While the majority of English football supporters have been slowly but surely going increasingly mental over the prospect of football “coming home” (which begs the question: has it been on holiday all this time?), Arsenal Football Club have been busy.
Already this summer transfer window, the Gunners have made three official signings with a fourth all but done following the World Cup, and with plenty of time and possibly money left over from their early expenditures, there could easily be more on the way.
The excruciating two day gap in World Cup action has been filled most conveniently for Gooners by the return of pre-season training, and a different vibe surrounds the club as Unai Emery sinks his teeth into the job at hand.
Players will be filtering back in over the rest of the month following their World Cup commitments, but Emery already has the majority of the squad at London Colney to begin installing his system. With Boreham Wood rapidly approaching on the horizon, let’s take a look at some of the players already slated to join up this summer, as well as some possible additions that have yet to be completed.
Steeling Up For A Fight
If the remainder of the summer transfer window still holds a few questions for this new look Arsenal hierarchy, the first portion was defined by their decisive action. Casting a quick glance over the CVs of the three confirmed signings this summer, it is not difficult to spot the common thread: big, strong, tough and mean players who will be able to stand up to the season long fight of the Premier League.
Arsenal have long had one of the best attacks in Europe, a fact that was only further augmented by Arsene Wenger’s aggressive dealings on the market last season that netted the club over £120m in top level strikers, but the signing of Sokratis Papastatopoulos, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Bern Leno has brought balance and competition into the team.
While many have now turned their focus to positions further forward on the pitch, there are plenty of reports to suggest that the Gunners are not yet done trying to strengthen at the back. Caglar Soyuncu, a 22 year old Turkish born central defender who currently plies his trade for Freiburg, has been heavily linked with the club for months.
New Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat is reportedly a long-term admirer of the player, and his addition would be considered a more long term solution than Sokratis, who turned 30 in June. It remains to be seen how much the club will commit to spending in Unai Emery’s first season in charge, and with several more targets still in their sights, the money could ultimately be spent elsewhere rather than add to an already sizable position group at centre back.
Torreira All But Completed
Over the last year and into this summer, Arsenal have had to say goodbye to three midfielders that had long been vital members of the squad. Last season it was Francis Coquelin, who had fallen out of favour last season but was something of a revelation for his defensive capabilities in the preceding season.
This summer brought the emotional loss of both Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, two players who have brought endless joy and some of the most beautifully intricate passing displays the Emirates has ever seen.
Cazorla and Wilshere may have been two of the most gifted players at the club in recent memory, but they became something of an embodiment of the criticism that dogged Arsene Wenger’s second decade in charge at the club: diminutive, technically brilliant players that are exciting to watch but defensively limited and lack much of the physical toughness necessary to withstand the regular pounding of the Premier League schedule.
Their departures, while deeply saddening to many, will now give Unai Emery and company the chance to reshape the heart of this Arsenal team into something more to his preference.
Enter Lucas Torreira, who for the better part of the last month has been all but confirmed as an Arsenal player. Journalists have spoken with his father, his family friends, the hierarchy at his current club Sampdoria- pretty much everyone involved in the matter except the player and Arsenal themselves.
At a glance, the 5’6 central midfielder might look like more of the same from the club, but aside from sharing a common difficulty in reaching the Nutella on the top shelf with Wilshere and Cazorla, the similarities start to wane. Torreira is, simply, a bulldog when his team don’t have the ball.
He resembles Chelsea star man N’Golo Kante with his quickness and tenacity in the tackle, as well as an uncanny ability to come away with the ball from the most improbable of angles of approach to the man on the ball. Despite being his size, he has transformed the Uruguayan team’s midfield at the World Cup in Russia, with performances noticeably improving once he returned to the starting XI by the end of the group stage.
Far from just a one dimensional holding midfielder, Torreira also has plenty of other skills in his locker. Much like the duo he will help replace, his height may be a detriment in aerial duels (though he has inexplicably held his own in Russia thus far) but it is a boon when the ball is on the floor. Torreira has great change of direction ability, and he is more than capable of driving forward on the ball, running past the opposition.
He completes a take on per match, but his numbers in that department are hurt by the fact he gets fouled nearly two and a half times per match, suggesting a player that is frustratingly elusive to tackle.
At Arsenal, he could thrive in either the deepest defensive role, or as a shuttler alongside Granit Xhaka in a double pivot, or even as the connective tissue in a trio containing he, Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey.
He is a tantalising blend of toughness and technique, still just 22 years old, and he can even thump a free kick top bins from well outside the area when called upon. He looks to be the perfect player for Unai Emery’s new look Arsenal, and we need to look no further than Marco Veratti at PSG to see what sort of role Emery might have in mind for his newest (almost) player.
Pick A Winger, Any Winger
Assuming the Torreira deal is finalised upon the completion of his World Cup run with Uruguay, Arsenal will have successfully filled nearly all of what could be called their “urgent needs” within the squad. However, given the relative cost efficiency of their first 3 signings (approximately £40m not including the ~£25m Torreira will reportedly cost), there could still be resources left over to pursue players at less urgent positions. It appears that in addition to targeting another defender and perhaps even another central midfielder, a pacey wide forward is also on the agenda for the club.
Luckily, there seems to be glut of options available on the market this summer, with a seemingly endless list of players who fit the bill. Malcom, Diao, Dembele, Depay, Pulisic, Guedes- the list goes on and on. However, the two names that seem to pop up in links to Arsenal more than any other are those of Christian Pavon of Boca Juniors and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano of PSV Eindhoven.
Both players are 22 years old and possess some of the most well rounded skill sets of any in the age group. Lozano has seen his profile skyrocket at this year’s World Cup after his starring role in Mexico’s shock victory over defending champions Germany.
Pavon meanwhile had less of a part to play in Argentina’s disappointing campaign in Russia, but this has far more to do with the world class players in front of him than any lack of talent or ability on his part. Of the two, Pavon is the more creative option while Lozano embodies a bit more of the typical modern goalscoring winger.
Lately, it has been Lozano who has been linked the most to Arsenal, and his arrival could depend heavily on how reasonable PSV’s demands are for their star man, as well as how much interest arrives from other clubs. Before the World Cup began, Lozano was valued at around €25m after a 19 goal and 11 assists campaign for PSV last season, but given his performances so far in Russia, that could only go up.
Whichever of the two players Arsenal pursue, they will be facing stiff competition for their signature. Barcelona is rumoured to be in in both players, and the lure of the Catalan giants has been enough to stymie many a possible signing in the past. With a deep attack and plenty of players to fill out the team, playing time considerations could affect negotiations with any young player looking to make their mark at a major club.
Perhaps the Gunners will be forced to turn their attentions elsewhere as the post-World Cup hype sends some prices into the stratosphere, but given the sheer number of players who fit the mold that are currently out there and available for the right price, one has to like Arsenal’s chances of ending up with a talented wide forward before the window slams shut.