ARSENAL are facing a major dilemma unless they can break their transfer duck in the remaining few days of the window.
Calum Chambers’ surprise move to Aston Villa has left Mikel Arteta with just 21 senior players… and one of them is the out-of-favour Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
That leaves the Gunners desperately exposed for the second half of the season as they look to secure Champions League qualification for the first time since 2016.
With Arteta and his players currently away in Dubai, sporting director Edu is frantically trying to bolster the squad before Monday’s transfer deadline.
But an ambitious move for Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic came to nothing after weeks of negotiations and now they fear they are going to miss out on Juventus midfielder Arthur.
That has left them scrambling around for alternatives, but club sources are increasingly pessimistic of completing any major business before the window closes.
All of which raises the question as to why they have allowed five senior players to leave this month, with Chambers following Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Pablo Mari, Sead Kolasinac and Folarin Balogun through the Emirates exit.
Remarkably, Arteta has now got rid of 16 of the players he inherited from Unai Emery just two years ago – with only Emi Martinez and Joe Willock leaving for a transfer fee so far.
FREE BETS: GET OVER £2,000 IN NEW CUSTOMER DEALS
Others such as Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin, Reiss Nelson and Konstantinos Mavropanos are set to be sold at knock-down prices in the summer when their current loan deals expire.
And with huge questions hanging over the futures of as many as eight more current players, that leaves Arsenal requiring a massive recruitment drive this summer.
Because as well as Aubameyang looking to find a new club, Alexandre Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and Mohamed Elneny are all out of contract at the end of the season and ready to move on.
Bernd Leno and Cedric Soares are also set to leave in the summer while Granit Xhaka and £72million record signing Nicolas Pepe no longer figure in Arteta’s long-term plans.
Arteta has already been allowed to spend £225m on new players by owner Stan Kroenke since he was appointed in December 2019.
And he has been told there are more funds available for the right deal this month.
But in spite of having the cash to splash, the club has so far been unable to get any deals over the line and are now rapidly running out of time.
There is a £5m deal in place to sign US international keeper Matt Turner from New England Revolution but he is not expected to arrive until the summer.
That would allow Leno to leave for a knockdown fee after tiring of playing back-up to Aaron Ramsdale this season.
But Arteta’s immediate concern is leaving himself with enough options for the final 17 Premier League fixtures of the current campaign.
He was unable to raise a team for the recent North London derby, which was controversially postponed as a result, and had five teenagers on the bench for Sunday’s goalless draw with Burnley.
Xhaka and Thomas Partey will be back from suspension for their next game away to Wolves on February 10 while Pepe and Elneny will have returned from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Yet the lack of depth leaves the squad dangerously exposed to further injuries or suspensions which could have a huge impact on the final run-in.
Arsenal are currently sixth in the Premier League table but are only two points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with a game in hand.
⚽ Get all the latest Arsenal news, updates and transfer gossip with our live blog