Thursday, 1 February 2018

Arsenal's first-team squad now consists of just 23 players.

Arsenal's first-team squad now consists of just 23 players.

-With the £56 million capture of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan,  Arsenal have a shiny new attack after the January transfer window and that's certainly a reason  to get excited. Perhaps it will even be enough to launch them back into the top four before the  season is over.

-But look beyond that terrific-looking front four of Alexandre Lacazette, Mkhitaryan,  Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil (ignoring the fact it spells out LMAO) and it soon becomes clear  that Arsenal have left themselves woefully short in other areas. Especially in terms of squad  depth.

-This January, the Gunners let four first-team regulars (Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin, Olivier  Giroud and Alexis Sanchez -- plus Mathieu Debuchy) leave, but only brought in two proper  replacements. 

It was a similar story this past summer, when four players (counting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny) were sold and only two were signed.

The result is that Arsenal's first-team squad now consists of just 23 players. And that's including the injured Santi Cazorla -- who won't play this season and perhaps not ever again -- and 20-year-old defensive arrival Konstantinos Mavropanos, who had been expected to go out on loan to gain more experience.

In other words, Wenger has just 21 players plus his academy prospects to call on as he tries to get a faltering Premier League campaign back on track, win the Europa League and beat Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final.

What's worse is that those 21 include a handful of names that Arsene Wenger has been reluctant to use except for in emergencies and cup games. Per Mertesacker (too old), Rob Holding and Calum Chambers (too inexperienced) and Mohamed Elneny (too average) can hardly be considered top-quality back-ups.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a very promising prospect and a useful utility player, but still isn't the finished article. Danny Welbeck has been far from his best this season, but is now the only attacking option off the bench if Wenger decides to start both Lacazette and record signing Aubameyang.

So in short, there is little room for injuries at the moment. And Arsenal are not exactly a club that tend to stay injury-free for very long.

Perhaps this situation was inevitable, though. Arsenal's squad was bloated this past summer, and the club badly needed to trim the wage bill in order to make room for top-quality signings and a new deal for Mesut Ozil.

Selling players like Gabriel Paulista, Kieran Gibbs, Coquelin, Walcott and Debuchy was doubtlessly the right decision, while losing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and Giroud became a necessary evil for one reason or another.

But it's clear that the rebuilding job is far from finished. While the attack now looks stronger than it has in many years, the defensive side of the team arguably looks weaker than ever.

Elneny is the only true holding midfielder left, and one wouldn't be surprised if Wenger tries to re-sign Alex Song on a free after the former Gunner started training with the club again.

Meanwhile, the failure to get Jonny Evans from West Brom means Arsenal are still heavily reliant on Laurent Koscielny winning his battle with a chronic Achilles problem and Shkodran Mustafi winning his battle with a chronic blunder problem.

While Aubameyang and Lacazette should both get plenty of goals playing alongside Ozil and Mkhitaryan, it's worth remembering that Arsenal sold their three leading scorers from last season. With Sanchez, Walcott and Giroud gone, midfielder Aaron Ramsey is the current squad's leading career scorer with 50 goals.

It's also notable that nine of the 23 first-teamers are 29 years or older, while six are 22 or younger. That leaves just eight who are in their supposed "prime" and that includes the oft-injured trio of Ramsey, Welbeck and Jack Wilshere.

Arsenal shouldn't be criticised for going for quality of quantity -- they were in short supply of the former after Sanchez left -- and bringing in the likes of Lacazette, Aubemeyang and Mkhitaryan is a big step forward from bringing in the likes of Lucas Perez, Granit Xhaka and Elneny. But there is plenty of work that still needs to be done in the summer for this squad to be complete -- including finding a long-term replacement for the 35-year-old Petr Cech.

So for now, it's OK to get excited about that attack but there's also plenty to worry about in the rest of the squad. Especially if any player gets injured.

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