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Loan Watch: Who will return and who will go?

By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)

For the second week running, the premise of my article has not been inspired by my own creative-thinking mind, but by other Arsenal bloggers who I admire. Last week, I discussed the leap Bukayo Saka may or may not be making from being an elite prospect to an elite player at this stage of his career. This week, the analysis will not be as cutting-edge but the premise is equally as captivating and intriguing (in my extremely humble opinion). It's on a very simple and cliche topic, but something that feels very fitting for a toward end-of-season interlul.

A lot has been made of Arsenal's slim squad since January, how we lack depth and would most likely be severely impacted by injuries to members in the first 13/14. Although I wrote on this issue and how I think it is in fact not really actually an issue (and I've been proven correct thus far), there is no doubting that if we were to qualify for European football, then we would require a drastic expansion to our playing staff.

We currently have 20 senior players who have played a single minute of Premier League football on our books. This will most likely be reduced to 17 this summer as Alex Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and Mohamed Elneny's contracts expire and are not renewed. Factor in some potential sales from the remaining 17, and Arsenal are looking at a very lightweight set of options.

Players in the academy who are close to being deemed ready for first team football may help plug a few holes, while the purported 4/5 new faces recruited should improve the quality of our squad. However, particularly if Arsenal are competing in the Champions League, it isn't plausible to operate with a squad consisting of somewhere between just 18 and 22 players. Limited funds means simply going out and purchasing several more squad players probably isn't an option.

Enter, Arsenal's loan cohort. We currently have 10 first team players out on loan, of which at least a few must have a role to play next season in filling this squad depth issue. So, which of these loanees have a chance of making an impact next season and who will more likely be moved on? This was inspired by an Arsecast listener's question, who put the debate to Andrew and James on Monday's show. Shoutout Arsecast.

Alex Runarsson

Verdict: Leave


If Runar Alex Runarsson plays another minute for Arsenal I will buy all three kits next season and put 'Cedric 17' on the back of all of them, regardless of whether the Portuguese right-back is still at the club.

This signing definitely reflects a time where our recruitment strategy was incoherent and based not on scouting and data, but rather purely contacts. Inaki Cana, Arsenal's goalkeeping coach, personally recommended Runarsson, merely because he had worked with him previously. At former club Dijon, Runarsson profiled statistically as the worst shot-stopper in Ligue 1 and couldn't hold down the number one position for himself.

The Icelandic international has spent the duration of this season at Belgian First Division side OH Leuven, where he has made 13 league appearances and managed 2 clean sheets. If the very feasible outcome arises next summer where he doesn't get a move, then he should be behind the likes of Arthur Okonkwo and Karl Hein in the pecking order.

Hector Bellerin

Verdict: Leave

Bellerin has enjoyed a fruitful loan spell at Real Betis this season, producing 2 assists in 19 league games, reaching the Copa Del Rey final where he'll face Valencia, and the Europa League last 16. It's been a much needed fresh start for the Spaniard and he's embraced the challenge and excelled.

Unfortunately, as much as I am fond of his charming and warm personality, I don't see any way back for him at Arsenal. Takehiro Tomiyasu has cemented his place as our first-choice right-back, while there has been heavy speculation that the club will target a deputy to the Japanese defender this summer. Bellerin looks to be enjoying himself back in his home nation and Betis seem to like him, so it's very plausible that he completes a permanent move to the Seville-based side.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Verdict: Stay

Oh Ainsley. The Hale End graduate has spent the majority of his senior career bemoaning the fact that most of the time he's been used, it's been as a full-back. Despite often thriving in this position, he's been desperate to move into central midfield, where he spent large parts of his youth career.

This season, he'd finally cemented a role as a rotational central midfielder for Mikel Arteta, but decided he wanted a to play more prominent part and left to join Jose Mourinho in January. He was supposed to fulfil his aspirations and be a regular in the middle of the park, but has instead ultimately resorted to being a back-up full-back once again.

When he's played, he's been adept, but that hasn't been often. Mourinho has delegated just 385 Serie A minutes to the Englishman, so it's hard to believe he'll want to return to Rome next season. Perhaps he'll finally settle for a squad role as a utility man for a Champions League side heading in the right direction, that also happens to be his boyhood club.

If he wants it, it's probably there for him.

Konstantinos Mavropanos

Verdict: Leave

Unfortunately a clear path at Arsenal has never really been paved for Mavropanos. Clearly talented, but he never really managed an extended run in the team, largely due to injury.

He'll be off permanently to Stuttgart in the summer, with all the clauses that trigger the obligation to buy having been met. Good luck Konstantinos.

