Is it over yet? No, not the summer break, that has only just begun, but this impossibly boring managerial search! Sure, some supporters might have been excited about the first new Arsenal manager in 22 years, but I couldn’t be bothered. The summer is for one thing and one thing only: transfer rumours. Not that boring stuff like who will be answering questions before and after games next season, and definitely not some tournament in Russia. This is my time of year, and I will enjoy it, regardless of how many distractions there are. There are rumours to ridicule, stories to shoot down and misinformation to spread, and I intend to be the one to do it.
Has Sven Brought The Wrong Book?
When Arsenal hired Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund last year, fans believed we would be getting a man who is incredibly adept at identifying and recruiting young talent to the club. Arsenal would be signing teenagers left, right and centre, we thought, with all becoming stars and the Gunners would win titles on the back of their successes. While it all sounded lovely, there appears to be a bit of a problem: he brought the wrong book of contacts. Or at least that’s how it seems after his first half season in his role, as he has seemed to do most of his transfer shopping from a 2016 Borussia Dortmund squad list.
Yes, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mhkitaryan are extremely talented and accomplished players with a history of performing well together, but Sokratis Papastatopoulos, the latest Dortmund player linked to North London? Not so much. Sure, he is a capable 1 on 1 defender and possesses all the physical tools a centre half needs to succeed, but he is far too much like Shkodran Mustafi in his recklessness and lack of tactical awareness. Perhaps this is Ivan Gazidis fault, who must not have been clear enough when he told Mislintat “we would like to build a team like you did in Dortmund” because what his new employee must have heard was “we want to build that Dortmund team, again, here at Arsenal”. Oh the dangers of miscommunication.
Old Favourites With New Numbers
Trying to pick out the players from this year’s team who received the most grief from supporters is nearly impossible, given the inconsistent play and withering patience in the stands, but it is safe to say Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka, and Petr Cech would be near the top of that list. If some fans were hoping one or all of these players would be sold this summer, that dream has taken a bit of a hit with the announcement that all 3 would be switching to more preferred numbers. Cech will wear the “1” shirt, Bellerin the “2” and Xhaka “34”.
While Petr Cech’s struggles this season were likely a product of his advanced age and cannot be explicitly faulted, Bellerin and Xhaka were far more polarising this past season. Arsenal supporters have admittedly not become known as a trivial bunch for no reason, but to dislike one of the best young fullbacks in Europe for having long hair and fancying a bit of a prance around town dressed like he’s come from an unlit charity shop is a bit much. To create a fake recording of said player trying to shoot his way out of town is even worse, but at least this shirt number business and the hiring of Basque manager Unai Emery should put a hold on talks of Bellerin leaving this summer. As for Xhaka? Well, he simply lacks pace, which in this age of football video games is just not something you want in your FIFA Ultimate Te-ahem- I mean football club.
ITK, You Know Nothing
If there is one lesson we should all take from the allegedly concluded Arsenal managerial search, it is that transfer rumours are not the only things the media (and that particularly vile modern invention, the social media In-The-Know [ITK]) pull from thin air. Like that one reporter who refuses to give up on Karim Benzema finally signing for Arsenal, many were made to look foolish and caught scrambling by the 11th-hour course correction made by the club in their search.
For over a week, it felt like Mikel Arteta was all but officially the choice, which had people falling over each other on Twitter claiming to have been the first to predict it, or having known all along he would be the choice. This made it particularly satisfying when, in the last 48 hours, the talk turned decisively toward former PSG and Sevilla boss, Unai Emery. Only time will tell if he proves to be the right man for the job, but let the week’s events serve as a warning for those who claim to have a mole in the club or are plugged in to the goings on behind the scenes; don’t claim to know about a decision before it is even made.
With all that is going on this summer at Arsenal, as well as the truncated transfer window being tested in England this season, the Gunners will have to focus on deals that can come together quickly and implement their summer plans early. However, that doesn’t mean fans must stop dreaming, the fantasy of the summer involves a player Arsene Wenger had wanted to bring to the club twice in the past: Ousmane Dembele. The story involves just enough plausibility to give it real legs, and unless the player moves or comes out and gives a definitive statement on his future, it is likely to keep popping up this summer.
Despite having just moved to Barcelona for an eye-watering €100 million last summer (with a reported release clause of €400m) there has already been talk of him not fitting in at the club. With Philippe Coutinho arriving this past season and Antoine Griezmann all but confirmed to be on his way to the Blaugrana, a place could be hard to come by for Dembele. At just 21 years old, there is a whole career of football left in front of him, and he could choose to move on before he risks stunting his development on the Barcelona bench. His compatriot Anthony Martial could likely tell him all about the dangers of that happening.
With a price tag that would likely exceed the Gunners’ entire summer budget by double, it doesn’t seem possible that Arsenal could pull of a swoop for Dembele, but they have some positives on their side. Dembele’s favourite ever teammate, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is now happily a Gunner, Sven Mislintat was the Dortmund shout responsible for bringing him to the Ruhr, and the Barcelona executive who helped bring Dembele to Catalonia, Raul Sanllehi, is now at the club as well. That is a lot of familiarity with the player. The issue of his price is something the club could find a workaround as well, with a season-long loan + option to buy a possibility, as well as a player going back the other way in part exchange. It may not happen, or even be particularly likely, but the early leader in the clubhouse for the most tantalising rumour of the summer has got to be a Dembele to Arsenal.