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Arsenal's Caicedo quandary
No easy decisions this January for the Gunners
Arsenal are clearly only interested in adding players who will keep them in the conversation for the best in the Premier League. Then it’s no surprise they’re chasing Moisés Caicedo.
But with approximately 30 hours until the close of the January window, the club find themselves in a precarious position: Their massive offers aren’t being accepted by Brighton, and they may not be even if they continue to increase.
The result is one that even the most logical of supporters should have difficulty dissecting. It’s possible that there is a number that would move Tony Bloom enough to allow the Ecuadorian midfielder to depart for North London, but that’s not confirmed information. Should Arsenal continue to prod Brighton and hope for acceptance, or should the club simply move on?
It’s an extremely difficult question to answer. Let’s do our best below.
Option 1: Don’t stop trying
First things: Moisés Caicedo is clearly a player who has the eye of Mikel Arteta. He’s a great athlete with experience playing defensive midfield in a system that’s not a far shout from what Arteta employs. He’s still very young, but massively experienced as an international, and no stranger to the Premier League. He’s a Very Good Player.
Of course, no move for a midfielder for more than a couple of dozen million pounds is going to be a short-term one. This is not only a marriage that Arteta feels would add key depth to Arsenal this season. At this price, there’s very obviously a belief that this player is either the Thomas Partey heir apparent, or the same for Granit Xhaka, or some combination of both. He would obviously be considered someone who’s a nailed-on starter for Arsenal from 2024 (or early) moving forward, while being good enough today that he would be better than what Arsenal can bring off the bench in the case of a Partey injury or suspension. That means he could be a key contributor to a title chase, a Europa League win, or both.
When you put it that way, £70 million for a player whose real value is probably £50 million or so isn’t crazy. And it’s not crazy to allow yourself to be pushed beyond your £70m cap to £80m, if that were the number needing to be hit. And it’s never easy to acquire quality players in January, when clubs are strengthening for their run-in, not looking to sell.
But what would the downside be? Well, it’s a glass ceiling that Arsenal haven’t broken under Mikel Arteta. These negotiations can be precedent-setting and can trickle into future negotiations. We’ve already seen this with Mykhailo Mudryk and Antony affecting other winger sales. If Caicedo, amid a public transfer request, is worth £80m, surely Declan Rice — he of more than six times the Premier League experience and an England international — is worth much more, no? Caving on this one player, who in this case will also be available in five months, could cost Arsenal something like an additional £50m in transfer fees for two players alone.
Of course, there’s also the risk that Brighton simply aren’t lying, and this player will not be sold. Sometimes this tactic is a negotiation ploy; others it’s the truth. Arsenal could very easily chase Caicedo until the deadline for (literally) no reason.
Option 2: Move on
This was my preference a couple of days ago.
Unfortunately, it sounds so much simpler than it is at this point. In a perfect world, Arsenal would have been pushing for Caicedo from the first day of January. But they weren’t; they were embroiled in the Mudryk chase. No way they could’ve signed both this month.
In fact, much to the dismay of some fans, I’d go so far as to say this move wouldn’t even happen this month were it not for the unexpected injury to Mohamed Elneny.
Thomas Partey is inarguably injury-prone, no doubt about that, but you wouldn’t blame Arsenal management for being a bit blindsided by Elneny’s injury woes this season. Since joining in 2016, Elneny had missed fewer games coming into this season than he’s now missed this season altogether. Despite the fact that he’s been injured in successive windows, he’s still been reliable for a long time. With the full squad fit, adding another option in attack was definitely the priority for this month.
That’s of course not to say that Elneny is “good” cover for Partey, but clearly there’s some level of belief from Arteta that he’s serviceable enough not to force a £70m panic buy. After all, he’s been dropped into the first squad in some key moments and delivered over the past couple of seasons. It’s just that replacing him was likely business being saved for summer, when options will be innumerably more.
So that brings us to where we are: 30 Jan., 30 hours to go, and stuck down a rabbit hole on one player. Any selling club at this point will likely not have time to sign a replacement, meaning release clauses or Godfather offers are likely the only way to move the needle. Guys who were gettable a week ago are probably just not now, and unfortunately Arsenal weren’t even shopping a week ago.
Adding an additional layer of stickiness: If Arsenal won’t take a loaned player off someone’s hands, which is a total “we need someone better just for now” move, they actually do need to strongly believe in the player they sign. The armchair, part-time scout in me doesn’t see Caicedo as that irreplaceable profile, but I’m not Mikel Arteta. It is highly possible that the boss simply does not find Kouadio Koné or Khéphren Thuram or Youssouf Fofana or Sander Berge to be the right man for his project. While that way of thinking can present inherent short-term risk, it has so far more often than not resulted in outstanding players joining the club.
And you just know that while Arteta is likely aching to win this league title, he also wants to win it next year, and the year after that. Signing Caicedo or Declan Rice (or both) this summer is a better move on balance if that’s his ambition, even if it feels so much scarier right now.
Is no signing a failure?
We’ve already seen some of the hand-wringing Twitter posts declaring this potential no-deal a dereliction of duty, gross negligence and the like. And while I do think not signing a midfielder at this point would be a poor outcome for Arsenal’s front office, I do think those takes need to be tamped down a bit.
Mikel Arteta and Edu will at this point be acutely aware of so many things that a typical Arsenal supporter simply is not.
For instance, until about a month ago many supporters were convinced Eddie Nketiah was simply not good enough to sustain a title charge over a multi-month absence of Gabriel Jesus, with most pointing to his Europa League performance. But getting a runout on a Thursday night in Norway with backups and starters who are playing half-speed isn’t the same as starting under the Sunday night lights against Manchester United, and what Arteta had seen of Nketiah in training made him plenty comfortable with the option before him.
Whether it’s Sambi Lokonga, or one of the many fan-theory emergency DMs, or even Jakub Kiwior, I do trust Arteta’s judgment to make the correct decision regarding what to do in the event of a Partey injury atop an Elneny injury (in the case where we haven’t signed Caicedo). That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily eager to see what he’d do.
I also think he no doubt prefers to bring in his potential future 6 for that situation, but that’s not always such an easy thing to do, and this club has already shown considerable restraint in not overextending for players. And they simply do not show an interest in signing band-aid level players like Berge; they want the Caicedo or Rice or Zubimendi, the project cornerstone. To a project with discerning taste, that’s not a label handed out liberally. That means that what could look outwardly like a lack of an attempt to sign an alternative player could actually indicate the lack of a suitable alternative, in Arsenal’s case.
It’s a frustrating result for many fans, but not one that Arteta and Edu would have entered into lightly.
The fact will also remain that this has been a highly successful January window via the additions of Kiwior and Trossard alone, both of whom could make contributions toward this title chase. The club are still five points clear and just gave their supporters reason to believe they can compete with Manchester City.
The Elneny extension of a year ago was a signal to supporters that Arsenal would try to align the new midfield generation’s arrival as closely as possible with the elder midfield generation’s departure, focusing on other priorities in the interim.
After what’s transpired at left-back, striker and out wide, there’s every reason to believe Arsenal’s plan for the midfield is very specific and exciting, and they won’t enter into deals that could endanger that outcome.
Now, if that’s what it comes to, let’s just hope it doesn’t weigh on the title race.