Mikel Arteta has revealed Arsenal will be looking to make midfield signings after explaining why he has sanctioned the exit of Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The Arsenal academy graduate will be joining Roma on loan until the end of the season. It means he will finally get his exit wish after initially wanting to leave the club in the summer.
The timing of the deal may raise a few eyebrows from an Arsenal perspective. They are already without Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey in midfield due to the African Cup of Nations.
Now, the departure of Maitland-Niles will deprive them of another option. But Arteta understood why the 24-year-old wanted to move on. Therefore, he gave the green light to the transfer.
He said at a press conference: “Ainsley came to me and explained the reasons why he thought the best thing for him in his career right now was to move away. He felt the opportunity to go to Rome and work with Jose [Mourinho] was a good one.
“Being fair with the amount of minutes that he’s played he was entitled to that opportunity. We wish him the best.”
Arsenal will now have just Granit Xhaka and Albert Sambi Lokonga as senior options in midfield until their African duo return.
Hence, Arteta is hoping they can find reinforcements – but said he couldn’t use their lack of depth as an excuse to keep an unsettled player in Maitland-Niles.
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Arteta added: “We are very, very short at the moment. But on a player this cannot be the only argument to keep a player.
“He was very straight with me and I understood the situation. We are going to move and we are going to look for options because we are very short there.”
Midfield is not the only area of the Arsenal team undergoing an evolution. There are also several things for them to consider in attack.
Most pressingly, Folarin Balogun is reportedly the subject of loan interest from Middlesbrough. It is just one of many issues, though.
Arteta said: “We have a really special situation in that position because you are talking about players with different issues. We have to live with that.
“With Flo we will see in the next week or so what is the final decision on that.”
Arteta elaborates on striker situation
In addition to Balogun, fellow academy graduate Eddie Nketiah is also considering a future away from the club. In his case, since there are only six months left on his contract, any exit would be permanent.
But Arteta remains optimistic of convincing the 22-year-old to stay.
He said: “I already spoke about Eddie, the intentions of the club and where we are. He is with us, every day he shows me and the club he wants to stay with us and we will keep having those discussions with him.”
At a more senior level, the future remains unclear for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. After being stripped of the captaincy recently, he could leave the club.
Any decision will have to wait while he too is away on AFCON duty.
Arteta could not provide much of an update, saying: “For me difficult to judge when the players are away. The decisions that I have taken were in the best interest of the club and trying to do the right thing.”
Should any of those strikers depart, replacements would need to be found. One potential target could be Real Sociedad hitman Alexander Isak.
But Arteta responded to the rumours with a simple message: “You know that I can never speak about players that aren’t ours.”