The WSL transfer window closed last Thursday, and Arsenal finished the window off by adding midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross. That Arsenal were able to add a player of that quality despite the Champions League exit the previous weekend shows that in the short term, the loss of the Champions League won’t be devastating to Arsenal’s reputation.
All in all, Arsenal made five signings, with three players—Cooney-Cross, Laia Codina, and Alessia Russo—are younger than 25. Amanda Ilestedt and Cloe Lacassé are both 30, with Ilestedt likely to replace Leah Williamson while the England captain steps up her recovery from an ACL rupture, and Lacassé adding to Arsenal’s attack. In addition, while Cooney-Cross is making her first move to an elite club, Codina, Russo, and Cooney-Cross are all joining having had good World Cups. They are both players for the future and players for now.
Indeed, the most intriguing signing of the summer might be Codina. In some sense, she is somewhat unknown; she was behind Mapi Léon at Barcelona, who played every significant game for club and is the best left centre back in the world. She only came into the Spanish defence at the World Cup in the knockout round—a position she was able to fill because Mapi Léon remained on strike during the World Cup (a position for which she should take full credit). If Codina can show her qualities and develop at Arsenal, she could, despite being right-footed, cement the left centre back role following the departure of Rafaelle. If she can’t, or the pairing between either her and Ilestedt, or her and Lotte Wubben-Moy, Arsenal might have to move to a back three.
But the most significant move is Alessia Russo’s arrival from Manchester United. This is important for multiple reasons. Firstly, it’s Arsenal flexing their muscles. Traditionally, in the women’s game, Arsenal are frankly a bigger club than Manchester United. They have a history and pedigree, most of which came when Manchester United didn’t have a women’s team in existence. Secondly, this is a striker that Jonas Eidevall targetted and wanted. Russo is not only going to score goals, but she’s going to lead the line. She’s a physical presence in the penalty box but she is also capable of linking with the midfield with quick combination play and hold up play.
We can project Russo as starting most Arsenal games, with a possible dovetail with Stina Blackstenius. For Arsenal’s other signings, it’ll be dependent. While Amanda Ilestedt and Laia Codina have the inside track on starting at centre back, Lotte Wubben-Moy is also going to want to win a starting role, with this perhaps her best chance at grasping a permanent starting position at Arsenal. But Arsenal’s signings this summer have developed the squad as a whole, giving Jonas Eidevall a chance to genuinely rotate his side and make changes week to week. With Arsenal out of the Champions League, it means the Gunners should be strong in May. How quickly they gel as a team will go some way to deciding what they’re fighting for in May.