With the Premier League edging closer to returning to complete the 2019/20 season, Arsenal will have players ready to prove their worth to Mikel Arteta once again.
Although his squad will remain as is for the remainder of the current campaign, he will have tough decisions to make on who is best fit to stay in at the club and help the Gunners progress through the 2020/21 season and beyond.
For the most part, Arteta has seen improvement from his players. Granit Xhaka, David Luiz and Shkdoran Mustafi, for example, have been shining lights of his short time in charge so far. However, there have been players whose paths haven’t been made clearer, who will need to find some direction.
Here, football.london look at the four players who have the most to do to prove they can last in Arteta’s side.
This probably stands as an obvious one as he is yet to play a single minute for the Gunners, but Cedric getting game time will be essential. Arteta isn’t simply looking for a player to plug a hole like Sokratis has been doing but a right-back that understands the nuance of his demands and can carry them out.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has shown he can do that, but the Spaniard has been public in his stance that the 22-year-old is not a full-back. Therefore, as Hector Bellerin is likely to be his first choice, Cedric impressing when he gets the chance will be vital as he can serve as much-needed, natural backup.
Initially brought in on loan, the second half of the season looked like it was an audition for the Portuguese as his Southampton contract expires in the summer, meaning if they wanted to, Arsenal could snap him up on a free transfer. It’s a pretty low risk plan but performing well will be more important than simply being another body [and wage packet] at the club.
Despite being the best performing right-back since Arteta took over, Maitland-Niles will have to prove himself over again after falling out of favour in January. He hasn’t started a game since the 1-1 draw with Sheffield United on January 18, has made three brief cameos for the first team in the dying minutes of matches and had a 45 minute run out for the Under-23s at left-back.
Seeing as Bellerin and Cedric were injured before the enforced break, that could give him an opportunity at right-back and if he was to get that, he has to take it with both hands. Having publicly spoken about wanting to play in midfield before, everybody knows it’s not his preferred position, but to survive under Arteta, putting his pride to the side would be the best option. Especially seeing how well suited to the inverted full-back role he was.
Before that, however, now that the squad is back training at London Colney, Maitland-Niles will have to respond to the demands set upon him by Arteta days before Arsenal’s last game in March:
“Ainsley needs to put his head down, work hard and show me every day in training he wants it more than anybody else and that he wants to play for this club and fight for his place.” the Spaniard said on March 2.
Out of those on the list, Lacazette is furthest along in ‘proving his worth’ to Arteta.
The Spaniard was incredibly persistent in starting him until he could no longer take the lack of goals but the 28-year-old’s response after the winter break was very encouraging. Three goals in four games saw his confidence grow drastically and he was actually looking much sharper in those final few appearances.
Despite this, Eddie Nketiah has rightly given Arteta a selection headache in the way he took the Frenchman’s place and it won’t be easy at all for Lacazette to walk into the starting lineup.
Seeing as he turns 29 at the end of May and has two years left on his current deal at the club, the possibility of him leaving for Arsenal to revamp other areas of the squad isn’t too out there. As a result, he must ensure he hits the ground running when football returns to repay the faith shown in him early on by Arteta.
Of course, the Uruguayan will have to recover from his injury first but there is no hiding from the fact that Dani Ceballos benched him before his fractured ankle against Portsmouth [which was his first start after the February break].
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As the sole midfielder whose primary job is to break up play, seeing how Ceballos has taken to the No.8. both with and without the ball, Torreira will have to prove he can be just as influential. This doesn’t mean he has to turn into the best dribbler in the world but just that becoming more rounded could help his chances under Arteta who appears to prefer a midfielder that can create and defend equally as good.
Since arriving in 2018, Torreira’s best performances have come alongside Granit Xhaka and some of these were under Arteta.
So the Spaniard will know the value of the player he has but if the 24-year-old is specialised as a midfielder that just breaks up play, then it becomes easier to see Arteta opting for someone who fits the Ceballos mould in the future.