William Saliba

Verdict: Stay

Probably the most controversial and debatable player in this list. Saliba has had another excellent loan spell, this time at Marseille, which has earned him a place in the French senior squad this international break.

Unfortunately, as much as this call-up is obviously an honour for the player, it may serve as a significant stumbling block in our attempts to keep hold of him. Earlier in the season, all the noise circulating was that Arsenal were adamant that they'd look to integrate him into the side. Now, with his stock rising due to international involvement, it may be much more difficult to persuade him to play second fiddle to Gabriel and White. Obviously, there will be substantial minutes available to him, but he may want guarantees of being an integral part of the squad, particularly given that he's now in the reckoning for a place at the World Cup.

He won't be going to Marseille, who have a transfer ban imposed on them, but he is likely to have serval potential suitors willing to pay good money for him. We may find this money too difficult to turn down for someone who isn't a nailed on starter.

Having said this, I just have a weird hunch that it's all going to work out. Probably a bit of desperation seeping through in me, as I do really want to see the extremely exciting prospect in Arsenal colours, but also largely as I think whatever happens with him has an adverse effect on the next guy, who I really don't want to see donning the red and white again.

Pablo Mari

Verdict: Leave

Like Saliba, this one is a bit of a 50/50 at this moment in time. We'll need at least 4 centre-backs next season, regardless of which European competition we're in. Gabriel, White and Holding will presumably be three of them, and it feels as though the fourth will be one of Mari and the Frenchman, as I can't see this being an area where we once again commit more financial resources to.

Of course, we would all like to see Saliba be that other option, but unfortunately it's very plausible it doesn't unfold like that. Mari would be much more content filling a squad role than Saliba, and if we're in the Europa League, I see that as the much more likely outcome. If we're in Europe's elite competition, then the 21-year-old may be more inclined to resist offers.

By all accounts, Mari has settled well in the less intense and slower Serie A, playing 621 minutes for Udinese since his January switch. Aside from a reckless red card a week or so ago, it's been a productive loan spell thus far.

Lucas Torreira

Verdict: Leave

Lucas Torreira has rediscovered his form at Fiorentina this season, and I couldn't be happier for him. He's made 25 league appearances and is averaging 4 tackles and interceptions per 90, for a team that tends to dominate the ball. That's almost elite ball-winning midfielder levels when adjusted for possession.

The psychological aspect to an athlete's performance is often overlooked, and this mental strain was clearly hindering his game in the latter stages of his time at Arsenal. He's returned to a setting where he feels more comfortable and happy, an environment that suits him to a tee.

Fiorentina are said to be interested in making this deal a permanent one, a rumour supported by Fabrizio Romano, so I expect that to go through.

"He's only five foot high".

Matteo Guendouzi

Verdict: Leave

Like Mavropanos, Guendouzi's future has already been determined, with the French international joining Marseille permanently in the Summer, after his obligation to buy clauses were also met. Les Phocéens' transfer ban does not effect this deal as it was already in writing.

It's a real shame how the Guendouzi debacle has transpired. A very talented player who just doesn't possess the discipline Arteta demands in order to instil his cultural values.

Reiss Nelson

Verdict: Stay

To be completely honest, I had forgotten Nelson is still on our books when I came to write this piece. He's unlikely to stay, but at this point I feel like I'm basically saying everyone will depart, defeating the premise of this piece. So fuck it, he'll stay.

His loan at Feyenoord has been underwhelming, starting just 5 Eredivisie games all season. Despite the initial indicators of promise, his development has stalled quite significantly, and I just can't see him every forging a way into this Arsenal side.

However, it does feel plausible that he fails to find a move away from the club and is just stuck rotting away, maybe getting the odd minute in the League Cup.

Folarin Balogun

Verdict: Another Loan

Balogun's loan at Middlesborough has been intriguing, and also very promising. As we can see from Scott's graphic above, the forward has been primarily a creative outlet for Chris Wilder's team, rather than too much of a goal threat. He's struggled to get good chances, but has been extremely effective at creating them. Overall, he looks like a net positive in terms of adding value to Borough's attack, which is good.

This emphasis on creating rather than getting shots I understand is largely down to the role he's playing, where he's either a wide forward or playing as the second striker. This is good because we want our forwards to be able to play a variety of different roles in the front three, but I'd like to see him fulfil more of an out and out number nine role, as this is where we actually need players in the long-term.

This is why another loan next season should definitely be on the cards, and hopefully to a club that will deploy him as a single striker. I still have high hopes for this Anglo-American guy.

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