With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Arsenal’s upcoming 2018/19 season.
Bernd Leno, GK. Sokratis, CB. Stephan Lichtsteiner, RB. Lucas Torreira, CDM. Matteo Guendouzi, CM.
(Notable) Loan Returns:
Joel Campbell, RW. Lucas Perez, ST. Carl Jenkinson, RB.
Santi Cazorla, CM. Jack Wilshere, CM. Per Mertesacker, CB.
Net Spend: –£70.20m
In summers gone by, Arsenal have often been accused of leaving their business until too late. The same cannot be said of this years transfer window. The end of Arsene Wenger’s 22 year reign has brought a new sense of urgency, with heir to the throne Unai Emery looking to put his own stamp on the team.
The blue print has been clear to see immediately. Arsenal have had no trouble scoring goals for years now, however their defensive troubles have been well documented, regularly proving to be their Achilles heel in any title challenge. As a result, their attack has largely remained untouched. The new manager has immediately identified positions of weakness’ in the squad, aiming to strengthen the spine of the team with his three major signings.
Emery will be hoping £18m arrival Bernd Leno will finally give the team a long term solution at the keeper position, with Petr Cech’s age beginning to show at what has historically been a problem position for them. After over 100 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, Sokratis will be expected to slot straight in to the centre of defence to provide an experienced partner to any of their three young options, (likely Mustafi, aged 26), whilst first choice Lauren Koscielny recovers from injury. After appearing in all five games for Uruguay at this World Cup, 22 year old Lucas Torreira did not come cheap in his move from Sampdoria. The tenacious midfielder has been targeted to provide the bite in that position Arsenal have so sorely lacked, whilst his simple passing game should allow him to fit in to the club’s famous style of play. In a more under the radar move, experienced right back Stephan Lichtsteiner was signed after his deal with Juventus expired. Hector Bellerin has done nothing to suggest he will lose his place, with Lichtsteiner likely brought in to provide depth and tutelage to his younger counter part.
The price tags also tell their own story about Arsenal’s long term goals. Whilst this is a team who clearly want to make immediate improvements to be competitive now, the larger fees have been reserved strictly for younger players. Whether or not it goes to plan is another thing, but the club will have desires for Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira and France u20 Matteo Guendouzi to make contributions for well over 5 years.
Arsenal have been criticised in the past for focusing on young talent ahead of ready made established players, but on this occasion the time is right for the club to rebuild. Back in January I wrote about why the Gunners should focus their efforts on young players here. This current squad isn’t equipped to compete for a title, so building the next great Arsenal team has to be the aim.
Rarely do Arsenal have their main business wrapped up so early, so going forward there is little else to expect. Depending on their evaluation of Sead Kolasinac, a younger option at left back may be a potential move to make, with perhaps some smaller dealings on the edges still to come. That aside, anticipate improvement to come from within. With less emphasis to win right away, alongside added Europa League fixtures, more opportunities should be given to the likes of Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Mustafi has an opportunity to show he can replace Koscielny, Iwobi must take the next step and Bellerin can stake a claim to be a top full back in the division.
The majority of Arsenal’s remaining transfer business should be outgoings as they look to balance the books. Defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny could be deemed surplus to requirements, whilst returning loan players Carl Jenkinson, Joel Campbell, Emiliano Martinez and Lucas Perez appear to have no place at the club. With all four players at the prime of their career, they will likely want their long term futures secured at a club who will utilize their talents better.
Compete for 4th place whilst blooding through younger players, hope for a breakout star. Cup run either in Europe/domestic.
My (way too early) Prediction: 6th
An attacking tandem of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil and Mkhitaryan with Ramsey supporting will keep them in the race for Champions League football as the younger players behind them develop. However, whilst clearly a level above the teams below them, the top five teams should be able to outlast them. That said, a successful season could still be had without a top 4 finish. A good cup run, visible improvement on the pitch and a number of young players showing promise whilst the club gets back on its feet would constitute a good season for Arsenal.