Mikel Arteta knows time is ticking on Arsenal’s efforts to resolve the futures of their senior strikers, several of whom enter the second half of the season with their next career moves in serious doubt.
Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah are out of contract at the end of the campaign, with little headway having been made in keeping them on. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, usually the first-choice centre-forward, is currently frozen out after a string of misdemeanours that lost him the captaincy, and the promising Folarin Balogun is likely to see his suitability for senior football assessed in a loan move. It leaves the in-form Gabriel Martinelli, contracted until at least 2024, as the only striker whose prospects appear secure.
Asked about the cloud hanging over his front line, Arteta said: “We have a cloud and 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 are in because contracts have details, the timing of them is tricky and we are trying to resolve it.”
The situation is particularly uncertain given Nketiah and Lacazette, who might once have been considered dispensable, have impressed Arteta in recent weeks. He is delighted with the way Lacazette has stepped up since taking the armband from Aubameyang, and he reiterated that he would like Nketiah to stay after the 22-year-old scored a hat-trick against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.
At 30, Lacazette is unlikely to be a viable long-term option and would be more expensive, and Nketiah wants regular top-flight football and has turned down a new deal. Arteta admitted he may have to make tough calls about players whose contracts are running down. “It depends on every single case, depends on the player’s situation, the minutes he’s playing, his willingness or the offer that you have,” he said. “But it’s something that you have to consider.”
Arteta gave short shrift to the suggestion Aubameyang had carte blanche to depart, saying he would not discuss individuals. He did not explicitly rule out a return to action for the former captain in the Boxing Day fixture at Norwich, although that would appear unlikely.
Aubameyang’s exile has, accurately or not, drawn parallels with Mesut Özil’s omission from the squad last year. Arteta was asked whether the two episodes owed to an overly uncompromising approach to different characters. “I don’t establish my authority by being dictatorial or being ruthless,” he said. “I just ask for one thing: respect and commitment. At this level, if I don’t get that I pack my bags and go somewhere else because that is the minimum I can ask for.
“I am going to expect that from everybody who works for the club, first of all myself. To be successful you have to be passionate about something and, if you want to represent a club of this size, that is the minimum standard you have to bring. I am not going to ask anybody to put the ball into the top corner every time they hit it, but I will ask them to do the right things every single day for this club.”