It's that time of year again: when football's attention turns away from the pitch and toward the boardroom. And yet, to look at the papers and blogs, the action is no less dramatic... just a lot more drawn out.
By this time last year, Arsenal had already signed one player - Lukas Podolski - and rumors were rife that a move for Olivier Giroud was in the works. Once again, the Club have been linked with more than a dozen players and are widely expected to let a few squad players leave.
But this summer the biggest difference is that Arsenal are thought to be "reloading" instead of "rebuilding." Rather than losing key players and searching for replacements, Arsène Wenger will be looking to complement his squad with the right personnel to make a push for the league title.
But what kind of player might Arsenal bring in? We turned to our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to get their views on what Arsenal's needs are this summer, and which players we should take a closer look at.
Question: What positions do Arsenal need to shore up this summer and what do you think should be Arsenal's top priority for the off-season?
Arsène Wenger did a fantastic job rebuilding his team after two consecutive summers where the club’s talismanic captain demanded to a trade. And now that he has an excellent core of footballers who play a balance of attacking and defensive football the job this summer is simply to add a few remaining pieces and hopefully push on to the next level. Those pieces, for me, are a forward, a midfielder, and a keeper.
All three can be seen as somewhat controversial; Arsène did buy two forwards last season, re-signed Theo Walcott to a long-term deal, Arteta and Cazorla are two of the best midfielders in the League, Wilshere and Ramsey are coming on very strong, and Szczesny is a fan favorite. But hear me out.
Arsenal could lose at least three players this summer: Arshavin, Squillaci, and Fabianski. Not only that but Arteta is now 31 years old and while his hair remains timeless, his legs can’t possibly continue forever at the pace he sets on them.
Podolski, Giroud, and Walcott are a formidable front three but toward the end of the season when Giroud was suspended and Podolski looked a bit run-down, the squad struggled at times to score goals and so for depth’s sake alone I would like to see another forward brought in. Jackson Martinez of Porto is rumored to be an Athletico Madrid target to replace the outgoing Falcao and I would love to see him come in and push for a starting spot among the Arsenal attack. He’s pacy, powerful, scores goals from headers, and puts away some goals that would make every Arsenal fan drool.
In midfield, Arsène has done a fantastic job with Aaron Ramsey and Arteta this season as both have switched their style to accommodate Santi Cazorla’s rampaging through opposition defenses. Still, the only natural replacement for either is Jack Wilshere and he’s more inclined to play like the number on the back of his shirt than as a true 6 or 8. I’ve banged the gong for Gonalons before and I think he would make an impressive addition to the Arsenal midfield. He’s a powerful midfielder who rivals Arteta for his surety in the pass, his discipline, and his defensive ability and he would make a great understudy.
And finally, keeper. Szczesny is a long-time Gooner and I love him for it so I wouldn’t call for him to be replaced. But replacing a player and providing him with competition/backup for his spot are two different things. And with Fabianski possibly leaving, Arsenal need a legitimate second goalkeeper. I like Simon Mignolet from Sunderland who is not only a good keeper but seems a class act.
Would those signings provide Arsenal with enough depth to cope with all four competitions? This is the most vexing question of the summer. The players who are out of contract must be replaced. That means I suspect Arsenal will look to strengthen center back as Squillaci’s time looks up. Swansea’s Ashley Williams would be a fantastic signing here as he is the kind of cerebral defender who reads the game well (tops the League in blocked shots, is 6th in interceptions, and 4th in clearances) and already plays on a team which demands passing perfection.
I’ve also already tipped my hand on this question as far as forwards and keepers go in the above segment. But after that I’m at a bit of a loss for this question of depth because it depends so much on which players are staying or leaving. For example, I really want Bacary Sagna to finish his career at Arsenal but if he goes then another top fullback has to be found to give Jenkinson a run for the starting spot. I could go down the virtual list of players and make similar recommendations but so much depends on who is staying and who is going that it seems a fool’s errand almost.
