Mikel Arteta optimistic Arsenal will boost top-four hopes in transfer window

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<span>Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters

Mikel Arteta hopes Arsenal will be active during the January transfer window as they size up their prospects of a return to Champions League football.

Arsenal are fourth in the Premier League going into a highly winnable Boxing Day clash at Norwich and it is a position few had expected them to occupy earlier in the season, particularly when they lost their opening three games. Below them West Ham, Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester have games in hand but, even if those were all won, Arteta’s team would be firmly in the hunt. It is notoriously difficult to make satisfactory deals in January but Arteta would be open to any that could see his team over the line.

Related: Premier League fans’ half-term reports, part one: Arsenal to Leicester

“If you can tweak what you need to in that period, which is not easy, it would be really helpful,” he said. “We are working on that to see the necessities we can have, and whether we can find the right solutions to that.”

A striker would appeal to Arsenal, with Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette coming out of contract and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang frozen out, although that situation is likelier to be addressed in the summer. There would be a vacancy for cover on the right wing, though, if Nicolas Pépé is allowed to move, and Arsenal are arguably a body short in central midfield.

Whoever comes in, Arteta will be at pains not to disrupt a core of young players whose stature is growing rapidly. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, two academy products, are arguably their most important outfielders and Arteta knows the value of the bonds players forge during their development. At Barcelona’s La Masia academy, which differed from Arsenal’s because players boarded together, he came through with a number of those who became members of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side, and the impression was long-lasting.

“I was living at La Masia – it was a bedroom of eight,” he said. “I had Pepe Reina, Víctor Valdés, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol … What I learned was that internally there was competition: we were all at the same age and wanted to be first-team players but could not all get there. But what I learned as well was within that competition you understand that you have to look after each other. That was a big, big lesson in that period for me.

“Some of them are still my best friends because it is tough and you go through important, key moments in your career and it stays for life. Those relationships are unbreakable.”

Saka has experienced a particularly demanding year for club and country, on the pitch and away from it. “What I see is a young boy with incredible enthusiasm and passion for this club,” Arteta said. “I see it in others too. They are really willing to bring success and they are dealing with a lot of difficult situations in a great way.

“That shows the education they had, the background, environment and families they have, and how supportive the club have been throughout their careers. But it is not normal at that age to do what they’ve been doing. We have to be prepared [so] that, if they can’t cope with something, we are there to identify that and act straight away.”

Arteta has not ruled out a return for Aubameyang to the side that faces bottom-placed Norwich, although it would be a considerable surprise unless Covid-19 has stretched his resources further. Aubameyang posted a festive family picture on social media with the message: “Merry Christmas #Familyfirst”. Pablo Marí, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Calum Chambers have missed recent games with the virus but his regular starting XI is yet to be affected during this wave.

Arsenal are among the clubs battling to hold on to their Africa Cup of Nations representatives until 3 January, which would mean Aubameyang, Pépé, Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny would be eligible to face Wolves on 28 December and Manchester City on New Year’s Day. The World Leagues Forum has written to Fifa and the Confederation of African Football saying the deadline for players’ release should be pushed back from 27 December.

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