By Sumaiya Vawda
Yesterday Arsenal announced their second summer arrival, Fabio Vieira. And just as his announcement was pre-empted by creative word-play on Twitter, the club’s transfer strategy had been visible to the curious eye from the outset.
In a recent interview Edu summarised that, “We have to go to the market and sign exciting players with the right age, attitude, mentality.” That statement should clear any confusion on Gary Neville’s part- Arsenal are acquiring players based on set principles that are explained below.
Younger players are still a key target demographic as noted in the acquisitions of Marquinhos and Vieira. Here, a talent has been plucked before too many other clubs decided to pry him away from Porto. However, in Gabriel Jesus and Youri Tielemans, Arsenal have also been linked with players closer to their prime years with more of a track record.
Principles of play
An interesting emergence is a pattern of coaches behind the players Arsenal are targeting. Jesus would arrive with the full Pep Guardiola education pre-installed. Fabio Vieira has risen under the tutelage of Sérgio Conceição. The Porto manager is known for implementing an aggressive pressing structure and encouraging quick, short passing when in possession.
Transfer target, Raphinha, was introduced to the Premier League by Marcelo Bielsa whose Leeds’ side enthralled offensively in the 2020/2021 season. Defensive reinforcements could arrive in the form of Lisandro Martinez. The Argentinian plays in a high-line under Erik ten Hag and occupies fluid positions as the game dictates. A strong emphasis on positional play, high pressing and ball retention is evident amongst the managers behind rumoured targets.
Remember when Wenger had Hleb, Rosicky, Fabregas, Nasri & co. to rotate into multiple offensive roles during a match and each was able to hold his own in any of those zones of the pitch? Arteta may be starting his own collection of technically adept players to plug and play in his system. In the summer of 2020, Arteta rued his lack of quality creative midfield options saying of the likes of Cazorla and Wilshere, “There are no such people in the club now. We must resume this cycle, because otherwise there will be no more such players at Arsenal.”
While the club happened upon two academy gems in Saka and Smith Rowe, incomings of Ødegaard, Partey and Vieira depict a reversion to an Arsenal way of old.
An element that goes alongside technical security is speed of reading the game. This ensures that stable possession or transitions can be turned into chances. In Fabio Vieira, the Gunners have one of Liga Portugal’s strongest providers of attack value. Lisandro Martinez’s key strengths include his passing range and dynamism in receiving the ball. If Tielemans is added to Arteta’s cavalry, he will bring a vision for laser through balls which have caught out Arsenal’s defender’s on more than one occasion. Brazilian Raphinha has sound shooting and set-piece technique to lend to the group.
Arsenal fans can breathe easier that if Martin Ødegaard strains a muscle, the formation need not be changed. Vieira can assume the role while he can also contribute as a wide forward. Martinez is on the club’s radar as he can cover centre-back, left-back or even defensive midfield. Belgian Tielemans can be employed as an 8 or in the pivot, while Raphinha has played on both flanks. This flexibility of players will improve the spread of minutes played in the squad and offers the manager multiple solutions to injury concerns or low-block defences.
This is one of those intangibles that are difficult to measure yet when it seems to be lacking, it’s all anyone can discuss. Arteta’s leading by non-negotiables led to the axing of Özil, Guendouzi and Aubameyang amongst others. The players being targeted this summer belong to the champions of England, Portugal and Netherlands. There is something to be said of know-how in the most intense moments that decide titles. Players like Jesus and Raphinha will be highly motivated to make an impact that earns them a World Cup call-up ahead of other Brazilian attackers. Additionally, the re-signing of Eddie Nketiah displays the emphasis on attitude; the Englishman could have downed tools due to the lack of playing time last season but instead applied himself in training to a level that warranted Arteta’s public praise.
Transfers are a swarm of uncertainty. The likeliness of them proving value can be heightened by buying to an intelligent strategy. Arsenal seem to have a solid foundation of principles guiding their business which should hold the club in good stead when the transfer window shoots out curveballs.