmark's of Arsenal's growth as a club, and should not be ignored, inconsequential as they may seem.