Arsenal’s summer spending means that we are unlikely to see the chequebook out much in January, a fact compounded by the aim of Champions League qualification seeming achievable. That is not to say that there are no weaknesses in the squad. In this article, I will look at three positions that I think Arsenal and Unai Emery could do with strengthening in the winter transfer window.
It is probably best to start with the most obvious one. The signing of David Luiz on deadline day has not gone entirely to plan. He has offered more options defensively but has looked ill at ease next to fellow veteran Sokratis, with the pair making several dreadful mistakes. Rob Holding should be back to full fitness in time for the trip to Sheffield, but Arsenal’s fanbase must be careful not to place too much pressure on his relatively inexperienced shoulders. Even with Calum Chambers available, and William Saliba joining in the summer, a quality centre-back to partner Holding for the rest of the season would go a long way to securing third place earlier, which in turn could breed success in Europe. The only problem is, good centre-backs are hard to come by, and certainly don’t come cheap.
It could be argued that there are enough versatile players in the squad to have this position covered. Hector Bellerin has returned from injury and will surely be a mainstay in Emery’s team, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers and even Shkodran Mustafi have deputised in his absence with varying degrees of success. However, none of these three are natural right-backs, and Emery relies heavily on his full-backs to make his preferred play-style work. Although Bellerin is now fully-fit, he cannot play every game, and the chances of a reoccurring injury are now higher. Arsenal should be looking for a young full-back who can be developed and provide competition to the Spaniard, such as 23-year-old Yousef Atal, currently at Nice. This would allow Chambers and Maitland-Niles to return to their favoured positions and allow Emery to constantly have faith in the ability of whoever starts at right-back to adhere to his system. With Bellerin returning, this position is not a necessity, but to begin to build a squad to challenge for trophies, it is important to have good cover given Emery’s reliance on full-backs.
Barring a huge U-turn, it looks as though Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career is over. The German has started one league game (away to Watford) and has failed to even make the squad on several occasions, with Unai Emery citing his attitude in training as the cause of the problem. The far bigger problem for Emery and Arsenal is the lack of creativity, which leaves the forwards feeding off scraps and trying to create something out of nothing.
Of course, the addition of Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin will improve this deficiency, yet the line-up is still crying out for a creative midfielder. In Emery’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, this position would be filled by Joe Willock or Dani Ceballos, yet neither player is a natural no.10. This may be why we have seen Arsenal lined up in a 4-3-3 more regularly so far. The midfield balance has not yet been found yet, however, and signing a creative force would provide more flexibility – especially if Ozil departs in January. If this were the case then financially, signing a replacement wouldn’t have too much of an impact, given the German’s wages. This is an unlikely signing, however, since prices are incredibly inflated during this window and the current Arsenal method appears to centre on developing their youth talent. A solution can surely be found internally, yet the lack of creativity in the Arsenal lineup is a problem which must be addressed.
None of these signings are necessarily required in January, as the Arsenal squad and youth prospects look in pole position to finish in the top four at present. However, each of these positions will eventually need filling if the club intends to maintain its sustainable model whilst simultaneously challenge for trophies once again. The sooner that these positions can be filled, giving players time to bed in before the following season, the better. For this reason, Arsenal should be giving consideration to players who fill all of these positions.