How can the Arsenal board make up for past mistakes?
Arsenal fans are currently enduring the outcome of a poor performance from Arsenal's backroom staff over the last few years. They have let too many valuable players’ contracts run out. Resulting in a huge decrease in profits from player sales, and therefore, less investment back into the squad. Players like Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey should have been sold for 50 million pounds plus each. Instead, they let Sanchez’s contract run out and all Arsenal have to show for it is a swap deal for Mkhitaryan. Who, let us face it, has not been in any sort of good form since his last season at Dortmund in the 15/16 season. And now it appears Ramsey will be leaving in the summer on a free transfer to Juventus.
Last summer seemed to be a move in the right direction, however, with some decent signings being made. Lucas Torreira, 22, has brought a relative defensive solidity into a midfield that has struggled in this department since the departures of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. Another positive signing was Matteo Guendouzi, 19, who was brought in for a mere 7.2 million pounds. He has shown an excellent engine backed by an impressive passing range and consistency. Being only 19 and already showing a significant comfortability in the premier league is definitely something to be excited about.
Arsenal’s squad still has some clear holes that need to be filled and their billionaire owner, Stan Kroenke, is unwilling to invest a single cent of his own into the transfer market. Forcing Arsenal to look at a more obscure market than the established names. This doesn’t necessarily mean worse players, it just means they will have to search to find them. Arsenal’s head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, made his name using this transfer strategy for Dortmund, bringing in incredibly talented players like Lewandowski, Marco Reus, and Ousmane Dembele. There have been rumors linking him away from Arsenal but if he stays, we are in good hands.
These are the positions and players that Emery, Mislintat, and the rest of the Arsenal backroom should target:
Center Back: Arsenal have a clear problem in their backline, especially at center back. Sokratis has been a decent addition but only because the other options at centre back are not at the top 6 level. The style of play of both players from the “best” CB partnership, Mustafi and Sokratis, are aggressive and rash. A partnership should have one aggressive tackler and another who plays more conservative in order to keep shape if one defender is beat. Or preferably have a partnership capable of switching theses roles based on the situation. However, it seems that Mustafi and Sokratis will always be aggressive, error prone center backs.
That being said, Arsenal’s number one target in this position should be Dayot Upamecano, 20, from RB Leipzig. Many people would prefer a more experienced center back given Arsenal already have both Rob Holding, 23, and Konstantinos Mavropanos, 21, on the books. However, when there isn’t much money to spend, it’s best to aim for youth. Dayot is experienced for his age. He broke into the Leipzig first team at 18 and he’s been a regular since. Last summer Upamecano was the prime target of top clubs around the world, with a rumored 100 million euros as the price tag. But after a slow start this campaign, it seems the hype has died down. This is the perfect situation for Arsenal, however, given his price may just have dropped within their tight budget. With his physicality, ability on the ball, and 4.2 tackles and interceptions per game, he has the potential to become a world class defender. Something Arsenal need if they want to win a title again.
Arsenal’s second choice should be Joachim Andersen, 22, from Sampdoria. Sampdoria currently sits 7th in the table and are 4 points away from a champions league spot. While a few other players in the squad have been in great form, Joachim Andersen has led their defense. And with a reported 25 million euro release clause, he would be a cheaper option. His playing style resembles that of Manchester City center back, Alymeric Laporte. He is a defender who is able to progress the ball up the pitch with accurate long balls, hitting 5.4 long balls per game at an 89.6% pass accuracy. Arsenal has relied heavily on Granit Xhaka for long ball progression. However, as much as Emery thinks so, Xhaka is not athletic enough to play in a premier league midfield, having conceded 5 mistakes leading to goals since the 2017/18 season, the highest of any outfield player in the Premier League. If Arsenal could find someone who replaces his positive attributes, it would only help the team. Next to the hard tackling Sokratis, Andersen would bring a calming presence that could bring a balance to their shaky backline.
