Mikel Arteta has no right to complain of 'thin' Arsenal squad

  • Mikel Arteta's complaints about Arsenal's lack of squad depth reflect poorly on the manager's heavy spending and uneven youth policy
Nottingham Forest v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Nottingham Forest v Arsenal FC - Premier League / MB Media/GettyImages

Mikel Arteta's belief Arsenal have a thin squad reflects poorly on his heavy spending and uneven youth policy.

Arsenal "have one of the thinnest squads in the league, that's for sure." Those were the words of Mikel Arteta prior to a 2-1 win away at Nottingham Forest.

They were also the words of a brazen and frankly shameful manager who has spent a fortune proppng up the world's most expensive project and still complains about squad depth. You don't need to squint to see a thinly-veiled plea for yet more funds.

If Arsenal do lack squad depth, it's nobody's fault but Arteta's. He's culplable on two levels. First, for some shoddy transfer business. Second, for an uneven (or non-existent) approach to developing youth.

Arteta's squad buys haven't made the grade

The mystery of Arsenal's supposed lack of depth isn't tough to solve. Just think about Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Matt Turner. Three squad signings made and endorsed by Arteta, all of whom now ply their respective trades away from Arsenal.

Turner's errors between the sticks are harming Forest. See Gabriel Jesus' opener at the City Ground for proof. Tavares is also at Forest, but struggling for game time.

As for Lokonga, he's on his second-straight loan spell within the Premier League. This one's at Luton Town. Based on his performance during the Hatters' 4-0 demolition of Brighton, it's difficult to work out why Arteta doesn't deem the Belgian good enough to at least be a squad option.

That's just the point. Arteta didn't think these players can help Arsenal compete on all fronts. His verdict is an indictment of his own spending. Especially when more squad signings could be set for the chop.

Central defender Jakub Kiwior has been touted for loan, even though the Poland international only joined the Gunners last January in a transfer costing £20m. A little over a year later, Arsenal would welcome not just a loan, but one with "an obligation to buy."

Established senior players aren't the only ones Arteta is prepared to shift. An increasing number of academy products are learning their futures are better served elsewhere.

Arsenal's youth policy is going in reverse

There was a time when any remotely promising Hale End graduate was given even a brief look in the first team. Remember Craig Eastmond?

That time has long since passed, with touted youth products now destined for pastures new. Left-back Lino Sousa was the latest, after Fabrizio Romano confirmed he's joining Aston Villa.

Romano also reported 19-year-old forward Charles Sagoe Jr. will move to Swansea City on loan. There's even former under-18s captain Bradley Ibrahim signing for Hertha Berlin.

Nobody's saying Sousa, Sagoe Jr. or holding midfielder Ibrahim would have made a dent in a Premier League title challenge, but their departures are eyebrow-raising. Particularly when depth at left-back and in attack are questionable in Arteta's squad.

The deeper concern is the lack of academy-reared products breaking into the first team on Arteta's watch. Those who have did so before Arteta's arrival, with some struggling to progress further.

Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah are usually the first names mentioned as saleable assets. It was Arteta's predecessor Unai Emery who handed first-team debuts to Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. Emery also gave Edu-signed Gabriel Martinelli his initial experience in the senior XI.

Arteta's under no obligation to build his squad via a youth-first approach. Yet, it does seem like Arsenal are being left behind in this area by title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

City have provided ample opportunities for Rico Lewis and Oscar Bobb this season. Meanwhile, Liverpool's stay at the summit is being prolonged by the emergence of 20-year-old full-back Conor Bradley.

Again, it feels as though Arsenal is losing something of a former identity. One largely based on giving youth its chance.

Joe Willock, an academy star quickly dispatched by Arteta, helped the club set a record for teenage involvement in the top flight back in 2018.

Willock got his chance because Arsene Wenger made developing young players a focus. Arteta has taken a different tact by focusing most of his spending on experience.

That focus leaves him short of excuses for the state of Arsenal's current squad depth.

Arteta's complaint rings hollow

Arteta was happy to spend £65m on Kai Havertz last summer. The money could have been spent on 3-4 players to boost depth, but Arteta opted for the known commodity of a UEFA Champions League winner, even if it's contributed to FFP concerns.

Arsenal also dealt in the currency of experience when Jorginho and Leandro Trossard arrived last January. Trossard can fill in on the left, as a false nine or even deeper in midfield. The latter area is well-stocked thanks to Havertz, Jorginho, Declan Rice and Thomas Partey, if and when he ever stays fit.

Arteta has spent big on a few established players, instead of risking integrating a broad base of promising youngsters. Trusting experience is a safer bet for ending a Premier League title drought stretching almost two decades.

Yet, if this title bid falters because of a lack of depth, Arteta will have nobody to blame but himself.