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Over the last decade or two loans have grown from something we did occasionally to become a central part of our player development and rotation cycle. Whether we like this or not, it is something we need to do well in order, ultimately, to give us a better chance of winning trophies. For several years our approach seemed fairly haphazard, especially in terms of player development, hence the title of this piece. We’d loan a player out, moan he wasn’t getting enough game time and then groan about all and sundry on his return – no clear plan, no improvement, and no contact or oversight from the club gives you the gist of it I believe. Just over a year ago, the club appointed Ben Knapper as The Loan Arranger (sorry) or more prosaically Loan Manager. Presumably, a belated recognition of a sub-optimal process requiring more effective planning and monitoring. How’s that going for us a year down the road? Fair to middling I’d say but no doubt you will have your own opinions.

First let’s look at the current situation. We have 10 players out on loan, five from the first team squad and five youngsters from the Academy. I have divided by squad and added a note as to the overall objective of the loan as there are differing circumstances and we need to do both well. Is the loan a development move for a player we see as potentially challenging for a first XI place in the near future? Or is it part of the rotation cycle where we are looking to move the player on at the end of the loan?

First Team

Henrikh Mkhitarian – Roma (Rotation)

To be honest Mkhi was not so fine in his brief time with us, though he did contribute some useful goals and assists. He has played intermittently for Roma, scored 3 and got 1 assist in 11 games so far but also had several injuries. He seems well enough liked by Roma, who reportedly offered 10m euros for a permanent move in January. Personally, I’d probably have taken that as I see no way back for Mkhi and he’ll only have a year left on his contract at the end of the season. However, if the rest of the season goes well for him then we should be able to meet the purpose of the loan at the end of this season and wish Mkhi all the best in his future endeavours.

Mohammed Elneny – Besiktas (Rotation)

Was never able to establish a regular place in the side, though twice player of the month. He was once sent off at Southampton for a shove on one Cedric Soares. Now playing regularly and apparently doing a fair job at Besiktas though they have struggled of late and recently fired their manager. There are reports the new Besiktas manager wants to develop internally and isn’t planning to play loan players, as well as a less credible report linking him to AC Milan. Regardless of Besiktas using the buy-out clause I believe that with a season of regular football under his belt we will be able to move Elneny on at the end of the season as he is relatively low priced, not on a high salary, and certainly not a bad player.

Emile Smith Rowe – Huddersfield (Development)

A recent loan that seems to have got off to a good start with a goal and an assist for ESR at Huddersfield.

He has played 3 times so far in the Championship, being subbed off after 81, 85 and 89 minutes in those games. Anyone would think our players lack fitness (note to self – stay on point there laddie). ESR is to me an excellent prospect and our future No 10 but as to this loan it is still too early to tell. Seems a good choice and he has been put straight into the team, which is encouraging after Eddie. Go, Go, ES Rowe !!

William Saliba – St Etienne (Development)

Another great prospect who has the fans salibating about his arrival next season. A mixture of a few good performances this season and many games missed due to injury make it very difficult to reach any kind of conclusion. Whether he can take the step up to the PL and make himself our first choice CB on the right hand side will be interesting to see over the next couple of seasons. The loan back to St Etienne was I think a reasonable decision and means we that we have not had the option of “Mavroing” him – i.e. throw him in at the deep end in an injury crisis and see what happens.

Konstantinos Mavropanos – Nurnberg (Rotation)

Mavro arrived in January 2018, apparently unknown to AW, and then impressed sufficiently in training to be kept with the squad rather than sent out on loan as originally planned. The injury crisis duly arrived and he was thrown in for a few games where he showed promise. Injuries followed and then a couple of difficult outings last season, under a manager who didn’t seem to rate him highly, and another injury. We have had him for 2 years and now he has gone on loan to Bundesliga 2 outfit FC Nurnberg. I have no actual idea whether this is a development or rotation loan and I suspect that the club and player don’t really either. To me, he’s 22 and played less than 30 senior league games in his career. In May he will come back to a club with 3 young CBs ahead of him in the queue. It would be better for all involved to let him move on this summer. I don’t want to be harsh but his development has not been our finest hour.

