Arsenal’s summer transfer window started rather brightly. The swift add of Sead Kolasinac filled a glaring need in the wing/fullback position. Then rumours of massive deals among some of the better talent in the French league had everyone dreaming of a spendthrift Arsene Wenger, ready to take a massive swing at a League title. (Even if we really didn’t believe it.) While Mbappe always felt like a fantasy, they still landed the very capable Alexandre Lacazette, providing a much needed boost in attack to compliment the skill of Olivier Giroud, who’s staying, and Alexis Sanchez, who appears to be... for now.
And then nothing.
Rumours, bids, supposed deals have come to naught, with just the two additions to go with a handful of departures. While the additions are important, it’s hard to shake that the side is greatly improved to the point where a challenge seems as unlikely as last season.
With only a week remaining to improve their squad, here’s a look at what Arsenal could do to improve those chances (of course, knowing that much of this likely has to be in the works already):
Sell, Sell, Sell
Arsenal are a big squad. There’s actually a lot of depth at most positions. However, that depth isn’t exactly good and Wenger has shown a massive reluctance to rotate a great deal, leaving many players on the fringe. Players like Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Debuchy and Jack Wilshere were all once thought as first team options but, for various reasons, now are expensive training partners. Only a plague of injuries (knock on wood) would bring any of them into the squad long term and doing so really ends any credible threat Arsenal might have.
With bigger re-signings coming down the road, in the likes of Mesut Ozil and (hopefully) Alexis, Arsenal actually need to start thinking of clearing the “deadweight”, now. Some of this has taken the form of loans of Carl Jenkinson and Emiliano Martinez and the bizarre sales of the useful Wojceich Szczesny and Gabriel Paulista, but more needs to be done for the future.
The challenge is that few of these players have huge value on the market, nor are likely to get playing time at the level they would like. Unlike other players on the cusp of the team, like Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the interest probably isn’t there. Most of these contracts are running out but if Arsenal could manage a way to clean up some space soon than that, it would be in their best interest.
Who are your centerbacks, Wenger?
The big talk from the Stoke Debacle really came down to where Arsenal’s CBs were. Per Mertesacker was on the bench. Laurent Koscielny was suspended. Rob Holding dropped. Cal Chambers left out of Wenger’s brain. The backline of Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal and Shkrodan Mustafi was poor, to the point that the boss even said so despite it being his own choice.
So who are your CBs?
Clearly, the return of Koscielny will be the center of what will likely continue to be a back three. But should he get suspended (it happens) or hurt (KNOCK ON WOOD), Arsenal have a big question at the heart of their defense. Does Mertesacker have a lot in him in his supposedly final season? Does Wenger trust turning the team over to the younger Holding or Chambers? Do they need another body after selling on Gabriel?
The confusion around the lineup is a very worrying sign this early. Summer of 2017 was not a major international competition season for most and not starting with a set first XI can sew doubts in much of the squad. Wenger did himself no favours by not committing to Mustafi’s future in a press conference earlier today either. The future of Arsenal’s defense seems very up in the air.
Logic would dictate with the established young talents of Holding, Chambers, Mustafi and youth players like Krystian Beilik, the time to pair them with the older stalwarts of Per, Kos and Nacho is now. Smooth out their game to be the next leaders. But that is at odds with the push to convince expiring contracts, Wenger’s included, that Arsenal are a team set to challenge for top of the table. In the end, if Wenger wants to go for it, adding in a new, top defender at the heart of the defense would appear to be the more urgent move, even if it costs losing one of the younger players.
With rumours of Virgil van Dijk starting to heat up, their may be some truth to it.
Add a creative midfielder
Announce Thomas Lemar! Excellent, done.
The long, drawn out chase for Lemar seemed to be the right move for Arsenal, adding the attacking winger to take pressure of of Ozil’s creative need. The likes of Giroud, Lacazette and Alexis will get you your goals, sometimes out of nothing, but still rely heavily the vision of Ozil. Granit Xhaka helps, providing from deep, but needs to also be defensive. Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Oxlaide-Chamberlain all contribute but each have their own flaws and injury histories. Santi Cazorla still needs to prove to me that he has a two functioning legs.
Adding a creative player, either wing or central midfield, is an important deficit that Wenger need to fill. Especially given the doubts over the future of Alexis, Ozil and even the Ox. With Monaco closing the door, it is unlikely that such a player will emerge unless Arsenal return to previous deals and up offers or renegotiate. Time is short and this feels like another season of heavy reliance on the big two names in attack.