On Thursday night at around the time everyone was finishing up their dinners, Arsenal dropped the news that Calum Chambers had joined Aston Villa on a permanent deal.
In this modern era seeing deals like this happen is no longer commonplace. We will never witness scenes of Arsene Wenger nonchalantly meandering into a press conference with Sol Campbell following behind him again.
Thus when it does happen, it’s exciting. Villa, to their credit, seem to have a knack of it.
But then people began to sit back and take stock of the situation. Chambers has departed the club, but so has Pablo Mari, Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles this window. You don’t need two hands to count up the numbers.
What on earth are Arsenal doing this January transfer window? Chambers becomes Arteta’s fifth departure without any new signings – yet
Arsenal now have three senior central defenders. Working up the pitch slightly, they also have four central midfielders, and what is effectively two strikers, both of whom are out of contract in the summer. The third, Aubameyang, will not play for the club again. It just won’t happen. That’s an absolute last resort. Throw Eddie Nketiah into the mix, too, as he looks set to join Newcastle.
Remove them from the equation and it’s an outfield squad of 17. That’s it. With not so much as a whisper of anyone coming in other than goalkeeper Matt Turner, who is not going to join up with the squad until the summer, questions are being asked of the strategic plan.
Arsenal are clearing the house out. Building anew. So far it is a full 16 members of the squad Mikel Arteta inherited who have either left permanently or on loan. 12 of the 32 2019/20 squad remain at the club, excluding those out on loan this term.
Chambers could barely get a game when Arsenal had three competitions. Now they’ve only got one left, an opportunity has arisen to get him off the books and it’s been taken. For so long it’s been bemoaned that Arsenal have been unable to shift players and, while the amount of players who’ve left for free is startling, the options have been limited.
This club is trying to change. There has been a comfort within this squad where players have coasted through their contracts. It’s a full scale overhaul, one everyone has craved, and now that it is taking place it needs embracing. Arteta has numerous faults but his ruthlessness and conviction needs heralding.
Whether he’s here or not in the long-term, whomever comes in to replace him will be blessed with a squad littered with potential and not held down with anchors dragging the ship across the seabed. It’s been anything but flawless, though, as letting Maitland-Niles depart without a ready replacement remains a baffling error of judgement.
It’s slightly scary. This is a serious plunge. But it needs to be seen through the lense of the future that this club will be far healthier than it has been for longer than we care to remember. This is what a clear out looks like. It’s ugly, but essential to progression.
That doesn’t mean this ends here, though. More will leave, just it would help considerably where there to be arrivals edging their way through the doors. Arsenal need bodies in key areas, enough to see them through the final 17 Premier League matches of the season, and then another exhilarating summer transfer window beckons, one in which further elite acquisitions can lift the level.
Some in this window wouldn’t go amiss – it feels inevitable a centre-forward will arrive with Aubameyang and Nketiah heading out of the door – with the clocking ticking incessantly in the halls of London Colney. As much as we laud the approach it doesn’t come without serious risks, even if this same team got us into a top four hunt in the first place.
Arsenal had to take this route. Years of appalling recruitment and mismanagement – some of which prevalent during Arteta and Edu‘s respective reigns – has seen the foundations rot and the walls infested with damp.
Now it’s about ensuring January’s actions won’t come back to bite them in the hours to come before Monday. We wanted this, now we’re getting it.