Overall we seem to have found suitable opportunities for Elneny, Mkhi and Mavro plus made positive decisions for Saliba and Smith-Rowe. This summer will validate those decisions to a large degree but we have at least given ourselves as well as the players an opportunity. On the other hand Eddie’s loan to Leeds worked out less well.


Tyreece John-Jules is an 18-year-old striker. At just over 6 feet tall he is certainly no dwarf for the men in red. Currently just starting a loan at League One Lincoln City, he seems the best prospect amongst our current Academy loanees.

James Olayinka – the 19-year-old midfielder just started at Northampton Town and got the MotM award in his first game for The Cobblers – a 3-0 win over Scunthorpe. After the match the manager, Keith Curle, a 2nd rate clogger for those of you who don’t remember him, said “James Olayinka is a good player…but we have to get our way of playing into his system”. Oh no you don’t Keith. Sadly, James is ineligible for the Derby FA Cup game and will miss the chance to boot Shrek in the trolls.

Deyan Iliev – recently started his loan at mid-table Polish League club Jagiellonia. A long shot to me but the loan itself looks a good step up from the Slovak side SKF Sered where he played for the first half of the season, and played well enough to get noticed by a higher level club. It is a good sign that we have been active in getting a better level for him.

Jordi Osei-Tutu – halfway through a year loan to VFL Bochum in Bundesliga2. He did very well to overcome the challenge of dealing with disgusting racist abuse and got good support from Arsenal via Ben and Per. Started the season with a run of games in the first team but since a change of manager he has rarely featured and I did wonder if we should bring him back in January. Sitting on a bench in Germany is not a good use of a young full back’s time. He is 21 and it is time to play regularly.

Ben Sheaf – on loan to Doncaster since the start of the season. He has been playing regularly and extended the loan in January. This was a step-up for the 21-year-old midfielder as he was on loan at League 2 Stevenage last year. However, another who seems a long shot for a future with the first team.

To be honest I see most of these, excepting John-Jules, as rotation moves for players who will not feature in the first team squad in the next one or two seasons. Nothing wrong with that and an important part of our responsibility to the young players we bring to the club. Could we be more aggressive on the

development side? I believe so, but the current young players in the squad demonstrate that loans are not the only way forward. Also, it is important to recognize that there will always be more players who can’t reach the senior squad than those who can and so naturally we will have more young players on loan who do not go out to a career with The Arsenal. Finally, on this point, academy players are not robots, they may surprise or disappoint and today’s high flyers may be tomorrow’s swamp dwellers – we never truly know and all opinions above are just my own. May they all be successful !

There are different ways for young players to get to the first team squad – AMN and Nelson went out on loan, Saka did not and neither did Joe Willock. Guen and Martinelli were signed straight in. After a famine in terms of youth development we are now enjoying a feast – for me seeing our young players coming through this season has been a real joy. If ESR and Saliba come in as better players for their loan periods and play a role for the first XI next season followed by John-Jules or others the season after, then the loan system is working well. If not I will moan and groan.

58 Drinks to “Are we changing the Loan, Moan, Groan cycle?”

  1. 1
    Countryman100 says:

    Thanks Matt for a really interesting piece.

    I was very impressed with John-Jules in preseason and think he has a great future. Similarly Smith Rowe. This is as good a crop of academy youngsters I have seen since the early 80s (Adams, Rocky etc).

  2. 2
    bathgooner says:

    Excellent piece, OM. A most enjoyable and informative read. Right up there with the traditions of the Guvna’s interlull pieces. A bottle of your favourite Saki is on the bar, sir.

  3. 3
    bt8 says:

    A well researched and comprehensive analysis of a complicated subject. When a player is loaned the odds are against the loan working out to the benefit of all parties. Experience gained for young players being at the top of all possible outcomes. Among others LJW kick started his career effectively that way.

  4. 4
    scruzgooner says:

    thanks, OM. that’s great stuff. i’m looking forward to seeing how ESR and John-Jules do, i’d love to see them added to the roster of nelson, nketieh, willock, martinelli, amn, saka, etc. the only on your list i will have to be convinced by is saliba; his injury troubles make me concerned he’s going to be too lightweight, and another mavropanos, for all his hype and our need.

