It has been one of the most popular statements uttered amongst the fan-base for years; all we need is one or two more. The notion that Arsenal has been on the cusp of properly challenging is not a new one. This same sentiment remains, whether we achieve Champions League football or not.
I am not one for downplaying the ability we have in the team. When stacked up against our rivals, only Manchester City and Liverpool are streets ahead in terms of overall squad strength. This is an Arsenal first-team that, on its day, can indeed comfortably finish third while being able to beat anyone in the country. City and Liverpool included. But that statement is a factual one; we need reinforcements, and we need them now.
Unai Emery can only shoulder so much of the blame. It is certainly evident that to properly implement his ideas and philosophies, he needs additional players. Regardless of that, however, it is also fair to suggest that at many points this season he has not gotten the best out of what is a better bunch than many give credit. We are now barreling toward one of the most important summer transfer periods in recent memory.
Though club leadership under Raul Sanllehi – and Emery himself – may turn toward the nation of their birth when they open the chequebook, there are many talented and attainable assets residing in the Bundesliga. The hope of many, myself included, surrounding Sven Mislintat was that a direct link to a market and player-base that far better suit the Premier League on average would have been on speed dial. There is no telling what Raul’s plans are for the summer, but here are five Bundesliga players who Arsenal should target while they’re still attainable.
Willi Orban – RB Leipzig
Since their promotion to the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig has been one of the most talked about clubs in Europe, for better or worse. Regardless of where you fall in the debate on whether or not they are a stain on the German footballing landscape, their brand of football and players they have grown at the club has been impressive. One of those players is Willi Orban.
A German-born Hungarian international and product 1.FC Kaiserslautern’s youth academy (where he began aged 4), Orban has been a rock at the back for RBL since 2015. Though not impressively tall at 6’1, Orban is in the centre-back mould that Arsenal needs dearly. Brilliant in the air (5.3 aerials won/90min) on both sides of the ball, positionally sound, and no-nonsense in terms of getting rid of danger at the back (5.9 clearances/90min), Orban has arguably been the best centre-back in the Bundesliga this season.
RBL’s defensive record of allowing just twenty-three goals in thirty league matches to date is the best in the German top flight. Orban has had a massive hand in that record. At twenty-six he is on the cusp of reaching his prime playing years, and despite his importance to the club, the existence of the likes of both Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano may make Orban attainable. With a market valuation of 15m Euro, he presents a scenario of paying for a player who is just about at the end of his development, making him more affordable than his aforementioned club-mates.
Jonathan Tah – Bayer Leverkusen
A recipient of the Fritz Walter Medal (gold) in 2015 as the top U19 German footballer, Jonathan Tah was destined to be a top-level centre-back. Capped at U16-U21 level and now a full German international, there are many that tip Tah to be a mainstay for Die Mannschaft moving forward.
Despite his towering frame (6’5), Tah is so much more than just a big body in the heart of the back line. He is immensely comfortable and composed on the ball, and has done quite well for a Leverkusen side that so often prefers to build from the back. Boasting an 89% pass success rate this term, he could provide a defensive fulcrum while suiting Emery’s desire for build-up play.
More importantly regarding the big German, is his pre-made understanding with former club-mate Bernd Leno. The combined capability and composure in possession would be a very welcomed addition to the Emery framework. Tah reads the game well and does solely not rely on tackling his marker to avoid defensive issues. He so often is in the right position when called upon, and his average of just 0.5 fouls and 4.4 clearances (both per 90min) hints toward his talent at avoiding needless dead-ball scenarios.
Unlike Orban, his market valuation of 35m Euro reflects his age and development ceiling. Though it could potentially be costly, his age (23) makes him an ideal candidate for a long-term elite player.
Julian Brandt – Bayer Leverkusen
Unquestionably one of the most sought-after U23 talents in Europe, Julian Brandt is a must-buy for a bigger club in the hunt for a tactically versatile attacking option. A full German international, and one of the only bright spots during their failed summer campaign in Russia, he has undoubtedly outgrown Leverkusen. A club plagued by inconsistency and ownership whose financial backing is considerably lacking, it will be hard for both club and player to turn down a summer move.
Though much of his development came as a left-sided attacking player, he has since been successfully adapted to a central attacking role as well as being capable on the right flank. At current, his midfield partnership with wunderkind Kai Havertz in Leverkusen’s 4-3-3 has benefited both players. Brandt’s ability to take his man on while also possessing a keen eye for a pass (2.7 key pass/90min) sees him on eleven assists in the league, just 2 behind leader Jadon Sancho.
Brilliant on the counter and incisive in nature, he offers a long-term solution to Arsenal’s lack of overall creativity. The Bundesliga starlet will have a myriad of suitors this summer. Though multiple reports have cited different values, it is clear that Brandt has a release clause of no more than 25m Euro. Not only is he affordable upfront, but it allows us to offer a competitive wage packet. He is one of the few no-brainer targets that are likely to be on the market this summer.
Filip Kostic – Eintracht Frankfurt/Hamburger SV
Eintracht Frankfurt is one of the feel-good stories to come out of the Bundesliga in recent seasons. Between their DFB Pokal triumph under now-Bayern Munich headmaster Nico Kovac and their fairytale run in the Europa League this campaign, Die Adler are indeed on the rise. Though all the talk and attention has been directed at Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller, Filip Kostic has flown under the radar. He deserves far more attention.
On a season-long loan from 2.Bundesliga outfit and promotion hopefuls Hamburger SV, the Serbian international is a traditional left-sided attacker. Quick, direct, and capable of providing consistent service while stretching the back-line, Kostic has been a major catalyst for Frankfurt’s ability to conduct operations on the counter both in the Bundesliga and in Europe. Perhaps even more impressive is his work rate on the defensive side of the ball, which would both alleviate our reliance on the left-back for width, but also would give Emery a winger who can contribute defensively.
After such a brilliant season, the best of his career, it would be surprising if Kostic wanted to remain in Hamburg, even if they achieved promotion. Considering Frankfurt has already sealed a full-deal for Jovic in the summer, Kostic (valued at 15m Euro) provides a very affordable and ready-to-go option that does not need development. His ten Bundesliga assists demonstrate an end product that Arsenal is in desperate need of on the left flank.
Marcel Halstenberg – RB Leipzig
When you think RB Leipzig, you immediately gravitate towards the growing reputation of Timo Werner. Very quietly, however, it’s left-back Marcel Halstenberg who is in with a shout for their player of the season this term. Recently placed into contention with Hoffenheim’s Nico Schulz for Germany’s starting birth, Halstenberg’s all-action display’s have turned quite a few heads.
Entering his prime playing years (27), the native of Laatzen has been a major contributor on both sides of the ball this season. Big stats aside (3 goals and 6 assists, level with Emil Forsberg for the team lead in helpers), Halstenberg’s service down the left-side channel is akin to Sead Kolasinac for Arsenal but better and more consistent. What’s more, is that he easily trumps the Bosnian in terms of defensive contributions and can so often be counted to not leave the backline high and dry despite being called upon to provide additional width regularly. Simply put, not only is he an upgrade on Kola, but he is tailor-made for an Emery system that demands much from the position.
He likely would not come cheap, however. As his stock continues to rise both in the Bundesliga and for the national team his current market valuation of 17m Euro is small on paper, but will likely increase before the summer hits. With the Julian Nagelsmann era set to begin, it is feasible to suggest that a move for Halstenberg would not trouble the young German trainer, as Schulz could easily be acquired and follow his current manager out of Sinsheim.