Two new CMs, a GK, an AM, a LB, a RB... Do Arsenal Have too Much to do this Summer?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Substantially underdelivering on your expectations comes with inevitable calls for a widespread rebuild. For Arsenal, these calls have been widely vocal for some time now. Years of underperformance have led to significant changes around the club, but the so called squad overhall has never really taken shape. This, probably being indicative of an industry in which such drastic staff turnovers are very rare, and very difficult to pull off effectively.
Nevertheless, the noise around the club this summer appears to be that Arsenal are serious about replacing and upgrading several areas of the squad. Some close to London Colney are claiming those within are dubbing it an 'Arsenal Revolution'. After finishing 8th for two consecutive seasons and with the heat on the ownership being turned up in recent months, there does appear to be an acceptance that major change and at least some level of investment is required to reverse the club's declining fortunes.
As the Athletic reported a few weeks ago, the list of areas the club are keen to address does look pretty extensive. Edu and co. are supposedly targeting the following:
A new number one Goalkeeper.
A back-up Goalkeeper.
A right-sided central defender.
A back-up left-back.
Two central midfielders.
A creative midfielder.
Potentially a striker.
This list does look rather exhaustive and perhaps completing every single component of the checklist is somewhat ambitious. There is growing impatience online at our lack of business up to this point, although we must contextualise this with the lack of business in the entire market thus far. The window does tend to kick into action in the opening weeks of July, so if things don't start moving along by then, our concerns will be fully justified.
Ideally, Arsenal would keep hold of Bernd Leno this Summer, with the German shot-stopper far from the biggest problem in our side last season, despite suffering from a dip of form in the penultimate months of the campaign. However, uncertainty over his commitment to the club has provoked a rethink, and Arsenal may be sparked into action sooner than planned, targeting their long-term effective distributor Andre Onana sooner than expected. The issue around the Cameroonian's drug ban has now been somewhat resolved, so expect movement in this area in the coming weeks.
As for who will deputise the number one, there have been strong rumours that Arsenal will settle for Mat Ryan on a permanent basis. However, conflicting reports have circulated that Arsenal remain insistent on acquiring a homegrown option who will provide serious long-term competition to the number one, with David Raya and Freddie Woodman the most highly touted. Considering the sizeable amount of work we have to do this summer, opting for the cheaper and less complicated deal in Ryan feels smarter to me.
At right-back, Arsenal's needs are emphatic. Since Mikel Arteta came to the club in late 2019, he's never really settled on a consistent starter in this position, possibly feeling as though those at his disposal don't possess the skillset required to operate as the inverted full-back he deploys in his system. The Spaniard was never fully convinced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles there, hence his exclusion from the squad in the second half of the season, meanwhile Hector Bellerin has never really recovered from his injury, and now finds himself below Calum Chambers in the pecking order. His loss of pace, insecurity on the ball and poor positional play now sees him surplus to requirements, and for all parties involved, a move appears likely and most probably needed.
Chambers is not considered the long-term solution in this area, whilst Cedric Soares now finds himself third in the pecking order in both full-back areas, despite being brought in to supposedly cover both. Few concrete links to right-backs have circulated as of yet, but surely this will be an area that comes close to the top of Arsenal's priorities.
At centre-back, there appears to be a divide between what the fans want and what the club wants. The notorious William Saliba continues to be ostracised from the team, with Arteta seemingly resistant to committing to the 19-year-old and obsessed with the idea of a new ball-playing right-footed centre-back. £27 million is a huge sum of money for a club of Arsenal's finances, and simply dismissing such an outlay spent on a potential weapon seems foolish. Regardless, Arsenal will bring in a central defender this window, and it appears increasingly likely that that player will be Brighton's Ben White.
White will certainly fill the passing and ball-carrying void left by David Luiz, which will aid Arsenal in their often ponderous ball progression, but question marks have to be raised over the decision to splash £45+ million on another centre-back. Whilst we already have Saliba waiting in the wings, we also possessed one of the league's better defences last season. Should another defender really be the priority?
While there's debate around our need for a central defender, a left-back to deputise Kieran Tierney is absolutely essential. The Scotsman's imperativeness to our system and the way we attack makes him indispensable, and we currently have no-one that can replicate what he does (unless we move Saka there, which none of us really want to). Tierney's injury record means it's very possible he'll miss 5-10 games next season, so without Granit Xhaka to slot in there and Sead Kolasinac likely to depart, it's vital we address this issue. Whether we go for an experienced option, such as Ryan Bertrand, or a younger player who can compete with Tierney in the long-term, such as Hibernian's Josh Doig, remains to be seen.
With the potential outlay on White so radical, this could mean the club's resources are far less restricted than it was first assumed. This idea is seemingly backed up by the amount of work we are rumoured to be prepared to do on our central midfield. Granit Xhaka is supposedly closing in on a switch to Jose Mourinho's Roma, which will leave a huge void in this position. Dani Ceballos has returned to Madrid, whilst both Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny will miss an entire month next season due to AFCON. If Xhaka's departure does come to fruition, we will need at least two additions in this area.
Anderlecht's Albert Sambi Lokonga would appear to be the first of the two that will come in, with personal terms purportedly agreed last week. A fee of around £17 million is expected to be agreed, filling the ball progression void left by Xhaka, with additional mobility and superior defensive output. As for the second player, Arsenal are reportedly looking for a Premier League proven player who is in a slightly older age bracket to the 21-year-old Lokonga, but can still develop and maintain resale value. Despite links to Eduardo Camavinga caveating that, the stronger links remain to the likes of Yves Bissouma, Ruben Neves and Sander Berge.
Perhaps Arsenal's most pressing concern is their need to recruit a creative midfielder. Despite the emergence of Emile Smith Rowe, the burden cannot be placed entirely on the 20-year-old and with links to James Maddison and Houssem Aouar circulating, the club recognises that. Arteta's side finished 9th in the expected goals for table in the 20/21 season, so creating high quality chances is clearly a big issue, even if we improved in this aspect in the second half of the campaign. Having missed out on Emi Buendia, likely to be priced out of a move for Maddison and now unlikely to acquire Martin Odegaard permanently, Aouar may represent the most realistic target.
The final piece on Arsenal's comprehensive list is a striker. This very much depends on the futures of Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah, both of whom are expected to leave the club this summer. If this is to transpire, Arsenal may dip into the market, with both Alexander Isak and Andre Silva linked of late, but there is a feeling around the club that Arsenal will sacrifice this position in favour of others, and rely on a mixture of Folarin Balogun and Gabriel Martinelli to cover for the ageing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Sacrificing a number of these targets may be a realisation Arsenal come to as the weeks progress in this window. Signing this many players in one window is very rare, and when it does happen, it often doesn't see the team hit the ground running (i.e Spurs after they sold Bale and Everton when they signed 14 number tens under Koeman a few years ago). Additionally, such drastic rebuilds normally require a major sale to fund (Bale, Coutinho, Lukaku) and Arsenal only really possess one player who would qualify for this in Bukayo Saka, and there's no doubt there would be huge reluctance to sanction a deal for the Englishman.
Essentially, it all just feels a bit unrealistic. Targeting 3/4 of these 9 areas and making major upgrades in these positions could be more feasible, and perhaps more sustainable. Making sure we move players on for relatively good fees is also almost as important. Without Europe next season, we can trim our squad, so we might as well take advantage of this.
Remember, this isn't career mode.