Planning ahead is a necessary but risky part of football management at Premier League level.
The cliché of never looking beyond the next game often rings true, but club hierarchies would not be doing their jobs if they weren’t thinking about what they would like their team to look in one, two, or even three seasons’ time.
At 7:59pm on Saturday, Mikel Arteta seemed to be relatively certain of his transfer plans for how he would move towards his dream squad next season.
By 10 o’clock though, he would likely have had to rip them up and start again.
Speaking after Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday the Spaniard admitted that he hadn’t seen the nature of his side’s loss coming.
“At the moment, I’m in shock,” he told Sky straight after the game. “I didn’t expect that given the way the team trained, the way they tried but it happened today. That’s the reality.”
To be fair to him, it’s difficult to see how he really could have.
In the run-up to the international break, despite some high profile errors, the Gunners were starting to gain confidence in Arteta’s core principle of playing out from the back as a means of progressing attacks.
Consequently, the team as a whole found itself operating much higher up the pitch leading to the sublime performances of Martin Odegaard, who was free to dictate play in the final third.
But on Saturday, Arsenal found themselves submerged under wave after wave of high presses from the ocean blue-shirted reigning Premier League champions.
With the confidence that had built up now gone, they sank deeper and deeper – with only Odegaard and Nicolas Pepe registering average positions in the opposition half. As a result, they became more negative in their build-up play, often playing it back to Bernd Leno who hoofed long to the ineffective Alexandre Lacazette.
So what changed so dramatically to create such a regressive performance?
Well going into the game the Gunners found themselves without two key players.
The obvious players that spring to mind when saying this are the injured duo of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, who have been crucial to the positive turnaround since Christmas, but crucial to the all-important build-up play that was so poor against Liverpool are David Luiz and Granit Xhaka.
Despite being linked with moves to the Bundesliga this summer it seems as though the Swiss international looks set to stay in north London, where he has established himself as a crucial part of Arteta’s midfield alongside Thomas Partey.
Luiz’s future on the other hand is far less certain.
The former Chelsea defender’s contract is up at the end of the season with Arteta choosing to remain relatively non-committal so far when quizzed on the possibility of offering him a new deal.
He was out against Liverpool with a knee injury that is set to see him sidelined for the next few weeks. Curiously though by not playing, the Brazilian may well have put forward the best case imaginable for an extension into next campaign.
Luiz’s willingness to carry the ball out of defence and confidence to look to play forward instead of conservatively passing back was exactly what Arsenal lacked on Saturday.
On top of that, he also has the leadership qualities the Gunners needed on Saturday and is clearly adored by more or less the entirety of the squad who banded together on social media over the weekend to show support for the Brazilian after he underwent surgery.
All of this though does create a bit of a problem for Arteta going into next season.
Perhaps one of the biggest oversights of his managerial career so far has been the handling of the William Saliba situation.
The highly-rated young centre back arrived after his loan spell with St. Etienne in the summer and was expected to break through into the Arsenal first team after they had spent £27 million to sign him the season before.
Arteta however decided, due to fitness problems and his age, that he was not ready.
In itself, there was nothing wrong with this, but the failure to find him a loan move and subsequent decision to exile him from the senior squad while players like Shkodran Mustafi were given minutes in the Carabao Cup and Europa League meant the Frenchman ended up missing half a season of football at a crucial stage in his career development.
Now out temporarily away from north London again with Nice, the 20-year-old has shown exactly why the Gunners were so keen to sign him with a fine run of displays.
Saliba is expected to be reintegrated into the squad ahead of next campaign when this loan spell ends in June.
However, if Luiz is offered an extension then that could make it tricky for the youngster to get much game time yet again.
Arteta has previously outlined his vision for a squad containing “four to five” centre backs competing to drive each other on to ensure high standards.
It could be argued that Saliba could play the role of fifth choice centre-back if Luiz was given another year with Arsenal, but once again the Frenchman would find himself in the position of being forced to warm the bench at a time where he really needs to be learning his trade.
The dilemma for Arteta now is whether to go for the potential and promise the 20-year-old offers, or to stick with the leadership and playing out from the back ability that only Luiz brings among the Gunners’ defensive options.
This should not be mistaken for an argument that the Brazilian should be offered a new deal.
His record of receiving red cards and giving away penalties since he moved from west London to north are proof that he is far from the perfect player. It is also worth considering that he will be 34 by the end of this month.
In each football.london bulletin, we’ll bring you the latest breaking news, transfer features and comment pieces on your favourite club, as well as the key talking points for fans.
You won’t miss a thing – you’ll get all the news you need right to your inbox. We’ll also send special newsletters when big stories break or there’s a special event happening.
You can sign up for Arsenal updates here.
You can sign up for Chelsea updates here.
You can sign up for Tottenham updates here.
You can sign up for West Ham updates here.
But with his importance to the Arsenal squad it is easy to see why Arteta could be tempted to offer him another extension.
The fact that the Brazilian is now out for weeks may well make up the Gunners boss’ mind.
If Arsenal find a way to cope without him, then Luiz will likely be on his way. But if they continue to struggle like they did against Liverpool that may well pave the way for an extension that could damage Saliba’s future prospects at the Emirates.