Mikel Arteta is willing to offload three defenders in the summer transfer window, with the Arsenal manager needing to raise funds if he is to make signings of his own.
The Spaniard’s budget is minimal with the club’s huge spend in recent summers, added to the lack of Champions League football and the coronavirus pandemic, having hit the north London outfit in the pocket.
And it appears it is in central defence where he will look to most significantly trim his squad, with that the area most bloated.
As it stands, Arsenal will have seven central defenders on their books at the start of next season, and likely even eight with Pablo Mari expected to sign permanently.
According to The Athletic’s David Ornstein, speaking on the Ornstein and Chapman Podcast, Arsenal have picked out three players they are open to selling.
They could listen to offers for all of Rob Holding, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi.
Holding, 24, has only played for nine minutes in the league under Arteta as he continues to get back to his best from a long-term injury.
But the Bolton academy graduate could now be surplus to requirements, with minutes likely to be limited even if he does stay at the Emirates.
The ageing Sokratis is meanwhile out of contract in 2021 and is not likely to be handed an extension.
Signed for £18million in July 2018, Arsenal may have to settle for closer to a third of that to get him off the wage bill.
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Mustafi is the most valuable of the expendable trio, at still just 28 years old. He has improved under Arteta but like Sokratis sees his deal expire in a year’s time.
The German, who cost £35m four years ago, has admitted he is enjoying playing under the ex-Arsenal midfielder but he may fall by the wayside next season if Mari rejoins.
Mari and Luiz look likely to start off as Arteta’s first-choice centre-back partnership, with William Saliba and David Luiz the most likely duo to rotate.
But Ornstein added that the unpredictability of the post-COVID-19 transfer market means it is unsure whether or not Arsenal will be able to conduct the business they want to do.
The Gunners are highly likely to have to drop their valuations of some players with clubs across Europe set to be far more stringent with their money this summer.
But offloading Holding, Sokratis and Mustafi would shed over £200,000 a week off the £230m-a-year wage bill, which Arsenal are desperate to cut down on.
That would leave Luiz as the team’s most experienced centre-half, while 26-year-old Mari is likely to be brought in on a permanent basis to give Arteta a left-footed central defender.
The Spaniard has made just two appearances on loan from Flamengo so far but is the kind of composed ball-playing defender who is ideal for the manager.
In addition to the pair, who played together and kept clean sheets in both of Arsenal’s final two matches before the coronavirus-enforced break, Saliba will join up with the first-team squad at the end of the season.
Signed for £27million last summer, Saliba has spent the current campaign on loan at Saint-Etienne and despite being a teenager is expected to play a significant role next term.
The versatile Calum Chambers, who can also play at right-back or in defensive midfield, will then seemingly be a fourth-choice option. He could be out injured until the New Year.
It is not known what will happen with Konstantinos Mavropanos, currently on loan in the German second division with Nurnberg.
The Greek, 22, impressed in several outings for Nurnberg but has only featured seven times in the league – yet he could be given a chance to impress once he returns to Arsenal.
Arteta then has an abundance of promising young defenders such as Zech Medley, Daniel Ballard, Harry Clarke and Joseph Olowu who could make a permanent step-up to the senior squad in the coming years.
And as such it is clear to see why Arteta is willing to cut down on the numbers at centre-back.
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