Leicester 3-0 Arsenal. Without running the risk of reliving the events of this weekend, what is clear is that much change is needed in the summer. It is very easy to blame the players for our poor run of form but if you think reasonably, Unai Emery deserves as much of the blame.
Regardless of where you stand on the player vs manager debate that continues to rage, we are all in agreement that a busy summer is required. Squad building must – properly – be the focus in the bigger picture. If we are to progress, there needs to be the right sort of investment.
I recently came to you with a list of Bundesliga players the club should consider for our summer spending. Make no mistake; this is one of the most important summer windows in recent history. In that same light, I wanted to take a look at some homegrown players in the league. Given homegrown rules and the futures of the likes of Calum Chambers, Carl Jenkinson, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson, coming into question, it’s fair to say that domestic talent needs to be a focus moving forward.
Something that the club – and fans alike – should not turn their noses at is prizing talent away from clubs below us. Many of these options will not be the big-names that our fans love to demand, but there is both efficiency and functionality about them. If such a stratagem is good enough for the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and a host of bigger clubs in Spain, Italy, and France, then surely it is something we need to consider.
The England World-Cup run hype aside, Harry Maguire deserves attention. A consistent performer for Leicester City even before the Brendan Rodgers appointment, the big centre-back fits the bill. There are few homegrown centre-backs that can truly be considered. The likes of Conor Coady, Declan Rice, James Tarkowski, and Michael Keane come to mind, but Maguire is versatile where the others – bar Rice – could be questioned.
Confident and composed on the ball, Maguire has shown himself able to dictate play from the back (85% pass success rate). Strong in the air and a set-piece dangerman (4 aerials won/90min), he would provide a very stable central platform for a long-term partnership with Rob Holding. Despite his confidence when in possession, he is no-nonsense when the situation requires it.
Brass tax; he walks into our XI. We can have all the love for Laurent Koscielny, but Kosc the boss has one season left and though he’s been good since his return, you also see why it’s time for us to move forward. Many have suggested that Holding was our best CB before his injury, a notion I tend to agree with. Paired with Maguire, it would provide us with a balanced partnership for the first time in years.
The unfortunate side of such a consideration rests in his likely price tag. Premier League premium aside for homegrown players, his current market value of ₤45m means Leicester would be well within their rights to demand – at a minimum – 10m over that amount. If our biggest splash in the pool this summer is to be a CB (and it should be) then there is no better homegrown option, especially given Rodgers has the ability to replace from within when Filip Benkovic (a player he managed at Celtic) returns from his loan deal.
Sticking with a well-oiled Leicester, and turning to Ben Chilwell to solve our current and long-term solutions at left-back. Though he has been underwhelming in points of his Arsenal tenure, we cannot speak against Sead Kolasinac’s contributions this season. Defensively he has improved in certain areas, but we have relied on his ability further forward much to our benefit.
However, unless we want to turn Cut-Back FC from current banter into a long-term harsh reality, looking to bring in someone better is required. I rate Kolasinac and have done since his Schalke days. The issue comes from the comparison in his performances when in a back four and as a wing-back in a back three. If you subscribe to us reverting back to a back four moving forward, then Chilwell is your man.
He may not be brilliant in the tackle (despite averaging 1.5 per 90min), but his confidence on the ball going forward, quality left foot and surprising strength in the air (a clear weakness of ours) would be welcome. He has more pace and athleticism than Kola as well, though the Bosnia hulk certainly trumps him on physical presence. Simply put, he’s a more balanced option. Despite our well-documented over-reliance on his overlapping runs, Chilwell has just one assist fewer this term.
Still just 22-years-old, he is rightfully being considered as the long-term option for England. Like Maguire, he would come with a homegrown premium price hike (valued at ₤25m). But to invest now before he’s out of our realistic or desirable price range – and while we’re still markedly ahead of Leicester – would be a prudent investment, despite his insistence that he has no desire to leave the club in the summer.
Perhaps the biggest question making the rounds amongst the fan-base is two-fold; 1. why were we so foolish as to let Aaron Ramsey go (for free no less), and 2. how are we going to replace him. Past our need for a wide player and a centre-back, the goals, and flexibility in midfield the Welsh international provides us are crucial to our success. You only need to look at our form when he doesn’t play for tangible proof.
