Where Should Arsenal Strengthen? by Will M
Victory in the Community Shield has provided the best possible curtain raiser for the upcoming Premier League season, and following on from the FA Cup success earlier in the month, it has given Arsenal fans, players and manager a boost in confidence for the challenges to come.
But Mikel Arteta will be under no illusions about the size of those challenges. An eighth-placed finish is simply unacceptable for a club of Arsenal’s stature, and while bookmakers are assuming they will improve on that finish in 2020-21, anyone placing a bet on the Gunners’ season at top betting sites will notice that they are still a long way short of the Premier League front runners.
If Pierre Emerick Aubameyang stays, one of Arteta’s biggest potential headaches will be eased, and the arrival of experienced forward Willian will further strengthen what is already one of the top front lines in the country, if not in Europe, even without the out-of-favour Mesut Ozil. The fact that Ashley Maitland-Niles has expressed his desire to stay at the club is also a big boost given his recent upsurge in form.
That will still leave a fair amount of rebuilding to be done, and it isn’t clear how much firepower Arteta will have at his disposal in the transfer market. Last summer, Stan Kroenke bankrolled the club’s net £118 million spend and he may not be willing to go to the same lengths this time round. The fact that the club laid off some of their scouting staff during the lockdown, apparently to save on wages, will also have worried many Arsenal fans.
At the same time, Arteta will be entitled to ask for the same level of support given to his predecessor, and the fact that he has already contributed two pieces of silverware to the Gunners trophy cabinet will be a strong argument in favour of his way of doing things. So what areas should Arsenal aim to strengthen as they try to return to the top four?
Some of the biggest performances so far under Arteta have come through playing a defensively-resilient, counter-attacking style. That was the gameplan that delivered a famous FA Cup Semi-Final victory over Manchester City and the win in the Final against Chelsea.
But Arteta is likely to want a more progressive style of football in the upcoming season, which will put more pressure on the defensive midfield areas of the team, and the failure of Matteo Guendouzi to establish himself, together with uncertainty over the Arsenal futures of Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka, means Arteta could be looking to add players in this area. Amadou Diawara could be an ideal signing but Lille’s Boubakary Soumare is another interesting possibility.
The eclipse of Ozil has left Arsenal short of playmaking options in the centre of the pitch, and while Willian will add some creativity to the front line, it is likely that Arteta will be looking for midfielders and attacking midfielders who can run the game in the way that De Bruyne does for Manchester City.
Suggestions earlier in the summer that the Gunners could be looking at Thiago Alcantara or Philippe Coutinho came to nothing, and we have to assume that speculation about Lionel Messi arriving in north London is wishful thinking.
But while Arteta may not be able to get a Messi or a De Bruyne, there are some potential options for him to consider. Thomas Partey would be just the dominant presence that the Arsenal midfield has lacked since the days of Patrick Vieira, but his release clause must be triggered if he is to join the team and the Gunners may be reluctant to do that so another option could be the talented and versatile attacking midfielder Houssem Aouar, currently of Lyon, who could slot into a variety of positions.
On paper, Arsenal would appear to have the goalkeeping position locked down, but back-up keeper Emiliano Martinez’s impressive performances have drawn the attention of a number of clubs, and Martinez may not be prepared to drop back down to the bench when Bernd Leno returns.
The extent of Leno’s lay-off is not yet known, so the Argentine is likely to start the season between the sticks, but the prospect that Martinez might leave gives Arteta another issue to resolve, although the club will be determined to get every penny of the £20 million they believe Martinez is worth. David Raya of Brentford has been suggested as a possible solution to this problem.
There is no underestimating the size of the challenge facing Arteta, but he has already given Arsenal fans plenty to cheer about, and if the club can make the right moves in the transfer market, 2021 could be the year when the Gunners return to the top four where they belong…