  5. 5
    TTG says:

    This really is not only a very intriguing piece but is very-well researched and I am very much in agreement with your conclusions. I’m not sure Mr. Knapper has covered himself in glory so far. Much was made of the Dragons Den pitches for Eddie and look how that went.
    In reality as you say we have retained most of our talent in-house . Only John-Jules and Smith- Rowe are ever likely to find their way into the first team and I was also hoping we could shed Elneny and Mkhitaryan this January as they won’t ever figure for our first-team in my view .
    It is interesting Brentford have tried to nick Balogun for £5million in the last window.Unless that was a highly leveraged deal for us it would only favour them but what do you do if you have great young strikers who need games but can’t get them at your club?
    Great work mate, very well done

  6. 6
    North Bank Ned says:

    Interesting piece, OM. Some good thoughts on the established players whom we are looking to move on.

    As I said in my @44 in the previous drinks, the odds are stacked heavily against any young player breaking through from an academy to their clubs first team. After many years of famine in that regard, we now seem to have a feast.

    For the younger players, loans need to be targeted concerning those the club thinks do have a shot of making it to our first-team squad (JJT and ESR), so they are playing regularly in a team that will toughen up those who need it physically and improve technically those who would most benefit from that.

    The club probably also has a duty of care to those it thinks will not make it to our first team to put them in the shop window so they can have a professional career elsewhere. A loan is a sort of sale or return offer in that regard.

    I also wonder about whether England should adopt the Spanish practice of letting top clubs field B teams in lower leagues. That way young players would be guaranteed games, would get the toughening up from playing in the Championship or League One and still be schooled in playing the Arsenal way.

    The main downside to the idea is the risk that the Championship might become a Premiership B: the big clubs might be rich enough to crowd out all the others. There would have to be a ban, as in Spain, on a B team winning promotion to the same division as its parent, and exclusion from the FA and League Cups, where they might come up against their A team (or the club have the option to enter only one of its teams).

  7. 7
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks all for the kind comments!
    And the sake🍶

  8. 8
    OsakaMatt says:


    Saliba is indeed a 25m punt on
    on what I’d see as a 3/1 shot!
    Fingers, toes and everything else
    must be crossed in the boardroom

  9. 9
    OsakaMatt says:

    I’m relaxed about Elneny as I
    think it’s a fairly simple sale
    this summer but Mkhi is more
    complicated and I could have
    added 200 more words on him
    alone from a business perspective.
    If that offer was real from Roma
    it was, let’s say, courageous to
    turn it down.

  10. 10
    OsakaMatt says:

    Good point on Balogun. He was
    one I was specifically thinking
    of in the article. Obviously Per
    and the boys are closer to this
    but I don’t see why we wouldn’t
    loan him out this January.

  11. 11
    BtM says:

    So Mkhi was not so fine? 🙂

    Lot’s of good stuff and an enjoyable read. As Ozil’s star sinks slowly toward the horizon, it will be interesting to see whether Arteta will seek to buy a new number 10 for next season or will have confidence in ESR (relieved by Willock and Ozil himself when appropriate) to make that position his own. Talented as he is, that may be too big an ask for Emile.

  12. 12
    Uplympian says:

    Thanks OM, that’s a very good read putting all disparate information into one piece. With your comprehensive detail it’s plain to see how important a role the Loan Manager has in the club for the development of up & coming talent. It’s hard and fairly rare for young academy talent to break into the first team & maintain their place – Bacary Saka is the only one who seems destined for greater things already.
    Joe Willock is yet to establish himself as a first pick ( and of course Martinelli & Guendouzi are not from the academy ). Sending out on loan those with potential to develop to the level required is therefore a most useful ploy. ESR looked to be one for the future and he went to Germany last season ( Hoffenheim ) but spent a good amount of time there in the treatment room & didn’t play too much. Eddie Nketiah spent the a good part of his loan spell at Leeds sitting on the bench. Let’s hope he can sustain an injury free term at Huddersfield & return all the better for it. Although bring away from home comforts may be good for young players developments, not having any / little playing time with the loan club has no benefit at all and this aspect needs careful consideration when making these loan agreements.
    The reasons for loaning out first team squad fillers are well given in OM’s article. Apart from potential sales, this does leave some spaces for these younger players to be given an opportunity to see how they cope at the top level. We are indeed fortunate that we appear to have a talented group of youngsters coming through – how many will establish themselves though, the odds are against them.

