After a rocky start to his second full season in charge, Mikel Arteta seems to have steadied the ship as Arsenal manager, with his team of young stars all developing well at the same time.
Academy graduates such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have rapidly evolved into the stars of this side and the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe seem to have faded into the background.
Many were criticising Arteta’s approach to building a young team, especially after Arsenal spent the most in Europe on players exclusively aged 23 or younger, but they have eaten their words after seeing the strong impact all of his signings made after their arrivals.
But, throughout his tenure, there has been a mixed bag with regard to his signings. Some are now the most popular figures at the club, whilst others moved on as swiftly as they arrived.
Arteta made 14 first-team signings during his first two years as manager and we have ranked them from worst to best. Note: we’ve only included players that had made their senior debuts before joining Arsenal.
14. Runar Alex Runarsson
A bizarre choice at the time, the Iceland goalkeeper was signed to replace the outgoing Emiliano Martinez on the bench as cover for Bernd Leno in 2020.
Priced at just under £2million, this was a fairly risk-free signing, and he arrived from the bench at Sporting Dijon in Ligue 1, who finished 17th in the prior season.
French football experts were baffled, claiming he was statistically one of the worst goalkeepers in the division, and it seems they had the last laugh.
He never looked comfortable, even in Europa League group stage games, and this came to a climax when he was surprisingly picked against Manchester City in the League Cup quarter-final. Arsenal lost 4-1, where he was arguably at fault for every goal.
He made one league appearance off the bench following Leno’s sending off away at Wolves before being shipped out on loan to OH Leuven in Belgium.
Willian arrived on a free transfer and still felt like a waste of money. Following his strong end to the 2019-20 season with Chelsea, he refused a contract extension with them and chose to stay in London.
Signing a three-year deal on a high wage, Willian claimed that Arteta signed him to win the Champions League within three seasons.
His best game came on his debut, with two assists away at Fulham, but things went downhill from there.
Willian started 14 league games, and scored one goal, against West Brom near the end of the season. There was clearly no motivation on his part, and there was disbelief that this was the same player who was Chelsea’s top scorer in the previous campaign.
He ended up terminating his Arsenal contract by mutual consent after just one year, moving to Corinthians in his native Brazil.
Pass open to ESR, pass open to Xhaka, pass open to Odegaard.
— kt (@ktcoaching1) February 6, 2021
12. Mat Ryan
Ryan arrived on loan from Brighton completely out of the blue in January 2021, as another backup for Leno, after Runarsson was deemed a threat to the backline.
A boyhood Arsenal fan, he performed admirably well in his three appearances for the club but Arteta chose not to sign him on a free transfer at the end of his loan.
The 29-year-old now plays for Real Sociedad in Spain, as a backup for Alex Remiro.
11. Cedric Soares
Arteta’s first signing as Arsenal boss, Cedric was another questionable arrival. Arsenal paid Southampton to take him on loan, and Southampton couldn’t wait to be rid of him.
He was injured during his entire loan spell, so eyebrows were raised when the club offered him a four-year contract to stay in the summer of 2020.
The Portugal international finally made his debut six months after his arrival, and actually scored against Norwich, but his performances at right-back have been subpar.
A great moment for Cedric ❤️
The Portuguese right-back marks his Gunners debut with a goal! 👏 pic.twitter.com/aLiwm0toXd
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) July 1, 2020
10. Pablo Mari
Arriving on loan in the same January 2020 window as Cedric, there was some hype around Mari. He had just won the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in Brazil and was a popular figure in their team.
Once on the books at Manchester City, it seemed Arteta was using his knowledge of the club to pick up a bargain.
Mari, like Cedric, barely played in his initial loan spell, before signing a four-year contract later that season, for a fee of around £8million.
At first, Mari seemed a serviceable backup but after mistakes in the first two games of the 2021-22 season, he has hardly been seen since and has been rumoured with a move back to Flamengo.
9. Dani Ceballos
Yet another loan signing, Ceballos had actually arrived at Arsenal prior to Arteta. After a period out of the team following the appointment of his compatriot, Ceballos worked his way back into Arteta’s plans and had a fantastic run of form en route to winning the FA Cup in 2020.
It was this run of form which meant that Arteta chose to re-sign the midfielder on loan from Real Madrid for a second season, but his second spell was far less glamourous.
injuries and poor form plagued the 25-year-old, and soon he became a liability, seemingly making an error in every single Europa League knockout round, before receiving a red card in the semi-final against Villarreal which cost his team dearly.
