The Premier League transfer window is officially closed, meaning Arsenal’s transfer business is more or less finished. While they may sell players until the end of August to clubs around the rest of Europe, there will be no new acquisitions at the Emirates.
So, this is as good a time as any to grade the summer’s business.
Arsenal’s Transfer Business Report Card
For the first time since 1996, the Gunners begin a new campaign with someone other than Arsène Wenger at the helm. In his place is new head coach Unai Emery.
While his time with Paris Saint-Germain was a mixed bag, the Spaniard found great success in his native country with both Sevilla and Valencia. He led the former to three Europa League crowns and the latter to relevancy in the face of great hardship.
He will have to work similar magic to find success in north London.
However, the early signs are encouraging. Emery is a known video fanatic and will use it to help the players develop tactically. He is also tactically flexible, rotating between 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-2-2 formations with Arsenal during preseason.
His former players, such as Hedwiges Maduro, have also spoken about the spirit which the manager brings to a club. Unai Emery has a way of uniting not just players, but also the backroom staff to fight for a common goal.
“It was never just about 11 players with him. He was a very good coach and manager because he always thought about the group, even the doctors and the staff around the team. Even if you don’t play, you are still important. He believes that attitude gets you results. It’s important to him” –Maduro on Unai Emery.
Such an attribute is absolutely necessary to combat the disunity which plagued the Emirates faithful in the later years of Wenger’s tenure. Unai Emery may not be the biggest name in football right now, however, he might just be the perfect man to succeed Arsène Wenger.
After the Emery appointment, Arsenal’s transfer business got going with the free signing of veteran full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner. The Swiss international spent seven seasons with Juventus, winning the Scudetto in each and every campaign.
After selling Mathieu Debuchy in January, Arsenal relied heavily on Hector Bellerin as he was the only natural right-back at the club. With the 34-year-old Lichtsteiner available on a free, and a place open for a backup full-back, this was an easy decision for the Gunners.
Physically speaking, the player’s best years are behind him. However, his tactical awareness and deft touch were on full display at the World Cup this summer.
Don’t expect Lichtsteiner to play every game for Arsenal. It is far more likely that fans will see him in the Europa League group stage, a well as the early rounds of both domestic cups.
His veteran presence will, however, pay dividends for his inexperienced teammates, who can expect to learn a great deal. Overall, this was a very frugal transfer with a lot of upside and virtually no downside.
Last season, the Arsenal defence was simply terrible. They shipped 51 league goals and committed a division-high 15 errors leading to goals. The season before saw 44 goals conceded.
So, in an effort to curb this trend, the Arsenal hierarchy decided to outlay over £20 million this summer to bring in a long-term replacement for first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech.
That man is Bernd Leno, formerly of Bayer Leverkusen. While he is already 26, shot-stoppers do take a bit longer to develop than outfield players, so there is still time for the player to improve.
Meanwhile, Leno is already considered one of the better ‘keepers that the Bundesliga has produced in recent seasons. Leverkusen shipped a respectable 44 goals in the league last season as they finished fifth.
However, fans should be aware that he is not yet the finished product. As woeful as Cech was at times last season, his Premiership experience and cool demeanour dictate the Czech international will start between the sticks as the regular number one.
This will leave the Europa League group stage for Leno, as well as the FA Cup beginning in January. By allowing him a lesser role in his first year, the club will keep the pressure off Leno and allow him to adjust to a new league more easily.
In the same summer as rivals Liverpool and Chelsea both spent over £50 million on new shot-stoppers, Arsenal paid less than half of that. However, such a deal is tempered by the fact he is technically still one for the future.
With the defence being so horrible last season, as well as losing club captain Laurent Koscielny until at least Christmas, Arsenal’s transfer business had to include at least one centre-back.
Likely due to Sven Mislintat’s Dortmund connections, that defender was Sokratis Papasthatopoulos. Just like with Leno before him, the Greek centre-back made his move for a very reasonable fee, somewhere in the region of £16 million.
Unlike his new teammate, Sokratis is expected to make the starting XI against Manchester City for the opening fixture of Arsenal’s season, with Shkodran Mustafi set to partner the player.
Sokratis is a veteran defender with loads of experience at both the club and international levels. However, he is coming off of a poor league season last year.
There is some good news for Gooners; Sokratis is a no-nonsense defender who is content to sit back and give cover to his teammates. So, he could be very complimentary to Mustafi‘s preference to step up to attackers and try to win the ball back further up the field.
