Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Scottish side Hibernian in the opening match of the 2021 pre-season at the Easter Road in Edinburgh. Naturally, nothing can be deduced about the way the team will be set up next season so early in the summer, and the hope is merely that manager Mikel Arteta and his staff have taken away their own conclusions from the match to help them choose the right paths going forward.
But speaking to the press after the match, Arteta said some things that will certainly be of interest to those following the club’s dealings in the transfer market. For one thing, the boss completely ruled out the possibility of Emile Smith Rowe leaving the club. Asked whether the 20-year-old would stay put, his answer was very clear.
“Without question,” he said. “He will stay here 100 per cent.”
Aston Villa have already spoiled some things for Arsenal this summer. Arsenal’s original plan was to try and sign Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid again, preferably on a permanent deal, or at least on another loan. However, that went out the window with Carlo Ancelotti keen on having the young Norwegian in his ranks next season. Arsenal’s alternative was supposed to be Emiliano Buendia of Norwich City, but Villa stepped in and snatched the Argentinian away.
On top of that, they appear very keen on Smith Rowe as well. Arsenal have already rejected two offers for the services of the attacking midfielder from them, and reports suggest a third might be in the pipeline. However, Arteta is obviously adamant that the youngster will remain at the Emirates.
However, the boss appeared less firm regarding the future of Joe Willock. The 21-year-old is certainly a good player, and his spell at Newcastle last season was quite satisfactory in terms of game-time and his development. Back in North London, however, questions remain about his suitability for the shape Arteta wants his team to play in.
Willock can play as a central midfielder, as a No.10 or a winger, but he delivers best in a roaming box-to-box role in a three-man midfield, while Arteta usually deploys the team in a 4-2-3-1.
This is what the boss said of Willock.
“Well he wasn’t involved today because he had a little groin issue. He trained yesterday really well but we didn’t want to risk him. Joe is part of our plans, he’s our player and in the time that he is here we will try to make the most out of him. He had a great experience on loan. He was, I think one of the most important players for their survival.”
It seems there could be a place for him in the squad, but it’s far from being set in stone, with Newcastle reportedly keen on taking him back to the St. James Park.