Arsenal fans can finally look forward to a summer transfer window with genuine optimism after Arsene Wenger’s departure ushered in a brave new chapter for the club. Transfer windows under the Frenchman leadership followed a similar pattern, characterised by indecision, timidity and a failure to land top targets. There was also an on-going failure to address weaknesses in the squad, particularly when it came to securing defensive reinforcements and a holding midfielder. But it is a brave new world now, with Unai Emery in the dugout, Sven Minislat heading up the recruitment team and Raul Sanllehi pulling the financial strings.
There are no guarantees that Arsenal will crack the transfer market this summer, but the early signs are positive. Experienced Juventus full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner has already joined the Emery revolution on a free transfer, and a £17.5 million deal for Borussia Dortmund’s tough-tackling centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos should go through when the new Bundesliga financial year starts on July 1. The club are also rumoured to be targeting Freiburg centre-back Caglar Soyuncu. Arsenal appear determined to overhaul a defence that let the side down time and time again last season.
The Gunners are well stacked going forwards, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang supported by the creative talents of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, plus Alexandre Lacazette and exciting youngster Eddie Nketiah also in the mix. Alex Iwobi may even deliver on his potential. Stranger things have happened. There seems no need to sign attackers, a step change from Wenger always seeming to target forwards rather than defenders. Arsenal have been a shambles defensively for years now, and fans were constantly frustrated at Wenger’s refusal to address an issue that was glaringly obvious to even casual armchair fans. It now seems that there are sensible people in charge and that they are determined to give Emery a fighting chance next season.
The challenge is vast. Check out the best-reviewed betting websites on the market, and you will see that Arsenal are all the way out at 28/1 to win the Premiership title next season. They have been left well behind by their rivals over the last few years, and the bookmakers predict they will finish sixth again next season. Man City are the odds-on favourites to successfully defend their crown, and they have also been installed as early Champions League favourites ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Liverpool, who reached the Champions League final in May, are second favourites in the betting at 5/1 after embarking on an ambitious recruitment drive this summer. Jose Mourinho’s heavy-spending Man Utd are 7/1, and Chelsea and Tottenham are both hovering around the 14/1 mark.
Arsenal are in a bit of a quandary, because a lack of Champions League football means they cannot invest as much as their rivals. Yet they have to do something to catch up with them, so they need to box clever in the transfer market. Poaching wunderkind Yacine Adli from PSG would be a good start. It is the sort of transfer that would evoke the early days of Wenger’s reign, plucking the likes of Nicolas Anelka from Ligue 1 and turning them into superstars.
It will also require more nastiness in the dressing room, according to former player Bacary Sagna. The Frenchman this week accused Arsenal of being too nice during his time at the club, and the buck has to stop with the manager. Emery is by all accounts a workaholic, and he seems a lot more demanding of his players than Wenger ever was. There is plenty of talent in the Arsenal squad and they simply need a bit of a kick to rediscover their potential.
Mauricio Pochettino has done well on a comparatively small budget at Spurs, and if Arsenal are to break back into the top four they need Emery to evolve their tactics in a similar fashion. Pressing and possession are Emery’s hallmarks, and that can only be positive if it drags Arsenal kicking and screaming into the modern era. It is time to end a culture of niceness and usher in a new chapter defined by hard work and a layer of steel to underpin the creative flair. Then Arsenal might return to the summit of English football once more.