The stakes could not be higher for Arsenal in this summer's transfer window. Facing their first season without European football for 25 years, the Gunners have to arrest their decline with an overhaul that reinvents a failing squad and breathes new life into Mikel Arteta's ailing tenure.
It will be no easy task. Assuming there is no takeover to reset the financial parameters, the club's monetary problems are well documented. They lost £47.8m in the year ending June 2020 and are on course to lose more than £100m for the subsequent 12-month period. Owners Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) have promised funds will be made available to invest in the team but whatever sum they provide will have to be supported by player exits to instigate the level of change Arteta has in mind, and the wage bill must be trimmed too.
With that in mind, here's a player-by-player analysis of the existing Arsenal squad. Where a player is simply marked "Keep," the decision was beyond any reasonable doubt.
Various factors are taken into consideration including age, wages, character and contract length (we went with Transfermarkt for contract expiry dates for consistency). And there will be moving parts, too: departures or arrivals that cause chain reactions, sometimes unexpected.
Bernd Leno (Age 29, contract expires in 2023)
OLLEY: There are suggestions Leno wants to leave the club and if he chooses to try and force that through, there's little point keeping an unhappy player. If possible, I would hang onto him for another year and extend if he impresses. He has made mistakes but he is a top-six goalkeeper and a new No. 1 is surely lower on the list of priorities than other areas of the team.
HAMILTON: I'd keep him. Top-class goalkeepers are expensive to sign and if the team can be strengthened elsewhere, Leno can provide the backbone to the new-look Arsenal. If he has a shocking season, his value won't decrease that much next year.
Verdict: Keep and assess
Runar Alex Runarsson (26, 2024)
OLLEY: Bought in a panic and not up to the required level to be relied upon.
Verdict: Dump (estimated fee: £1.5m)
Hector Bellerin (26, 2023)
OLLEY: ESPN revealed in February that Bellerin has an agreement to leave Arsenal this summer. His performances have been underwhelming this season and, after a decade in north London, it feels on all sides as though his time at the club has run its course.
HAMILTON: The right-back has been linked with a return to Barcelona, with PSG also reportedly keen. If he is included in the Spain squad for Euro 2020, that may help increase his value. If Arsenal end up keeping him then it wouldn't be a bad thing, but if they've agreed to let him go then they should.
Verdict: Dump (estimated fee: £25m)
Kieran Tierney (23, 2024)
Cedric Soares (29, 2024)
OLLEY: Seems to be paying a heavy price for allowing Slavia Prague to equalise in Arsenal's Europa League quarterfinal first leg last month, having barely featured since. He remains a useful squad player and his versatility in being able to play right-back and left-back is a notable asset.
HAMILTON: Versatility is key. With a contract through to 2024, he will likely stay at the Emirates.
Calum Chambers (26, 2022)
OLLEY: This is a close one. Chambers is a likeable character and Arteta needs those around him. There is also the Homegrown rule to consider, whereby there must be at least eight players trained in England in a squad. But he probably isn't good enough for Arsenal and with one year left on his contract, moving him on rather than offering a new deal feels like the way to go.
HAMILTON: If Arsenal go on to have an improved 2021-22 season, players like Chambers will be quietly key to their success. They're the "glue" behind the scenes; players who can fill in a variety of positions at the drop of a hat. I'd keep him for one more season and extend in January if he's shown enough.
Verdict: Split Dump / Keep and assess (Estimated fee: £5m)
Gabriel Magalhaes (23, 2025)
OLLEY: Time is on his side to improve. He's been Arsenal's best defender when in form and although guilty of making too many mistakes, there's more than enough evidence to suggest he's worth persevering with.
Rob Holding (25, 2024)
OLLEY: There is a debate to be had over whether he is good enough but he has the right sort of character and purely in that regard, Arteta needs more of those around him. Signed a new deal in January so won't be going anywhere.
Pablo Mari (27, 2024)
OLLEY: Has a good range of passing which Arteta likes given his desire for Arsenal to play out from the back. Worth retaining and seeing how he responds to fresh competition in an area they simply have to strengthen.
David Luiz (34, 2021)
OLLEY: There could have been an argument for a one-year extension due to the leadership qualities he brings, but the 34-year-old Brazilian will leave this summer. Sources told ESPN that the Gunners made clear their respect for Luiz's contribution but are seeking to strengthen the centre-back area with younger alternatives. It is better to cut ties now.
HAMILTON: His contract is up in June and it makes sense to let that wind down. He has claimed before that he wants to finish his career back at Benfica, though some MLS clubs are also reportedly showing an interest.
