Arsenal knew after such a huge change, replacing 22 year veteran Gunners manager Arsene Wenger with the younger opinionated and passionate Spanish manager Unai Emery was going to take some time to bear fruit and the club hierarchy clearly hired the former Sevilla and PSG boss with the understanding that Emery would be given patience and time to build his squad and develop the project.
Emery was quite active in the summer transfer window as he signed 5 players including Lucas Torreira, Bernd Leno, Mattéo Guendouzi, Stephan Lichsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The new Arsenal boss obviously wanted to reinforce the midfield by adding some much needed “bite” to it as well as some youth plus providing depth and options in defence.
German goalkeeper Bernd Leno was signed from Bayer Leverkusen to offer competition to Petr Cech and Sokratis was added as another much needed option to the injury riddled centre of defence for the Gunners where Shrokdan Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny had been suffering with longer-term injuries and Nacho Monreal so often used as a 3rd centre-back was also recovering from a nasty injury.
Rob Holding who has quietly been developing into a solid Premier League performer was being looked to more and more as a starter and the young Englishman was delivering quality appearances for Emery. Unfortunately, Rob Holding suffered a season ending injury several weeks back after being one of Arsenal’s better defenders during the first half of the season while Mustafi and Monreal have been struggling to regain fitness and form after enduring several injury setbacks.
Captain Koscielny had come back a few weeks ago and really helped the Gunners defence but has also suffered a few set-backs while new man Sokratis who arrived in the summer from Dortmund has been sidelined for a significant part of the campaign so far as the injury bug has effected the Greek international’s Arsenal progress and form.
With the departure of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal were linked with a number of attacking midfielders and wide players like Bayern Munich’s Columbian international James Rodriguez, a loan move for Milan’s Croatian World Cup finalist Ivan Perisic and several other attacking widemen. The Gunners did complete the loan signing of Denis Suarez from Barcelona (pictured above) which had been rumoured for a number of days and seems like a good signing given the competition for his signature.
However given the desperate defensive record of Arsenal under Unai Emery on top of the injuries to the defence mentioned above as well as the loss for the season of starting right-back Hector Bellerin perhaps adding defensive reinforcements should have been prioritised.
Yet Arsenal did not see things this way, despite their clear vulnerability at the back and inability to keep clean sheets, they did not sign defensive cover. Emery appears to have been planning for the warrior-like Koscielny to lead the Gunners defence to a much improved goals against record as the club push for a top 4 place and pursue the Europa League title in the last third of the season.
We asked Gooners over the last week to vote on: What is more important to buy for Arsenal a winger or a centre-back? Given the lack of clean-sheets and the performances Arsenal goal-keepers have had to deliver to keep the Gunners competitive plus the top performances and excellent goal returns from the likes of Auba and Laca in the attack, acquiring another centre-back seemed like the correct call.
As you can see from the results below Gooners voted heavily in favour of adding defensive depth by an almost 3 to 1 ratio which is a significant margin.
Gooners were heavily in favour of signing a centre-back over a winger but the club chose to do the opposite in signing winger Denis Suarez from Barca which made little sense given the factors mentioned like Arsenal’s good goal scoring record and obvious major issues in defence this campaign.
Given the dog-fight Arsenal are in with rivals Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur for the top 4 in the Premier League, in order to virtually guarantee their place in the Champions League next season, not solidifying their defence seems counter-intuitive at best and a glaring, possibly catastrophic mistake at worst.
We can only wait and see how this plays out now as the window slammed shut on Thursday night but given how rivals like Man Utd, Chelsea plus even Spurs and Everton have spent millions of £’s on defenders in recent windows it seems Arsenal simply did not address the weakest, most vulnerable area of their team.
It is therefore no surprise Gooners are frustrated yet again at the team’s inability to improve their defence and how Arsenal’s transfer window appeared like a poorly executed plan.
Liverpool did what they had to do and Jurgen Klopp signed Virgil Van Dijk to add to Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Andy Robertson and Joel Matip which has transformed the back-line along with the addition of Alisson into a world-class defensive unit.
Over the past few windows Man City have added John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte to stalwart Vincent Kompany as their ridiculously world class options in their central defence while Ederson offers the abilities of an outfield player with his passing range and ball distribution. Chelsea have internationals Rudiger, Luiz, Christensen, Cahill and Azpilicueta as their central defensive options and even the highly criticised Man United defence can boast the much improved Victor Lindelof, the returning to form Eric Bailly as well as the decent options of internationals Chris Smalling, Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones plus Spurs have the enviable centre back options of the lightning fast Davison Sanchez, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier.
Could Arsenal have done deals to sign someone of the calibre of Virgil Van Dijk who has transformed Liverpool or Aymeric Laporte describing Man City as the perfect move who has been an ever present for Pep Guardiola since he joined from Athletic Bilbao in the winter window of 2018 and is one of the first names on Pep’s team sheet.
Arsenal need to sign someone of the calibre of Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly or Leicester City’s England World Cup star Harry Maguire or dare i say it Spurs’ Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld (probably only get him on a Bosman) or Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. Naturally all 4 of these players or players in the same bracket are going to be hard to sign and are going to cost potentially north of £80million but this is the kind of investment Kroenke needs to make to have superb, younger centre-backs to build his defence around for years to come. Koscielny is an Arsenal man through and through of that there can be no doubt but the time may have come where he can still be a big part of the team but with strong other centre-halves to share the load of matches and maintain the high-levels consistently which is what is required for Arsenal.
There is a chance a fit again Rob Holding could be in the mix along with Koscielny next season but the addition of 2 of the above defenders in their prime would send shivers down the backs of any attacking side having to face such a back 3 as Kalidou Koulibaly (27 years old), Harry Maguire (25 years old) and Raphael Varane (25 years old) with Hector Bellerin (23 years old) and Sead Kolasinac (25 years old) as wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation. You would have Koscielny and Holding as back-ups which Arsenal have shown they need.
Such a defence would all be in their mid-twenties, fully established with club and country and going into their peak years of their careers. The group could grow together and they could develop a meaningful squad feeling, with the options of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohammed Elneny but there could be a need for an additional option at left-back. Lichsteiner could be the short term choice but interest in Leicester’s Ben Chilwell in an ideal world would be well received and a deal completed as then you would have an excellent back four or five as Chilwell is comfortable as a wing-back or a left-back.
Making such big moves are unlikely to happen with Arsenal but you never know.
When you compare Arsenal’s defensive options to the other top 6 rivals’ squads the Gunners are simply at a lower level when it comes to their backline and unless Stan Kroenke can equip Unai Emery with the sort of budget needed it is hard to see Arsenal making a serious improvement at the back where it is crystal clear their weakness lies.
Having said all this I would love to see Arsenal given a budget in line with the likes of City, United, Chelsea and Liverpool then the Gunners could perhaps stand a better chance of truly contesting the title without any excuses and we would possibly see a real 4 or 5 horse race for the title which would only be good for the Premier League.