Whether or not Wenger goes at the end of the season, the Chelsea and Bayern Munich games proved that Arsenal’s squad is not good enough to compete for the top prizes. Players must be brought in and moved on over the summer.
If Wenger remains at the helm, he’ll have to be uncharacteristically ruthless in the transfer market. He’s been too loyal to too many players who haven’t repaid that faith. If Wenger moves on, can a new manager be immediately trusted with a huge transfer budget? Or will Arsenal adapt their structure so players are bought by directors instead of the manager?
Wenger’s recent record in the transfer market isn’t a patch on what it used to be (coincidentally, neither is the ability of the team.) Unearthing gems like Anelka, Vieira and Ljungberg is much harder than it used to be; all decent teams have extensive scouting networks. However, as Leicester proved by buying Kante and Marhez for relative peanuts, it’s not impossible.
At the more expensive end of the market, Wenger must be credited with bringing in Sanchez and Ozil but there’s still a sense of opportunities missed. The fact that Ozil cost more than Hazard, Xhaka more than Kante and Mustafi more than Luis hints that Wenger has lost the Midas touch. It also must dispel the assertion that Arsenal cannot financially compete with clubs like Chelsea.
Passing over the reins of a team, that needs rebuilding and could potentially lose its star player, to a new manager and expecting them to immediately improve results is a huge ask. It could potentially get a lot worse before it gets better. And, with the other top teams in the league steadily improving, it might result in Arsenal falling out of the top four.
The multiplier effect of this could be catastrophic. Failure to qualify for The Champion’s League would make competing for the best players even harder. This in turn would make the team weaker. A weakened team would mean less chance of competing for any silverware and less money coming into the club. Once the rot sets in, the downward spiral can be rapid and unforgiving.
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For these reasons, Wenger should be given another season as manager. The club are a few signings (and departures) away from having a wonderful squad. If Wenger is given serious financial backing in the transfer market he can plug the holes in the squad, hace a better chance of retaining Sanchez and the fans might finally feel like they’re being listened to. The club digging deep into its pockets, the way the fans do every week, would clearly show that the highest paying fans in the world are respected and not merely seen as a commodity to milk. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work out the club will have saleable assets and the crowds’ plea to spend some money will have been answered.
Arsenal’s niche in the transfer market is just below the very top end. By ditching the traditional frugal approach and spending wisely, not extravagantly, the club can obtain value for money whilst recruiting wonderful players. There are four or five areas that really need strengthening this summer.
In goal, Cech hasn’t lived up to his exceptionally high standards this season. Ospina is an understudy who wants to play, it’s probably in his and the club’s best interests for him to move on. Then there’s Szczesny, who by all accounts has had a good season on loan at Roma.
Having Cech and Szczesny compete for the number one shirt next season (and being played on merit, not having league and cup keepers) would challenge both of them to raise their games. This can only be good for the club.
At left back, an upgrade is needed on both Gibbs and Monreal. Cohen Bramall is said to be an exciting prospect but it’s far too early for him to be expected to step up to the first team. If money were no object then David Alaba would be the ideal signing. A target that Arsenal could realistically go for is Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg.
Reportedly good at defending, going forward, strong in the air and a dead ball specialist – at 24, Rodriguez would hold his value and be ready for the step up to Arsenal. By selling Debuchy, Jenkinson and Monreal (Gibbs appears content to be an understudy), the club would have the finances and squad space for Rodriguez.
Central midfield has been so disappointing recently. Francis Coquelin is not good enough for Arsenal. Xhaka should improve in his second season. The Ox deserves to be retained and given more time playing through the middle. Wilshere will return to the club and hopefully live up to the hype that went with his youthful promise, and avoid injuries. Cazorla is not getting any younger and has picked up the Arsenal injury curse. Ramsey’s a different player for Wales but not a defensive midfielder.
Arsenal really need a ball winning enforcer to play in front of the defence. Elneny was brought in to do that job but doesn’t regularly feature. Kante and Wanyama are no longer options. Frank Kessie has been a stand out player for Atlanta in Serie A. William Carvalho has been linked with Arsenal for years and could be a brilliant addition at the base of the team. At 6’2 and 24 years old Geoffrey Kondogbia, who was magnificent against the Gunners two years ago for Monaco in The Champion’s League, is an interesting player. His career has stalled at Inter so he may be ripe for a change.
Whether it’s Kessie, Carvalho or Kondogbia, all could provide the platform for Arsenal’s diminutive, creative midfielders to build on.
On the left wing, Alex Iwobi has regularly played and while a high quality player he’s very right footed and looks to prefer to play inside. Lucas Perez has done well when given his chance but wants to lead the line – he’s not a winger. Neymar, Bale, Hazard or Griezmann would be fantasy football additions. Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman would need a lot of persuading to leave Bayern Munich and Juventus. In Sanchez, Arsenal have one of the best left wing forwards in the world but due to the lack of credible alternatives he regularly has to lead the attack. If Sanchez is kept next season and a prolific forward is brought to the club then a there’s no need for a new left winger. If Sanchez goes then a centre forward and a left winger should be brought in. Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus would be the natural replacement if Sanchez did depart.
Regardless of whether Wenger and Sanchez both stay or both leave the club in the summer, Arsenal need a striker. A decent offer for Giroud from France (or hopefully an astronomical offer from China) should be accepted. While Welbeck is a great squad player, he’s not going to score thirty goals a season. Arsenal need someone lethal. Suarez and Lewandowski are out of range. Aubameyang is lightning quick and scores by the bucket load, something not unnoticed by Real Madrid. The price tag and level of competition would also be too great to prise Griezmann from Atletico Madrid. More realistic targets include the man dubbed as the next Henry, by no less than the great man himself, Kylian Mbappe of Monaco. Serio Aguero’s situation at Man City must be monitored carefully following the emergence of G. Jesus. Lukaku is a proven Premier League goal scorer but outstanding records come with outstanding price tags.
The most realistic fit is Alexander Lacazette of Lyon. At 25 his best years should be ahead of him, he scores freely and is recently reported to be looking for a step up in his career and a new challenge. Moussa Dembele of Celtic and Andre Silva of Porto are also young strikers with impressive scoring records.
If players of this calibre were brought in and others let go, Arsenal still wouldn’t be in the same league as Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. They still wouldn’t have the financial muscle of their Premier League competitors, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. They would be better than they are now, though. They would be more competitive in the league and have a better chance in the cups.
Quality additions may encourage other players to remain and would certainly lift the fans. This could then be built on by another manager, when Wenger does decide to step aside. It’s a slow (and often painful) process in attempting to get to the peak. The descent can be much faster, and considerably more painful. Arsenal football club potentially face a summer of upheaval and must strive to find that fine balance between stability and freshness that any successful club needs.