Verdict: Dump (End of contract - free transfer)
William Saliba (20, 2024)
OLLEY: Arteta and his coaching staff had doubts Saliba was anywhere good enough but Arsenal are simply not in a position to spend £27m on a defender and not at least try him in the first team. After all, can he really be worse than what they have?
HAMILTON: This is a golden generation for young French centre-backs with the likes of Dayot Upamecano, Wesley Fofana, Ibrahima Konate, Benoit Badiashile and Jules Kounde all coming through. Saliba has impressed on loan at Nice in the second half of this season, so deserves a chance alongside Gabriel next term.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (23, 2023)
OLLEY: It is difficult to know what to make of Maitland-Niles as he has impressed on loan at West Brom. He wants to be a central midfielder but has often looked his most convincing as a wing-back. Arsenal have enough uncertainties as it is and if a club is prepared to pay what Arsenal want (around £20m) then they should take it.
HAMILTON: If Arsenal can work out what his best position is, he's worth keeping for another season and being given a chance to earn an extension.
Verdict: Split Dump / Keep (estimated value: £20m)
Sead Kolasinac (27, 2022)
OLLEY: He doesn't have a future at Arsenal. They wanted him out in January and the same will be true this summer.
HAMILTON: His loan at Schalke could have been turned permanent if the club hadn't been relegated. Hard to see a future for him at Arsenal though.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £5m)
Konstantinos Mavropanos (23, 2023)
OLLEY: Done little to suggest he will prove an upgrade on Arsenal's much-maligned group of centre-backs.
HAMILTON: He's done well for Stuttgart this season in the Bundesliga, but it's time for him to move on if they can get £5m for him. If not, then another spell on loan beckons.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £3m)
Granit Xhaka (28, 2023)
OLLEY: For me, the Xhaka decision strikes at the heart of Arsenal's rebuild. He isn't good enough but he's better than many players they do have. He has a largely irreparable relationship with the fans, yet he is well liked in the dressing room. If this summer is truly about breaking cyclical past failings, perhaps Xhaka has to leave (although I'm mindful we are gutting the central midfield positions here.)
HAMILTON: It's hard to argue with Olley's points above. Xhaka is a polarising character from the outside looking in, but everyone in the club raves about him. If this summer is about banishing the past, it's time for Xhaka to move on and Arsenal should sign another central midfielder or two.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £20m)
Lucas Torreira (25, 2023)
OLLEY: He wants out and Arsenal are willing to accommodate. The issue is finding a club who can get them around £15m. Torreira has been on loan at Atletico Madrid this season (where he has only started three games) but wants to go to Boca Juniors. The Argentine side are cash-strapped, however, so a return to Serie A might be more logical if the player can be convinced.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £15m)
Thomas Partey (27, 2025)
HAMILTON: Arsenal spent £45m to sign him on transfer deadline day in October. They should build the midfield around him and let him drive the tempo.
Mohamed Elneny (28, 2022)
OLLEY: He is a useful squad player and seemingly content with a bit-part role. If that contentment extends to a short contract extension to retain his value, there is so much going on elsewhere that perhaps he is best kept.
HAMILTON: He's a strange one. He has flashes of brilliance but doesn't offer much of a point of difference. But, as Olley says, Arsenal can't get rid of their entire central midfield in one summer.
Emile Smith Rowe (20, 2023)
OLLEY: One of Arsenal's priorities this summer is tying him to a new contract with just two years remaining.
Verdict: Keep and extend
Joe Willock (21, 2023)
OLLEY: This is a marginal call. If Newcastle are prepared to offer £20m to sign him, Arsenal should take it. If there is a mass exodus of players elsewhere and new recruits are harder to come by, keep for another year, knowing the club could always let him go next summer, albeit for less money.
HAMILTON: He is still young, and due a breakthrough season. Give him until January to make his mark on the first-team and if it hasn't clicked by then, loan him out.
Verdict: Keep and assess unless a big offer comes in
Matteo Guendouzi (22, 2022)
OLLEY: Looked a promising signing initially but questions over his attitude have grown and giving him a new contract is not a realistic possibility, it is time to cash in.
HAMILTON: He has never quite fulfilled his huge potential. He has played well in bursts on loan at Hertha Berlin, but coach Pal Dardai called him a "rebel" and the season ended with him fracturing his metatarsal. In the interests of both parties, it's time for him to move on, though Hertha may not be interested.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £10m)
Janusz Michallik is disappointed with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's contribution to Arsenal's match vs. West Ham.
