With the season already upon us, we gathered a panel to chew the fat over Arsenal’s transfers and prospects for this campaign.
#1 How do you assess Arsenal’s transfer dealings this summer?
We’ve seen some of the most focused actions during Arsenal’s transfer window for years. It was clear that Emery wanted to fill the gaps in the defensive line and having in mind that the funds were limited I think he managed to get the most out of the situation.
This summer Arsenal may not have stolen headlines with press-stopping signings. The club have, however, done a fine job on a tight budget. Adding toughness and and defensive depth were obviously high on the the club’s wish list. The £25 million signing of Bernd Leno is already starting to seem like a great value for a solid player after two rivals since spent over £70 million in an attempt to improve between the sticks. Sokratis and Stephan Lichtsteiner are veteran defensive specialists who add quality at the back. Sokratis appears to have the inside track on a starting place in the first XI.
While the defensive additions were necessary, the new players who have garnered the most attention this summer are midfielders Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira. The 19-year-old Guendouzi has been the surprise of the summer so far. Having arrived from Ligue 2 club Lorient for a paltry £8 million, he immediately forced his way into Unai Emery’s first team plans.
Torreira, for his part, may have been the most exciting signing at the time of his arrival, and his tireless pit bull style in the midfield is exactly what Arsenal have been lacking in their engine room for years. Both players figure to become massive parts of the squad this season, and are the 2 biggest reasons why this transfer window will be looked back on as a success in the future.
For me, this has been a very hot and cold transfer window. I for the most part I’ve loved our incoming business. The mix of experience and first team talent in Lucas Torreira is very encouraging. However, despite Sokratis’ arrival I’m still concerned about us at central defence, especially having loaned Calum Chambers to Fulham. That is an area we could have done a lot better in, in my opinion.
Although other clubs have made more glamorous signings, I actually believe that Arsenal can be quietly happy with the transfer window. Lucas Torreira is the sort of young, hungry, powerful midfielder that has been lacking from the club’s squad. Many Uruguayan journalists rate him as their best young prospect. Sokratis may not be at the level of three years ago, but brings experience at the back. Moving on the injury-prone Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla and the ineffectual Lucas Perez also makes a lot of sense.
#2 What would represent a successful season for Arsenal?
It should definitely be a better style of play and less defensive errors. The previous season was one of the worst for Arsenal under Wenger and nobody should expect miracles. But with the new signings, I think that the most realistic expectations are at least fewer goals conceded and more creative efforts in the front line.
It is hard to deny that Manchester City and Liverpool look to be locks on the top two Premier League places, but the top six figures to be every bit as thrilling and dominant as it was last season. The remaining four teams all have their strengths and failures, but in this writer’s estimation, it is Arsenal who will beat the pack and finish third in Emery’s first season in charge.
Manchester United are a mess right now, with a sour Jose Mourinho casting a dark cloud over his team. Chelsea have got themselves a great new manager in Maurizio Sarri, but there are too many holes in the squad to mount a serious challenge. As for Tottenham, well, their clock is ticking.
Having done absolutely nothing in the transfer window and with an extremely top-heavy squad, Spurs simply will not have the depth to maintain their energy levels throughout the whole season. Mauricio Pochettino has extracted everything he can from that squad, and he will find it much more difficult to return to the top 3 this season.
For Arsenal, anywhere in the top 4 will be a positive step after 2 seasons on the outside looking in. It is essential that the Gunners reopen the taps on Champions League revenue in order to keep pace with their free spending rivals.
The dream at the moment would be a top four finish and winning the Europa League. Of course, that’s easier said than done. However, I do believe at least one of those options is a possibility this season. Last season we showed that we have a good enough squad to reach the latter stages of the Europa League and with a three-time winner in Unai Emery, it could just work itself out.
Keeping up with the pace in the top four will be a huge achievement. However unpalatable it may seem, Tottenham are in a slightly stronger position despite not signing anyone. Displacing Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool will be incredibly difficult. The FA Cup is the most likely source of silverware. A victorious Wembley final alongside a top-four finish would be a resounding success.
#3 Which young player do you expect to break through this season? Why?
I actually think that this season is going to be really important for the youngsters. Nelson, Maitland-Niles, and Smith Rowe, for example, have huge potential. If they are given a chance to play among the other experienced players they can make a great season and get more minutes. As we could see during the pre-season they are disciplined, creative and have a great vision so the future is bright.