The last player Arsenal should target at center back is Marc Bartra, 28. He has been one of the best performing center backs in Europe this season. And no one seems to be noticing. Real Betis are currently battling with Real Madrid for fourth place, with Bartra and PSG loanee, Giovani Lo Celso, the clubs clear best performers. Barta has been putting in a shift for Betis, he’s averaging 4.5 tackles and interceptions per game, with 70.3 passes per game at a 89.4% pass accuracy. Those are top class numbers. Virgil Van Dijk is arguably the best center back in the world at the moment and he’s averaging 1.8 tackles and interceptions per game, with 74 passes per game at a 89.3% accuracy. Liverpool are able to dominate games more often than Betis, which is why Van Dijk has a deflated 1.8 tackles per game and a slightly inflated 74 passes per game. Which brings his numbers in comparison with Marc Bartra’s. It appears Barta has finally started to fulfill the potential he showed when he first broke into the Barcelona first team.
Winger: Arsenal are crying out for a top class winger at the moment. Alex Iwobi is their only wide player who is able to progress the ball up the field. He has 1.6 dribbles per game at a 54.5% success rate. Those numbers are decent, but it’s Iwobi’s final ball that seems to let him down everytime. Whether it’s the final pass or finishing in front of goal, he cannot stay composed. Arsenal need a top class winger with a consistent output. There is some good news though; they’re are a ton of young productive wingers available at the moment.
There are three players that Arsenal should target in this position, all of them being extremely talented for their age. The first one is Nicolas Pepe, 23. He has burst onto the scene this season with his incredible performances for Lille, who sit 2nd in the table for Ligue 1. Of all the wingers Arsenal could bring in, he has the most output at 17 goals and 7 assists in 27 appearances this season. His finishing, excellent turn of pace, and creativity would relieve some of the goal-scoring burden placed on Aubameyang while increasing our ball progression in wide areas. He is averaging 1.9 dribbles per game and 2 key passes per game. These numbers are very impressive when compared with Arsenal’s most creative player, Mesut Ozil. Who is averaging 1.1 dribbles per game and 2.2 key passes per game. Along with all the other players on my list, Pepe has also played striker this season. And with Danny Welbeck out for the season, he could fill in if Aubameyang or Lacazette were injured. Any of these transfers would cover two weaknesses in the squad.
Ismaila Sarr, 20, from Stade Rennes, has been performing extremely well since he broke into the first team at 18. He was dubbed as the new Ousmane Dembele when he broke through, but they are actually quite different players despite their underlying numbers being freakishly similar this season. Sarr has a lot of attributes that contribute to his excellent underlying numbers. He uses his strength, large frame (6’1 ft), and Ousmane Dembele esc change of pace excellently in a very direct dribbling style, averaging 1.6 dribbles per game. He also comes up with the occasional banger from outside the box. His directness and pace create consistent opportunities for his teammates and himself. He has racked up 9 goals and 4 assists in all competitions this season, which is more goal contributions than any other player on Rennes. It is very impressive to be 20 years old and the focal point of your team.
Legendary French defender Lilian Tharum has a son, and he’s a talent. His name his Marcus Tharum, 21, and he currently plays in Ligue 1, for last-placed Guingamp. Despite his team’s poor performances, he has been a shining light. His nine goals, one assist, and 3.4 dribbles per game, in a horribly performing Guingamp team, have caught the attention of a number of clubs, including Arsenal. The most impressive thing is that he has scored 44% of Guingamp’s goals in Ligue 1 this season. He is also 6 foot 3, with 4.2 aerial battles won per game. To put that in perspective, Juventus hard man, Mario Mandzukic, is averaging 3.4 aerial battles won per game. Those are not the only stats of Tharum’s that are eye-catching, he is averaging 2.3 shots inside the box. The 5th best of all players under 25 in Europe. Shots inside the box show how many expected scoring opportunities a player is able to create for themselves and is often the tell-tale sign of an elite attacker. Goalscoring machines Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane are averaging 3.1 and 2.1 respectively. Tharum appears to be a complete package going forward.