Bukayo Saka (19, 2024)
Nicolas Pepe (25, 2024)
OLLEY: Pepe's Europa League form has at least hinted that there may be a good player in there somewhere. He will never be worth the £72m they paid to sign him from Lille in 2019 but given the radical changes elsewhere in the squad and the difficulty of moving such an expensive player on, Arsenal have to persevere with him for another season.
HAMILTON: He has enjoyed flashes of brilliance, but he's an expensive squad option. If Arsenal can get back half of what they originally paid, then it's time to take the loss and put that down as a pricey mistake.
Verdict: Split Keep / Dump (Estimated value: £35m)
Willian (32, 2023)
OLLEY: Arsenal handed Willian a three-year contract and they have to live with that. It made certain sense at the time, if they were getting the Willian who excelled in the first part of his final season at Chelsea, but he has failed to reproduce that form. They are pretty much stuck with hoping next year instigates a revival.
HAMILTON: Spot on. The only way he'll leave is if they can cut an Alexis Sanchez-type of deal to swap him for another player. Or if he forces an exit, which I don't think the club would mind.
Reiss Nelson (21, 2023)
OLLEY: He hasn't played a single minute in the Premier League this season, yet didn't go out on loan, so something isn't right. Probably needs to leave to kickstart his career and given he has two years remaining on his contract, it may be the right time to move him on. A loan would be an acceptable middle ground.
HAMILTON: A loan move to another Premier League club would be best for Nelson -- a bit like the one Maitland-Niles had this season with West Brom.
Verdict: Loan (estimated value for permanent move: £10m)
Alexandre Lacazette (29, 2022)
OLLEY: Do Arsenal really want to commit a significant sum on a new contract for a player who has struggled for consistency? The Gunners had to give Aubameyang a new deal because of the influence he had last season, but the same isn't true of Lacazette so it's time to dump him and reinvest the money in another forward.
HAMILTON: If they can get a generous transfer fee for him, with Roma and Sevilla interested according to ESPN sources, then it's time to move on the French striker.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £20m)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (31, 2023)
OLLEY: This has been a season to forget for Aubameyang: a loss of form, contracting malaria, his mother falling ill and questions over his professionalism arising from poor timekeeping. But he remains in credit for his overall record -- 85 goals in 146 games -- and his presence will be a positive in attracting new signings. Arteta just needs to reignite the spark in him.
HAMILTON: You can imagine former Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel wouldn't mind having a reunion with Aubameyang at Chelsea (and he clearly know how to deal with him). Aubameyang is definitely worth keeping and, after a turbulent season, will be back to his best next term.
Gabriel Martinelli (19, 2024)
Hamilton: If he stays injury free, the 2021-22 season should be his breakout year. His potential is frightening.
Eddie Nketiah (21, 2022)
OLLEY: Nketiah is not without potential but doubts remain over whether he can make it a top club. Given he has one year remaining on his contract and there are interested parties, letting him go with a buy-back option around £25m would make sense as the Gunners don't have to invest any more in his development but could revisit the situation if he thrives elsewhere.
Verdict: Dump (estimated value: £15m)
It could be the busiest summer in Arsenal's history. With the season petering out into a disappointing mid-table finish, and the supporters fed up with the KSE regime, the pressure is on the club to rebuild and ensure they're back in European competition in the 2022-23 season. Technical director Edu will lead the overhaul and his reputation is on the line.
Arsenal trimmed some of their bloated squad in the January transfer window -- with Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos all being released -- but this was just the beginning of the process. There are too many expensive mistakes from previous regimes and club's success in moving players on will determine how much they can bolster their squad with fresh, hungry faces.
Arteta has cited a need to be "ruthless" in the club's decision-making and though central midfield clearly needs an overhaul, not all of the players we suggested will move on, not least because such a high turnover in one window is unrealistic.
With Partey and Elneny the only two we'd keep, some new faces are needed. The club have been strongly linked with a £30m move for Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma, and he's exactly the sort of player they should be chasing -- players willing to fight, and whose value in a few years will be (hopefully) higher than their original outlay.
Elsewhere, Arsenal need to be clever in the market. They should look to swap deals, or loans with options-to-buy. Given Cedric is nothing more than a backup, an experienced left-back (possibly Southampton's Ryan Bertrand) should arrive, while if they let Bellerin go then a right-back will need to come in as well, assuming Maitland-Niles isn't a long-term option when he returns from loan.
While it's been a hard season for those at the Emirates Stadium, it has seen the emergence of Smith Rowe and Saka. Arsenal will hope for more of these homegrown talents to come through next term, but they need to supplement that young group with some astute signings this summer. With Tierney an obvious leader, fresh blood may in turn reignite the fire in older heads like Aubameyang and Willian.