With both having been poor last season, there are some vocal doubters about this partnership.
Lucas Torreira can be thought of as the crown jewel of Arsenal’s transfer business this summer. The 22-year-old Uruguayan has room for improvement due to his modest age but already boasts vast club experience.
Torreira made 74 appearances over the course of two seasons at Sampdoria. He was also their midfield catalyst, helping to not just win the ball back, but begin offensive sorties from the heart of the park.
His reputation has only grown as the summer went on, as he had a good World Cup with Uruguay.
The player has lots of good traits, such as discipline, passing ability and vision. His biggest weakness is his diminutive frame, standing just five feet six inches tall. Torreira also prefers to sit deep, meaning he is not a very big goal threat.
However, on a team boasting the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, his lack of scoring will not be a huge problem. His modest build may be an issue as he adjusts to the rigours of the Premier League.
Overall, he is a great signing, but it may take Torreira some time to reveal his full potential.
Rounding off Arsenal’s transfer business, at least as far as acquisitions go, is the teenage talent of Matteo Guendouzi. Arriving for some eight million pounds from Ligue 2 side Lorient, Guendouzi looked to be an addition to the reserve team.
However, the midfield prodigy proved in preseason that he may have something to say this season. His vision and distribution caught the eyes of fans and pundits alike this summer. Case in point was a long through ball against PSG when he connected with Aubameyang to send him in on goal.
While he does not have any top-flight experience as of yet, Guendouzi seemed very much at home alongside Arsenal regulars. It would be very premature to guarantee to see the teenage talent in the first team this season, but that may not be out of the realm of possibility.
Expect to see Guendouzi in the Carabao Cup team, and possibly even the Europa League squad. The only reason he is not graded higher is the fact he has yet to make a competitive debut at the highest level, so he is still something of an unknown commodity.
The most high-profile name to leave was, of course, Jack Wilshere. He left the club he has called home since the age of nine to join Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham.
While the emotional bonds between fans and Jack Wilshere are strong, his departure is nothing to lose sleep over. Simply put, even without Lucas Torreira at the club, Wilshere could not contribute enough to win a starting place.
Lucas Perez also secured a move to West Ham on deadline day. The Spaniard could have been part of the Europa League squad, however, his performances for the first team under Wenger were not enough to see him earn a regular first-team place.
Even though the fee was only four million pounds, getting Perez off the books is a positive move for the future. Plus, it does no good to keep a player around if they won’t play much.
Chuba Akpom also left north London to seek greener pastures in Greece with PAOK. Same as with Perez, the one million pound fee will not go very far, but the move is good for the books and the player.
Calum Chambers joins Fulham on loan, despite signing a new contract in July. The centre-back is still 23, so has some room to grow. There was speculation that perhaps either Rob Holding or Dinos Mavropanos would go on loan instead.
However, it now appears they will be the defensive duo who plays in the Europa League group stage, as well as the domestic cups.
Loans for Matt Macey and Takuma Asano, are also complete. They are both still young and lack first-team experience, making loans for both very intelligent.
As far as departures, Arsenal’s transfer business did not include any significant losses, other than the emotional exodus of Jack Wilshere.
Business Not Yet Done
While Arsenal’s transfer business this summer was frugal, this is still an unfinished project. For example, after losing Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott last season, the only true wide forward the team has is Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
While Gelson Martins was linked through the summer, no deal materialized. The likes of Joel Campbell and Danny Welbeck remain at the club, at least for now, but neither has proven themselves worthy of a regular place in the starting XI.
So, before Arsenal can consider themselves legitimate title contenders, there is at least some work to be done. This is in addition to fixing any cracks that will appear in the squad over the coming campaign.
There is also some “dead wood” still at the club. David Ospina is surplus to requirements following Leno’s transfer, Danny Welbeck is in the final year of his deal and the Aaron Ramsey saga has found no conclusion.
Overall, however, the team addressed their biggest concerns. They have a quality head coach in Unai Emery, improved their defensive ranks and brought in two central midfielders; one who will contribute almost right away and another for the future.
The immediate goal for the club is to re-join Europe’s elite in the Champions League. Arsenal’s transfer business reflects this desire and the team is certainly capable of reaching fourth place this season.
Overall Grade: B+
There is work to be done for sure, but this summer paved the way for a return to relevance in the Premier League.
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images