  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    In other loan news, Saliba has recovered from fracturing his metatarsal and played the full 90 mins in his first game back on Sunday.

  14. 14
    North Bank Ned says:

    How things used to be for young players:

    Our team that won the FA Youth Cup in 1966 contained Peter Simpson, Jon Sammels, George Armstrong, Peter Storey, Ray Kennedy, Sammy Nelson, Pat Rice and John Radford. It is inconceivable today that eight — yes, eight — of the youth team could go on to have not only top-flight professional careers but also all be Arsenal stars.

  15. 15
    OsakaMatt says:

    Yes, I suspect he didn’t understand
    BtM 🙂

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    Wasn’t one of the ideas behind the Mkhi-Sanchez swap, beyond getting Alexis’s salary off our books, that it would reunite the Mkhi-Auba partnership that was so productive at Dortmund?

  17. 17
    North Bank Ned says:

    Interesting interview with superagent Mino Raiola in the Belgian Sport/Voetbalmagazine (in Flemish https://sportmagazine.knack.be/sport/voetbal-internationaal/topmakelaar-mino-raiola-dit-transfersysteem-is-mensenhandel/article-longread-1558629.html) who wants to upend the current transfer system, cut FIFA out of it and let agents run player transfers between clubs as a private market. He thinks the Football Agents Forum that he founded with other top agents will be ready to do that in a couple of years.

    This is the core part of the article (thanks to Google Translate — Flemish-speaking monks are too busy brewing!):

    “You could fight the corrupt monopolist FIFA and their incompetent leaders or – Option 2 – create a new system, so that you have a choice in any case. With this, we’re occupied right now. We don’t want to have anything to with this anymore soon. We will do it ourselves. The FIFA is done, the old system is over. This is the start of a new era, we are at the foundation. It’s time for a revolution.

    “Then the clubs can choose. For example, I don’t understand, why a transfer of a player from Twente to Verona has to run through the FIFA system. Can’t we do this ourselves in Europe? If a player goes to the MLS, then it is done according to the rules of the MLS and not those of the FIFA. Here they want control and a share of the money. At the FIFA everything is about power and money. Not about the interests of football. The world association will not play a role in the future and they know that.

    “If it’s up to me, we abolish the current transfer system immediately. We get a share of players’ earnings and if we abolish the system, clubs have more money for players, I think. This transfer system is human trafficking.”

  18. 18
    scruzgooner says:

    btm@11 i’d love to see esr into the team like that, but agree it’s a bridge a bit too far for him right now. i’d rather see willock become first choice, with özil as second choice/europa league/cups, so willock can get a run over the next dozen games or more and establish himself. then esr can come back and learn from both with much less pressure.

    uply@12, i think keeping eddie here for the balance of this season was a reaction to (a) leeds not using him as we’d like, (b) our need to shake up our striking squad, since goals are so rare these days, and (c) because his development will benefit more from being with the squad than being out on loan.

    ned@16, that’s the hope i always thought underlay mikhi’s acquisition. we didn’t see much of it, though.

  19. 19
    Uplympian says:

    Ned @ 17. Interesting article. The old saying “out of the fat, into the frying pan” comes to mind – personally I shudder at both dens of inequity. In a perfect world a third way without either of dirty hands involved would be the way to go but such a place does not exist – apart from Castle Ned & the monks brew of course.
    Scruz @ 18. With regard to Eddie you are spot on. No benefit at all for him to be warming the bench at Leeds. With a positive head coach here now it will be interesting to see how far he develops but he will need to be playing!

  20. 20
    TTG says:

    Ozil costs too much to be played as a reserve or back up. If we can sell him or even get a buyer to cover most / all of his salary we free up a significant part of our wage bill .Gazidis did many stupid things in his time including not selling Sanchez ( which cost us a fortune) but the Ozil contract was the most stupid .

