Nearly a month after their bashing in Baku, Arsenal have still not shown any real sign of reacting to their thrashing in the Europa League Final with an overhaul of the team that was so brutally exposed by Chelsea. They have still not completed a single major transfer and, perhaps even more worryingly for their fans, the players who the club have been linked with are not just young but callow; whatever their other abilities may be, they lack the experience that is necessary to go straight into the first team and improve it. The danger of Arsenal’s youth emphasis is that it risks unsettling the club’s few remaining senior players, who are now really just the strikers Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. They may not be prepared to wait while any new recruits gather the experience they will need if Arsenal are ever again to compete for major prizes.
Such has been the sense of depression that has enveloped Arsenal over the last decade, during the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign and the start of Unai Emery’s, that few Arsenal fans, if any, anticipated that the 4-1 defeat by Chelsea would lead to a radical change in the club’s transfer policy. Nevertheless, most Arsenal fans would have hoped that by now the club would at least have begun the long overdue job of buying the new defenders that the team so obviously needs, and in truth has needed for nearly a decade.
Arsenal’s Youth Emphasis Could Upset Senior Strikers
Transfer Targets All Appear to be Young
With Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal nearing the end of their Arsenal careers and likely to leave this summer, and with Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin still recovering from the serious injuries that ended their 2018/19 campaign prematurely, Arsenal essentially need a new back four. However, the only defenders that they have been seriously linked with so far look like two more novices of the kind that have been unable to provide them with any serious defensive stability for the last ten years.
First, there is William Saliba, St Etienne’s promising young centre-back. For all his undoubted promise, Saliba’s transfer to Arsenal, if it ever happens, could turn out to be the most ‘Arsenalish’ of transfers, even in the recent chequered history of the club. First, it has been widely reported that the Gunners might spend up to £25 million on Saliba only to loan him back to the French club for the whole of next season. Secondly, Arsenal apparently face competition for the young Frenchman’s signature from their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur who, unlike Arsenal, can offer Saliba Champions League football next season. So, whether Arsenal buy Saliba and immediately loan him back to St Etienne, or simply lose him to Spurs, it seems extremely unlikely that he will be able to contribute anything meaningful to the club in the short term. However, according to Liam Prenderville of The Mirror, Saliba wants to remain with Saint Etienne.
Then there is the player who Arsenal appear to have identified as the solution to their biggest problem, namely the lack of a left-back, with Monreal set to leave and Sead Kolasinac proving definitively last season that he is far more of an attacking wing-back than a defensive-minded fullback. That player is the Celtic left-back, Kieran Tierney, who, like Saliba, is a player of great promise but one who is not only inexperienced (having played relatively few games for Celtic) but apparently injury-prone too. Like Saliba, even if Tierney ultimately joins Arsenal he will have absolutely no experience of the Premier League and so looks incredibly unlikely to do much to shore up Arsenal’s backline in the near future. Nevertheless, Marc Mayo of The Sun reports that the Gunners have even upped their bid for the Scot in order to complete the deal.
The very fact that such young, inexperienced and possibly injury-afflicted players are being targeted by Arsenal shows once again that they are now looking much more like a Europa League club (which they will be again next season, for the third season in a row) than a supposed Champions League club. An obvious contrast can be made with Manchester United. They finished below Arsenal in the Premier League last season, but have already bought one ready-made first-teamer in Aaron Wan-Bissaka (paying the requisite fortune for a proven Premier League player) and acquired a potentially skilful attacker in Dan James from Swansea (paying a smaller fortune for a Championship player thought to have Premiership pedigree).
No Reports of Midfield Acquisitions
At least Arsenal appear belatedly to be trying to strengthen their defence, whereas there have been no serious reports about any midfield acquisitions. The rumours about Yannick Carrasco appear to have cooled (perhaps, as has been widely suggested, Emery can instead use Kolasinac purely as a left wing-back/left-sided midfielder) and there have been no reports about the club targeting other midfielders. Of course, that means that the gaping hole in Arsenal’s team – a creative midfielder who can pass well and generally link the play between defence and attack – remains unaddressed, as it has been since Santi Cazorla first got seriously injured nearly four years ago.
The one area of the team that Arsenal do not need to strengthen is attack, which is now also the one part of the team with the required experience for a supposed top four team. However, even that is potentially problematic, because there is likely to be a gulf in age between the club’s new targets/recruits and that of their two main strikers, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Even before the rout in the Europa League final, there were rumours that Arsenal might have to sell one of their strikers to try and boost their meagre transfer funds, and those rumours have continued ever since. One report in particular (from Gary Stonehouse, The Sun) – that Manchester United were considering targeting Aubameyang – only reminded Arsenal fans of the nightmare transfer of Robin van Persie to Old Trafford nearly a decade ago.
It was exactly a decade ago that Yaya Toure, when he was at Barcelona, famously dismissed any chance that he might join Arsenal by saying that he was already at university (i.e. a top, trophy-winning team), so why would he go back to school (a demotion of the kind that a move to Arsenal would represent)? Tragically for Arsenal fans, ten years on the situation remains almost exactly the same. Arsenal still seem unwilling or unable to afford the kind of ready-made first-team players that they so desperately need and instead they seem set to continue gambling on untried and inexperienced young players who may or may not make the grade.
In the meantime, the club’s two remaining senior (indeed star) players, Aubameyang and Lacazette, may conclude, like van Persie before them, that they cannot waste the rest of their short career waiting for Arsenal to catch up with them and, again like van Persie before them, they might just demand a transfer to the kind of top, trophy-winning club that Arsenal themselves no longer appear to be.