Recently names the likes of James Maddison (another homegrown option) – and more urgently of late – Youri Tielemans have done the rounds, but James Ward-Prowse deserves mentioning. There have been expectations surrounding Ward-Prowse for quite some time. He may have hit his stride a year or two behind schedule, but seven goals in the current Premier League campaign and form that has brought more recognition in the England set-up have JWP primed for big things next season.
Able to play in the 10, 8, or 6 roles, he brings a flexible midfielder tailor-made for a long season on multiple fronts. Good in possession when under pressure, an eye for a killer pass, and unflinching in his willingness to contribute defensively, the Southampton youth academy graduate could be the latest in a long line of Saints players pegged by bigger clubs. Valued at only ₤15m, even paying a premium for his services means he could be acquired to similar money that prized Lucas Torreira away from Sampdoria. He is certainly one of the more undervalued homegrown players that are able to make the jump.
No one has scored more Premier League goals this season outside of the top six than Bournemouth. Ryan Fraser is a major reason for that. Say what you will about their woeful inconsistency and defensive issues, but without the diminutive Scottish international, it’s plausible that they would be flirting with relegation.
Fraser’s offensive end-product has seemingly come out of nowhere, however. In what is his third Premier League campaign, his first two seasons netted him just eight goals and eight assists in 54 appearances. This year, he has seven goals and 13 assists while appearing in every league match on the docket. Eddie Howe’s attacking approach certainly does suit; soaking up pressure and counter attacking. With forward options the likes of Callum Wilson, Joshua King, and youngster David Brooks, Fraser’s creativity from wide areas has been immense.
Capable on either flank but predominately a left-sided player, his ability to provide service via both through-balls and crosses, his capture would give us a genuine outlet down the left that would not involve an over-reliance on our left-back for width. His end product is leaps and bounds both greater and more consistent than Alex Iwobi. His existence in a Bournemouth side sitting in the bottom third of the league will work against him, but Fraser (also rumoured to be tracked by Spurs) would be an excellent piece of business; one that could cost sub-₤30m.
Norwich’s run to a likely Championship title under Daniel Farke has been very impressive indeed. Much in the same light as Wolves‘ promotion campaign last term, there will be many that expect the Canaries to come into the Premier League prepared to comfortably avoid a relegation battle. Summer spending depending. They also will undoubtedly field overtures for some of their better players. Emiliano Buendia has been simply fantastic for them, but it’s young Max Aarons that the club should be keen on.
An England U-19 international and the EFL Young Player of the Season, Aarons is destined for heights that exceed Norwich’s capacity in the long run. Most have not discussed a right-back as a position for reinforcement or replenishment this summer, but it may help us alleviate financial concerns during the window. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been a decent enough deputy for Hector Bellerin during his spell on the sidelines, but a feeling that he may be better suited in midfield could offer us answers in the hunt for a Ramsy replacement. Rather than purchasing one, a move for Aarons would then free up AMN to be shifted back to midfield, while Aarons and Bellerin offer excellent depth at right back.
Aarons has shown in Farke’s system of possession, which so often relies on building play from the back, putting him in a position to be able to settle to life at the club. Through forty appearances (all in the starting XI) this season, he’s contributed two goals and six assists in the EFL. For a player of his age, he reads the game well while being consistently reliable on both sides of the ball.
Justifiable questions could be levied in his direction by looking at the struggles Ryan Sessegnon suffered in his first top-flight season. Though played predominately as a left-winger, Sessegnon won similar high praise for a youngster who starred in England’s second-tier. With a current market value of ₤5m (cheap for a homegrown player of his potential), that price tag is sure to increase if yet another new deal is agreed.
The bulk needs to be kept
Beyond the clamour for serious investment, many are of the opinion that the bulk of the Arsenal first-team should be kept. Though the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Petr Čech, Mohamed Elneny, and Carl Jenkinson are sure to head for the exits, few others deserve the sack.
Opinion remains divided amongst the fanbase if Mesut Özil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Granit Xhaka should also face the chopping block, but the club is not in a position to spend upwards of 250m to bring in eight or nine new players. While many of our players are overrated, they are also simultaneously underrated.
In truth, this squad, when fully fit, is more than capable of finishing third; certainly comfortably in fourth. We may need more than “one or two” to compete, but gutting the lions share of the team is not the answer either. A combination of promoting youth and aggression in the market remains the most prudent course of action. Certainly, homegrown talent should be amongst the targets we consider moving into the hotter months of the year.