Wenger Signings: The Last Two Years
We’re a fan base who were often accused of getting on Arsene Wenger’s back too much when he was here. The sentiment from fans of other clubs is that he made us who we are, and we should just have been glad to have him until whenever he chose to retire. They’re also very keen to point out that he generally kept us within the top four, and that there were years that we were unlucky to miss out on major honors.
Personally, I don’t think we were really pushing for him to go that hard until his final two seasons. It was those two years that pushed us over the edge. It was those two years which saw us humiliated by larger teams, and nudged out of the Champions League running. And it was those two years that saw Wenger, a man who’d spend a career personifying himself as the man who never panics, start to make some strange moves in the transfer market.
His last two years in charge brought us nine notable new signings. Here’s how they stack up.
Takuma Asano – Bought from Sanfrecce Hiroshima, 3.5m, July 2016
This is a signing I’d describe as ‘peak Wenger’. It’s a striker nobody’s heard of, bought ‘for the future’ despite being 21 when we bought him, and he’s never played a competitive minute for the club. In fact, the only thing I can say about him with any confidence is that his name sounds like a famous song from the Lion King. We desperately needed a reliable new striker back in July 2016. Asano never looked likely to be the answer.
Asano in fact turned out to be so poorly thought of by UEFA and the Home Office that we couldn’t even get him a work permit. He’s spent his entire Arsenal career to date out on loan in Germany playing for Hannover and Stuttgart, where as a forward he’s racked up a miserable seven goals in 45 league appearances. “One for the future?” One for the bin, more like.
Granit Xhaka – Bought from Borussia M’gladbach, 40m, July 2016
I’m going to tread carefully on this and say that Xhaka has somewhat split the crowd since he arrived in London. We wanted a combative midfielder with leadership qualities, and we got one – when he feels like playing the role.
Whilst there are a number of Arsenal fans who’d like to see Xhaka given the armband permanently, there are an equal number who feel we’re yet to see the best of the enigmatic Swiss. Emery might just be the man to solve the problem.
Rob Holding – Bought from Bolton, £2.6m, July 2016
This is one that I’d like to apologize to Wenger about! Like Asano, Rob Holding seemed a textbook Wenger signing. Young, from a club a level beneath us, with no proven pedigree or reputation.
In the two years since, Holding has matured into a confident centre back who looks at home in the first eleven, and will probably go on to represent England. That’s the issue with signing kids, sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re not. It’s like playing at a vip casino where you never know what’s going to come up.
Lucas Perez – Bought from Dep la Coruna, £17.5m, August 2016
Oh dear. This was where the rot seemed to set in. We’d been chasing a world class striker all summer, and had the door slammed in our face everywhere we looked. All we’d picked up was Takuma Asano, and he didn’t have a work permit. In what looked like panic then, and looks even worse now, we went for Lucas Perez.
Perez was 28, and coming off the back of a good season with Deportivo, but it was the only good season of his career in terms of goal to game ratio. He never looked like he belonged at Arsenal, and made only eleven league appearances. The next season he was back with Deportivo on loan, but couldn’t recapture his form. Now he suffers the indignity of playing for West Ham.
Shkodran Mustafi – Bought from Valencia, £35m, August 2016
When Wenger bought in Mustafi and Holding over the summer of 2016, he probably didn’t expect Holding to be the one who got the most love from Arsenal fans. However a recent poll suggested 82% of us would rather see Rob starting games than Shkodran.
Mustafi is a weird one. When you buy a German international centreback, you expect consistency and discipline. He doesn’t always demonstrate it. He’s also got a funny turn of phrase on social media which makes you wonder how committed he truly is. He’s another one worth keeping, but Emery is probably watching him very closely. Thumbs in the middle.
Alexandre Lacazette – Bought from Lyon, £50m, July 2017
Lacazette was supposed to be the player who turned Arsenal around. He ticked all the ‘textbook Wenger’ boxes – i.e. he was young, French and fast, and had a proven track record scoring goals in a competitive European division. Big things were expected of him in his first season. They largely didn’t come.
That may not have been his fault. The team seemed to be capitulating around him at times last year, and so far this term he’s looked a different player. Emery didn’t seem to fancy him at first, dropping him to the bench for the first three games of the season, but since coming back into the team he’s looked a sharper man.
Konstantinos Mavropanos – Bought from Giannina, £2m, January 2018
I think Arsene had just stopped caring at this point. A 20 year old Greek centre back who’d never even made the Greek national team? What chance was he ever going to have of establishing himself? Why did we buy him?
In fairness to him, he made three appearances under Wenger and looked pretty handy, but it’s easy to do that when you’re 5-0 up against Burnley. He’s yet to make a single first team appearance under Emery, and hasn’t even featured regularly for the reserves. I think that says it all.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Bought from Man Utd in a swap deal, January 2018
Not many of us wanted to see this deal go through at the time, because it meant losing Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez may have wanted out, but he was also the best player we had at that time. How quickly things change.
Mkhitaryan may only have shown us glimpses of what he can do so far, but his developing partnership with Aubameyang gives me plenty of reason to be hopeful. Probably more hopeful than Manchester United fans are about what they got in return.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Bought from Borussia Dortmund, £56m, January 2018
Oh Arsene. You saved the best for last. Knowing his time at the club was running out, and he’d probably only get to make one more major signing, Arsene bought us a present for the future. The striker we’ve needed for years.
His goal to game ratio is sublime, he creates as much as he scores, and he already looks like he’s been part of the Arsenal team for years. This is the signing that we hope Emery has sent Arsene a thank you card and a basket of flowers for. If we’d got him a season or two earlier, though, Wenger may never have had to go at all!