In the last few years, Arsenal have made some really questionable decisions in the transfer market and been linked with some players which most people could see wouldn’t fit the criteria. I’m talking about deals and big contracts for the likes of David Luiz and Willian. Spending £35 million on Mustafi when there were better options closer to home. Spending £20 million on Sokratis when he was 29 years old. Signing the likes of Stephan Lichsteiner on a free transfer and paying him a huge wage. The most recent report is the reports that Zaha was so close to coming to Arsenal. Emery had chosen Zaha as their big money signing that year, however the board, probably based on the fact they could do so in increments, elected to sign Pepe instead. There have been some brilliant pieces of business along the way such as Leno, Gabriel, Partey and Aubameyang. However, generally speaking we haven’t been the wisest with our limited finances.
The early signs of this January transfer window are that Arsenal are about to change that. We have shifted our focus from this ageing players with monster contracts, to focus on a younger group of players and build for perhaps a title challenge in the next few years. Our first January signing is Omar Rekik who is a very highly rated young centre back. I’m sure he will not be making his mark on the first team for a few years, but I think we are slowly starting to build one of the most promising back lines in the league. Especially if we manage to pull off the signing of Tariq Lamptey to replace Hector Bellerin.
Further up the pitch, there has been a clear awareness that we need to bring in some creative midfielders. However, this awareness I think is being balanced against the fact that we have plenty of very young creative midfielders, however they are perhaps not ready to be relied upon for an entire season. We have gone from being linked with Isco and Eriksen, who Ornstein has confirmed Arteta does not wish to pursue, to being consistently linked with Buendia, Brandt and Sabitzer. They are all between 24 and 26, therefore can help shepherd in the new era of Arsenal midfielders for the next 4 or 5 years until the likes of ESR and Azeez are ready. Thankfully, we are yet to be linked with any new wingers which I think tells me that Arteta sees Saka and Martinelli as his long-term wingers. I think they are good enough to play on the wings right now, so in a few years time I think they will start becoming two of the best wide players in the league.
Meanwhile, upfront, it is clear that we need to start thinking about replacements for Aubameyang and Lacazette who are 32 and 30 respectively come the end of the season. Aubameyang in particular relies so much on his pace, and as this pace starts to fade I just don’t see us getting as many goals from him. I fear that may be what has started to happen this season. On the other hand, Lacazette is stylistically more of a facilitator. Happy to act as a sort of makeshift target man who drops in to link up the play. Whilst I don’t think we will ever see a 30 goal season from Laca, we know what he gives us every game and should be able to continue these levels for another couple of years yet. This means this summer is the perfect time to bring in an Odsonne Edouard or a Patson Daka. Two players who, based on their track record, may well hit the ground running. However, as long as Lacazette remains at the club there would be no desperate need for them to do so in their first season, giving them time to settle in without an excess of pressure.
The key now is to clear out some of this deadwood and some of these huge wages. Mustafi, Sokratis and Ozil all appear to be heading for a January exit. I think if any offers come in for Willian they ought to be accepted (I think he has actually improved of late, but there is no sense in having him in our team when all he would do is hinder the progress of our youngsters). David Luiz will also have an expired contract in the summer. Immediately, our squad seems a lot healthier. From there, we need to be very smart with how this money is spent. I think the next two Arsenal signings have to be 2 out of the following 4: Brandt, Aouar, Buendia and Sabitzer. Then in the summer, hopefully with some Kroenke-assistance, we can start addressing the less glaringly obvious issues such as a new young right back like Lamptey, a holding midfielder to beef out the squad a bit like Bissouma and a new young striker like Patson Daka. This is the realistic, i.e. not having one £250 million window like Chelsea, transfer strategy to get us back into the top 4 and beyond.
Photo Credit: Kieran Clarke