  21. 21
    scruzgooner says:

    ttg@20 i don’t agree. if he’s not doing the work, he doesn’t serve the team or the club by starting, regardless of how much he’s paid. and i am saying this as someone who loves me some özil, and wants him to score and assist every game. one thing i’ve noticed is defenses are playing him differently than when we had different players around him: he used to find the pockets of space when our defenders used to push up the middle more and the other team had to come meet them…and he could just sit in there while willing runners cut to receive his passes. now, not so much, though his endeavor is certainly appreciated (he sprints more than he did, and, like robert pires did as rarely, actually gets stuck in).

    start him in europa league games (where the pace and space are different than the prem), and split the cups with willock (and there maybe even blood amn as a box-to-box with torreira/xhaka in a 442, pepe and nelson on the wings behind eddie and gabigol…of course, that means our defense has solidified; alternately run 5 with cedric/kola and nelson on the wings in front of 3 in defense, xhaka/guendo, amn, and willock in the middle behind eddie and martinelli). sell him in the summer, if possible, or loan him out and pay only part of his wages…

  22. 22
    OsakaMatt says:

    No happy ending in the Cup

  23. 23
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks for that article Ned – one long spoon
    just isn’t enough for supping with the many
    and varied devils hanging round the transfer
    I’ve heard the human trafficking argument
    before – it’s difficult to take moral arguments
    from FIFA or the likes of Raiola seriously.

  24. 24
    scruzgooner says:

    OM@23, no doubt. they want to operate without established, field-levelling rules, to their own enrichment. one long spoon, indeed.

  25. 25
    OsakaMatt says:

    I think MA will play Ozil if he’s
    the best option and not play
    him if he isn’t. All the players have
    a clean slate. I am grateful for
    that simple clarity after the UE
    era. So far he seems to be walking
    the walk – Mus has returned and
    actually kept his place.

    It’s going to be a busy summer for
    Raul and co as a number of contracts
    are up in 2021.

  26. 26
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@23: Choosing between two evils is never much of a choice.

  27. 27
    North Bank Ned says:

    Uply@19: Castle Ned is indeed the Elysian fields of legend. At least in our own lunchtimes.

  28. 28
    OsakaMatt says:

    Just to clarify my post @25
    didn’t mean I was grateful for
    Mus’s return to the side.

  29. 29
    bathgooner says:

    Although his brain farts leading to opposition goals occur randomly and with unacceptable frequency, Mustafi is by no means the worst player I have had to watch play CB for us. I give you Stepanovs, Djourou, the late Senderos (the early talented Senderos was broken by Djourou), Silvestre and many more whose names I forget all the way back to Ure (whom I never saw play for Arsenal with my own eyes but who was offered as a member of this illustrious group by a snenior Gooner). If MA8 can get him to eliminate those brain farts (quite a challenge and some achievement in truth), Mustafi would be a useful and versatile member of the squad especially as we will get diddly squat for him in the market.

  30. 30
    bathgooner says:

    Looks like MA8 has decided what this team needs to make it effective and Ic ouldn’t agree more:


  31. 31
    scruzgooner says:

    baff, that article is sketchy, and from the fail. we are probably giving ozil away and hiring a dwarf shotputter, and they got it wrong.

  32. 32
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    I’ve only just got round to reading an excellent piece from OM. A very enjoyable read. You had me at Lone Arranger.

    Hopefully we continue to improve how we use the loan system but there are some examples above showing that we already do it better than we used to. I’m keen to see how ESR and TJJ do.
    I’m more excited about Saliba than some seem to be, although admittedly that’s not based on much evidence.

  33. 33
    bathgooner says:

    This is a good read, surprisingly for the BBC, with a nice doff of the cap to le Professor and also a fine accolade for the Invincibles.


    We do need to get our shit together.

  34. 34
    scruzgooner says:

    just for perpetuity, ttg’s beautiful homage to the guv: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnCJZ3qpE7c

  35. 35
    North Bank Ned says:

    Thanks for posting that link, Scruz, and thanks to TTG for such an evocative remembrance of the Guv’nor.