When I talk about the Arsenal squad I always look at the strengths, make sure that is at least maintained and then I focus on adding. Of course in FIFA I do all of that in the course of one afternoon… First priority is maintaining the good end of season defensive record. Sagna, though not his best season, needs to be retained in a manner that provides stability for this season at a bare minimum. While we talk about the defence let’s do what all Arsenal fans and pundits do so well, compare players with legends. Mertesacker is my Bould, Koscielny my Adams and Vermaelen my Keown. Now that I’ve said my defensive piece Arsenal need some other players.
A central striker is crucial. Podolski is a player I count amongst Arsenal’s wingers (Gervinho, Walcott and for now Oxlade-Chamberlain until he’s converted to a midfielder). I am not going to name players, it’s not my style and I do not have my finger on the pulse of world football to know who the next great striker would be. We just have to determine if we want someone to replace Giroud in the starting XI or someone to be Olivier’s understudy.
Tim’s comments on a keeper are spot on, but I disagree on the person he wants to bring in. I would actually look across London at Julio Cesar. He’s gifted, ageing, and wants to be on in the spotlight. Even Rob Green would good, he will not want to play second fiddle in the Championship. Ali Al-Habsi would be good too for me. That said, depending on the remaining years in Mannone’s contract, this could all be moot as Wenger will have to spend the summer with the other coaches to find some youth keepers. James Shea, Reice Charles-Cook and perhaps Lukas Fabianski will be gone, the system is a little bare. Look for players to come via the Netherlands or Germany where top keepers seem to be bred these days.
The midfield is a conundrum depending on the systems that Wenger decides to employ. If he chooses to play Jack and Santi then I think Arsenal will rely heavily on the player standing in front of the back four and it pushes Ramsey out of the starting XI. If Arteta is injured or suspended then Arsenal really have nobody to fill the role. Rosicky is a good tackler, but he cannot be relied on to fill such a deep defensive role. Does Arsène opt for an expensive acquisition for this place (I’m still mad we missed out on Javi Martinez), or does he go for a bargain basement acquisition in M’Vila?
To be a contender in the four competitions you need to have a bonafide starting XI, the team that takes points against the top clubs in England. If one or two people are injured, suspended or rotated then you need to have some good understudies who are knocking on the door. Adding a top striker and squad players I think is the right move for the club. Arsenal’s midfield is solid, the defence is quite strong (provided Sagna and Vermaelen are retained); so adding support for Arteta is the way to go.
I realize that I have straddled the fence in my response, but I like where the current squad is headed and with the managerial changes across the Premier League I am optimistic going into this season. Everyone needs to put in a top notch season to get to the title, but with a new top striker and good support at defensive midfield Arsenal should have all they need to move up a spot or two next season. Maybe Arsenal can pip Lukaku from Chelsea, I’d like that.
After reading this question, I looked back on my previous responses to similar questions in the past. It’s quite easy to pick out trends emerging from the past couple of transfer windows. Last summer, the shopping list included a goalkeeper, a proper No. 9, a defensive midfielder or center back and a winger. The January shopping list included a center forward and a defensive midfielder.
This transfer window sees the re-occurrence of the need for a defensive midfielder who can take over duties from Arteta. Tim brings up a very good point about the Spaniard. He has been excellent this past season but unfortunately he is not getting any younger (his hair can be quite deceiving!). Although it will be difficult to match Arteta’s class and experience in any young signing, it will be important for the club to find someone who is as disciplined and dynamic enough to work with Cazorla, Ramsey and Wilshere.
The need for a center forward is one that has also carried over from the January transfer window. The manager has done well to spread the responsibility between recent signings Giroud, Podolski and Walcott but at times during the season we looked short of options up front. We don’t need to sign another “big” name in this position (although I would be absolutely ecstatic if the club announced that we signed Higuain tomorrow) but it would be amazing if we made a signing who could make an instant impact much like Michu did for Swansea.
I believe in the importance of rotation and for rotation to even be an option, the squad needs to be balanced and there has to be a like-for-like replacement in each position. If we are losing numbers with Chamakh, Djourou and Squillaci expected to leave, I think the club should look to find replacements for them. I have always been a fan of players who can play multiple positions when needed and more of those will serve this team well.
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