Arguably, the player most likely to break out already is: Matteo Guendouzi. The Frenchman has been phenomenal in his preseason appearances. He could very well steal some minutes from more established teammates this season. With Unai Emery’s preference for three-man midfields, as well as a penchant for changing his tactics based on opponent, Guendouzi will surely get enough time to continue his development. Expect him to become a starter in one of the more defensive midfield roles by season’s end.
There’s a big group of youngsters to watch out for this year. I’ve written about a few already but if I was to pinpoint one I’d say Reiss Nelson. Everyone already knows who he is. This season I expect him to be much more involved with the first team though, where he will no doubt impress.
Konstantinos Mavropanos was an odd signing in January at first glance. Completely unheard of, he looked decent in the few glimpses we saw of him last season. With experience alongside him and Koscielny’s injury, he has the ideal environment to break into the team and build a long-term career at the Emirates. There is a lot of love for Emile Smith Rowe, and there’s no doubt he’ll feature on occasion, but his position is a more crowded.
#4 How will the Kroenke/Usmanov share deal affect the club’s progress in the short term?
Unfortunately in the long-term there seem to be only two options: either there won’t be any change, or Arsenal is going to be used for business purposes only. In the short term maybe the only change is going to be the supporters’ expectations.
Many Arsenal supporters have been shaken this week by the news that majority shareholder Stan Kroenke is about to assume total control of the club after purchasing the 30% stake of Alisher Usmanov in a deal that sets the value of Arsenal Football Club at £1.8 billion. I, however, am not. As far as I am concerned, Arsenal are going from two stingy old business men at the top to just one.
The club have been self-sufficient financially for years now, and the consolidation of Kroenke’s ownership does nothing to change that. There has been a great deal of hand wringing over what this development could mean for the club, but the bottom line is this: unless Kroenke uses Arsenal as a means to secure loans that he then defaults on, the average supporter will notice little to no change with the club. Having always operated on a budget that is set by the board, the transfer policy is not likely to suffer either. In short, everyone needs to calm down.
In the short term and the long term, if Kroenke gains full control things could go very badly. He’d be further separating the fans and the club and the work Gazidis looks to have done to bridge that gap could go to waste. Usmanov in, Kroenke out.
Kroenke taking complete control of the club is hammer blow in the long term. He is a businessman with one interest – his income. It was never going to last peacefully with both holding a significant stake in the club to be honest, so in the short term it may actually help by removing an element of uncertainty and mistrust off the pitch. Investment has been made on the pitch, so it is hard to complain for now.
#5 Which opposition player would you secretly love to see in an Arsenal shirt?
I was secretly keeping my fingers crossed for a Jorginho move, but I am actually very happy with the signing of Torreira too.
As a general rule, football supporters tend to hate their rival’s players. After all, no self-respecting Gooner tells his mates all about how impressive Harry Kane’s instincts in the box are. Some players are so good, though, that even the most bellicose fan cannot help but appreciate that player’s unique gifts. For me, that player is new West Ham defender Issa Diop.
Diop is not a well known name outside of France, where he featured last season with Toulouse. He will announce himself to the wider footballing world in short order. A physically imposing young defender, Diop has all the tools a modern centre back needs. He can succeed in a variety of systems, but he is cut from the cloth of a big, tough, classic centre back. While still very raw, Diop has world class potential. West Ham supporters should consider themselves very lucky indeed to have secured his signature.
Simply put, Arsenal could have used a player like Diop this summer. With Calum Chambers off on loan to Fulham and Laurent Koscielny likely to be out until Christmas, Diop would have helped fill the void in their stead. At 6’4, only Rob Holding in this Arsenal squad can claim to be as physically imposing as he. Time will tell if Diop becomes the star many think he can be. For £22 million, however, it would have been hard for me to pass up.
This is a tough one. There have been numerous players I’ve had to adore from afar over the years. At the current moment, however, I might have to say Ross Barkley. I know we need players in many other positions but he’s just one of those players I have a soft spot for.
N’Golo Kante. I think any club would love to have him for his obvious quality but also his humility. Granit Xhaka looks like a disaster waiting to explode at times. If Arsenal fans are honest, they would jump at the chance to upgrade to a leaner, faster, more composed model. Torreira may well prove to be the answer in the long run. Kante, however, is ready now.