Arsenal chose not to sign him again, and he is now back at Real Madrid.
Dani Ceballos comes up BIG for Arsenal 🙌
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) June 28, 2020
8. Nuno Tavares
A £7million find from Benfica, the Portuguese left-back was signed as necessary cover for Kieran Tierney.
At just 21 years of age with a handful of senior appearances to his name, Tavares is an exciting but raw young talent with top quality physical attributes.
Tavares even had an impressive run of form which saw him briefly overtake Tierney in the pecking order, but horror shows at Anfield and Old Trafford meant Tierney regained his place in the side.
Nevertheless, the pace, power and ability with both feet of the left-back make him a good rotational option, and once Arteta hones in on his defensive awareness, he can become an option for the future.
7. Albert Sambi Lokonga
One of the young purchases of this summer window, the 22-year-old midfielder arrived as a relative unknown from Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht.
Lokonga has made a promising start to life as a Gunner and will be aiming to nail down a starting spot in central midfield ahead of senior players like Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey.
If Sambi fulfils his potential, then the £18million fee will begin to look like a bargain for years to come.
6. Thomas Partey
A £45million marquee signing from Atletico Madrid on deadline day in October 2020, Partey arrived with a big reputation.
He started well, winning man of the match away at Manchester United in his first month, but was soon struck by injury problems throughout his first campaign in England.
His second season has seen some inconsistent performances, coupled with his now laughable shooting attempts from outside the box. At 28 years old, he is one of the senior players in this young Arsenal team, but at times he is the one being carried by the youth.
5. Ben White
Another expensive signing, eyebrows were raised at the £50million fee paid to bring White to North London from Brighton, but his critics have gone quiet.
After a horror show on his debut, White has formed a very solid partnership with Gabriel at the back and his ability on the ball often shines through in games.
🔥 Ben White appreciation post 🔥
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 24, 2021
4. Martin Odegaard
In January 2021 there was a serious creative void in the Arsenal team. Mesut Ozil had just left the club and there was a desperate lack of goals.
Arsenal then brought in Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid. Once a boy wonder, the Norweigan playmaker found himself with limited first-team opportunities at the Santiago Bernabeu after a successful loan at Real Sociedad and left in search of regular game time.
He did well on his initial loan despite some fitness issues and then joined the club permanently for around £30million.
This fee looks to be a bargain. Regularly on the scoresheet, the silky midfielder looks to be filling the void left by Ozil and combines well with other youngsters like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
This assist from Odegaard tho… 😍😍😍 pic.twitter.com/efhpUHS5su
— King Henry (@AFC_King_Henry) August 25, 2021
3. Takehiro Tomiyasu
Arsenal were in desperate need of a right-back after the departure of Hector Bellerin and plumped for Tomiyasu from Bologna on deadline day.
Not many Arsenal fans knew what they were in for, and were sceptical of an unknown defender who was rumoured to be ‘neither a right-back nor a centre back.’
But Tomiyasu has silenced all his critics, becoming one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers since his arrival. Good in the air and strong defensively, the Japan international has hardly put a foot wrong and is quickly becoming a cult hero at the club.
At around £17million, Tomiyasu is one of the Premier League’s great bargain signings of recent years.
2. Gabriel Magalhaes
The 24-year-old Brazilian centre back is what Arsenal were lacking for years. Dominant in the air, good on the ball and a proper leader, Gabriel has been one of Arsenal’s best performers since his £22million arrival from Lille in the summer of 2020.
Alongside Ben White, Gabriel will be a key figure in the Arsenal team for years to come and is one of Arteta’s best signings in terms of value and performances.
A colossal defender.
The only thing stopping a dramatic derby equaliser was Gabriel's head 🛑pic.twitter.com/0475daN3y7
— GOAL (@goal) March 16, 2021
1. Aaron Ramsdale
The popular young goalkeeper tops the list partly because of the reaction to the signing.
Fans and pundits alike were astounded when Arteta chose to spend £23million on a keeper who had been relegated twice, especially with Bernd Leno already at the club, but no one is saying a word now.
Ramsdale has been one of Arsenal’s best performers and most vocal leaders since joining, and if he continues at his current rate, will be England’s No.1 in no time.
One of the best performing keepers in the league in shot-stopping and distribution, Ramsdale is also massively popular within the club because of his must-win attitude.
Arteta can take full credit for this signing, putting faith in a player who everyone else had written off.