Back in the dark, gloomy pits of April, I ran a brief series I called Fixing Arsenal, where I broke apart the squad and gave my thoughts on what wasn’t working and where they needed to be strengthened. I highlighted what can be agreed on as very obvious choices: Central Midfield, Central Defense and Center Forwards. Allowing for past history, I limited the choice down to two players, a DM and a CB, to be bought for the first team to fix the overall performance from Arsenal.
Given that, with the summer window now closed, I am very happy with the results.
In what might be considered as uncharacteristic, Wenger spent over £90m strengthening the squad and only seeing off one player permanently. Add in some reasonable decisions on loans, it was a very successful window and has me once more thinking very positively about Arsenal. No, there was no massive “world class” name brought in and no #Madness to close the window, but Wenger went about his business and targeted the very type of players many have been asking for. Overall, despite a few rumoured misses, it was a nearly perfect window for Arsenal’s needs.
Granit Xhaka (from Borussia Monchengladbach, ~£35m). While no huge splash was made, Xhaka is clearly the major signing of the summer. A fast, intelligent, good passing, strong defensive midfielder this team has been crying out for since Gilberto Silva. It’s been such a long term position of need, when the rumours began of his signing, it felt almost too good to be true. While the season is still young, already we are seeing some positive influence from the Swiss midfielder that a functioning midfield no longer feels like a dream. Add in a hopeful partnership with Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, and Arsenal have a midfield trio to rival just about anyone’s. (Not that Xhaka can’t play with any other the options quite easily, too.) These are heady times. This was a great signing.
Shkodran Mustafi (from Valencia, ~£35m). Athletic, no-nonsense centerback who looks like a young Per Mertesacker. Could a signing be anymore Arsenal? After a month long “he’s available, you want him, you don’t want him, he’s not available, OK, you buy him” saga, Arsenal added Mustafi at the tail end of the window. Mustafi looks to be a perfect partner for Koscielny, much like Mertesacker was, giving them a high quality top pairing at CB. If there are complaints, it is that this was needed weeks ago. With both Mertesacker and Gabriel out and Koscielny recovering from Euros, it was bare bones at the back... which never happens to Arsenal. (nervous laughter) But transfers take time and now with Mustafi here and Gabriel approaching fitness, the crisis should be averted. Another excellent signing.
Lucas Perez (from Deportivo la Coruna, ~17m). It came out of nowhere. Unless you were a fan of La Liga, you likely hadn’t heard of Lucas, as he toiled away potting a bagful of goals for the poor Deportivo side last year. This has led to criticism for signing a relative unknown who only seemed to put up good numbers last season. But, he’s quick, versatile and drawn comparisons to previous Arsenal interest Jamie Vardy; you know, the relative unknown who only seemed to put up good numbers last season and is English. Whether or not Lucas provides goals, he adds another pair of boots to the strikerforce that greatly needed them. A very solid signing.
Rob Holding (from Bolton, ~2m). A CB for the future? Well, he’s already played three games for Arsenal and acquitted himself quite well. It is likely that with the addition of Mustafi, Holding will be bumped down the pecking order but he should see time in secondary competitions and be available in case of injury cover. At a paltry 2m, the young Englishman is a shrewd bit of business that could end up paying huge dividends and sooner than we might have thought. Excellent bit of business.
Takuma Asano (from Sanfrecce Hiroshima, undisclosed). I’ll admit, I know nothing about Asano. He’s a striker, he’s 21, he played in the J-League and he’s now been loaned to Stuttgart. He’s a player for the future who might not become anything. But he had a good Olympics with Japan, so worth keeping an eye on. Neutral on this one.
Serge Gnabry (to Werder Bremen, ~£5m). The only out, the German winger was sold back to his homeland for a small transfer fee. It is a bit disappointing because Gnabry has shown glimpses of great play, albeit admit a rash of injuries. Finally healthy and coming off a great Olympics, it isn’t ideal to see him leave. But, there aren’t a lot of spots left on the team and, with his profile in Germany pretty high right now, it feels like the right move for Serge. It won’t be surprising to see him do well and then be sold to a bigger club in Germany, which given the reported sell-on clauses, will yield a little something more for Arsenal down the road. Not great, but understandable.
Jack Wilshere (loaned to Bournemouth). In what became an all encompasing, multi-post saga, The Wilsh was shipped out. Finally (knockwood) healthy, Jack looks at a squad full of fit and performing midfielders. So far down the pecking order, if he wanted playing time it was wait for three injuries or find a different club. Oddly, despite potential moves abroad to bigger clubs, Wilshere picked Bournemouth. Not sure how he’ll set up there, it seems obvious he’ll get his playing time. It’s now or never for Jack, let’s hope he made the right choice. A good move for bench-rooted Wilshere.
Calum Chambers (loaned to Middlesborough). The curious case of Chambers continues. While injuries to the backline appeared to open the door, Chambers was quickly passed over in favour of Koscielny-Holding. Now with Mustafi, he appeared to be the odd-man out and thus loaned out to find playing time. Whether this is buying time until a move opens the spot for Chambers to come into the first team full time or it is a step in the direction of moving out of the club, getting playing time is important for Calum, who struggled to find any last year. Though I am surprised, given his ability to play FB and CB that he wasn’t kept in place of a Debuchy, who likely still wants out. Still, the right move for Chambers.
Joel Campbell (loaned to Sporting CP). It only happened 10 days ago and I almost forgot about Joel. Another simple decision; he was behind Walcott (now a winger), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi and now Lucas as well. There wasn’t going to be time for Campbell and one would suspect there isn’t going to be any in the near future, either. I believe he’s on his way out so this is a good move for him. Best of luck, Joel.
Overall, four roster players in spread across the three areas of need, one departure and a rash of loans to keep younger players developing. Add in a few interesting youth buys, such as Nigerian wonderkid Kelechi Nwakali, this was a very productive window and has left Arsenal much stronger than they were last year.
If there is a complaint, the attacking wing opposite Alexis was also an area of worry. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t do much with their opportunities, leaving many calling for an upgrade and sale of one or both (yeah, me, too). Only when Iwobi came into his own, did the position look positive but it is a tall order to ask it of him for an entire season. Yet, I find myself pleased that Wenger remained patient. So far, Theo has looked very good on the wing, offensively and defensively. The Ox has had his usual flashes that makes us think he’ll turn the corner. If either player takes a step up in their game, Arsenal are stronger top to bottom. Maybe they aren’t contenders, but they’ve made strides in adding the players they needed to improve.
Now... if they can back it up with tactics, then they’re in business.