  36. 36
    North Bank Ned says:

    bath@30: Perhaps Arteta is a lurker here. We have collectively been saying that we need an No 10 to succeed Ozil, a DM to succeed (who? Gilberto?) and a CB since, I don’t know, forever? And not a quote or source in that Mail piece to support its main assertion.

  37. 37
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks for that link scruz, it was
    the nicest of tributes from TTG.

  38. 38
    bt8 says:

    If cba we’re here today the odds are quite high he would be playing the Ramones. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XLs94EQmXKI&list=OLAK5uy_lh1PB2v2lc9uA9i9qSEPVHQ9ZUT2p90rY&index=1&client=mv-google

  39. 39
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks GSD.
    I’m keen to see Saliba next season
    but trying to keep my expectations
    in check as it’s very difficult to be
    a teenage CB in the PL. I remember
    Lee Dixon talking once about the
    importance of having an experienced
    solid guy as a CB partner for a
    young CB at the start. Maybe Luiz?
    Though not sure I’d describe Luiz
    as solid 😊

  40. 40
    OsakaMatt says:

    That was a good read from the
    BBC. Maybe we should sign the
    writer up for a couple of guest
    posts? Usual cba rate per word of

  41. 41
    OsakaMatt says:

    I read some nonsense linking
    Auba with Barcelona (as well as
    Giroud and Llorente – what are they
    smoking?) Given Messi’s recent
    unhappiness perhaps we can offer
    a swap. I expect we could find a
    place for him somewhere in the

  42. 42
    OsakaMatt says:

    @31 scruz
    The Fail “sketchy”?
    Surely not 😉

  43. 43
    OsakaMatt says:

    To be honest, unlike most I must
    acknowledge, I’m not that
    bothered about getting another
    CB or AM and think we should
    look at the ones we have – i.e.
    Calum, Rob, Saliba at CB and
    Joe W / ESR at AM with Ozil
    – next season. I do want a box
    to box midfielder who offers a
    goal threat though.

  44. 44
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@42: Well, the Sketch failed long ago.

    I’ll get my coat…

  45. 45
    OsakaMatt says:

    Ideally from a business perspective
    it may well be best to offload Ozil
    this summer – it’s just that I think
    in reality he has no intention of leaving
    until his contract’s up.

  46. 46
    OsakaMatt says:

    Before my time Ned 🙂

  47. 47
    OsakaMatt says:

    Just read in “the other place”
    that I am the MSPMP. A great

  48. 48
    OsakaMatt says:

    I’m wondering whether a gentlemen
    would waffle though to the 50 on
    his own post? 🤔🤔

  49. 49
    A Gentleman says:

    Yes, he would.

  50. 50
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thank you dear reader for your
    quick and timely advice!

    Raises bat modestly, touches
    cap to acknowledge applause.
    Is out next ball.

  51. 51
    bt8 says:

    A great job you are doing, MSPMP / OM. Your Japanese tinge always freshens things up. Any news of Cannons of Rhetoric? The cartoons and additional Japanese perspective dried up a while back, but I see him in the table of the ‘holic YouRopey League.

  52. 52
    scruzgooner says:

    or not.

  53. 53
    scruzgooner says:

    kee-rist i can’t even tabs a half ton.

  54. 54
    bathgooner says:

    Fine night shift there, OM. You are truly worthy of the acolade of MPMSP, sir. Nice half ton too. Excellent assist from a gentleman wandering by. Hard luck on the tabs, scruz.

  55. 55
    bathgooner says:

    bt8@51. CoR almost certainly knows about this place and our project as I invited all members of Snir’s WhatsApp group, of which he is an infrequent visitor, to join us when setting up HolicsForever. He’s still cartooning in the Osaka area, has a lovely wife and cute child and, if I remember correctly, another on the way.

  56. 56
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@46: Oh, you young people…

  57. 57
    ATG says:


  58. 58

    […] months ago I wrote a post, Loans, Moans & Groans, reviewing our then situation with regard to 10 players we had out on loan. Time now thanks to the […]