Mikel Arteta is resigned to losing Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pepe, Mo Elneny and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a big chunk of January but says Arsenal are still discussing when exactly they will be required to release the quartet for the African Cup of Nations.
The competition is due to kick off in Cameroon on 9 January but domestic clubs could start losing players from Boxing Day with Fifa rules stating “players must be released and start travel to their representative team no later than Monday morning the week preceding the week when the relevant final competition starts.”
While Elneny and Pepe have been on the fringes of things and Auba is on the naughty step, their absence means they can’t even be rotated into the team to relieve tired legs at the end of games.
Given Arsenal face Norwich on Sunday then host Wolves at the Emirates within 48 hours, it’s an obvious concern for the boss, who also knows a Covid outbreak could cause carnage at short notice.
“Obviously, they want them yesterday and we want them [until] next month,” said Arteta when asked to clarify who will be leaving when. “That’s the conversation we’re having with them right now.”
He added: “If you give me the choice, I want them to stay. We’re going to need them with the context that we’re in.
“We need them all but I understand that they have their obligations and we have to let them go.
“If the regulators consider that the competition has to go ahead, we are obligated to let the players go.”
Of course, if the Kroenkes’ magic money tree is still blossoming, there is an opportunity to recruit new players from this time next week.
Asked if he’d like more players to cope in January, Arteta replied: “That would be ideal but with the African Cup of Nations, we’re going to have many less, unfortunately.
“We’ll have to adapt. I don’t know how the situation is going to develop, we’ll be better or hopefully better [on the Covid front] because we’ll have more boosters and more people will already have had it. We don’t know.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to sign players just for a short period of time [we presume he means loan deals] because of this situation. I think it’s a little bit unrealistic but we’ll sit down now and make the right decisions if we can.”
He was also asked if he might get financial backing from the owners with the aim of making a real push for a Champions League finish.
“They have shown us support and since I’ve been here, it has always been the case. We have tried to explain the plan that we have put in place, really openly.
“Instead of how much money we’re going to spend, it’s how much we’re investing in the team and the future of the football club. We’ll go step by step and every case will be treated differently and every situation differently. The ambition is only one, to try to be the best team.”
Understandably, he wouldn’t be drawn on the future of deposed captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he did admit he’d be open to offers for any of the players with just six months on their contract. Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac, Alex Lacazette, Mo Elneny and Eddie Nketiah (although we still seem to be trying to persuade him to stay) all fall into that bracket.
“It depends on every singular case, the player’s situation, the minutes he’s playing, his willingness or the offer he has, it’s something you have to consider.”
He also admitted that it’s not ideal having question marks hanging over three of his strikers. “We have a cloud. The cloud is there and at the moment, we’re not able to change it. We’re working on it to try to make it as small as possible and as clear as possible but it’s the situation we’re in because contracts, the timing of them is tricky. We’re trying to resolve it.”