Apr 28, 2023 11:55 am
The Summer of 2023 promises to be one of the most important ones in recent memory for Arsenal. For much of the last decade plus they’d sleepwalked themselves into becoming something of a sleeping giant. Perhaps understandably at first given the financial restraints of paying off their new stadium, a time where Arsenal spent most of their time anxiously guarding their world class talents. Rather than being able to look around the market and buy more, they instead had to settle for the more mediocre and year after year their best players were plucked from under them and Arsenal had to endure watching them lift the big prizes elsewhere.
The signing of Mesut Ozil was added to Santi Cazorla, and the following summer when the trophy drought was ended, Alexis Sanchez was also brought in. Arsenal appeared to be waking from their stupor. However, just as in the days of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie, Wenger was either unable or unwilling to pay up for a support cast that could turn Arsenal back into real title contenders, though the prospect momentarily flickered from time to time.
Next Arsenal gambled and went big with the signings of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe. There was short-lived success in the shape of another FA Cup, but things quickly lurched to disaster. Arsenal went from finishing 2nd in 2016, to back to back 8th placed finishes by 2021 under fledgling new manager and former captain Mikel Arteta. Transfer policy shifted with Arsenal identifying young talents such as Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Martin Odegaard. This added to a special young trio of talents, that of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe. Despite narrowly missing out on Champions League football, the confidence and feel good factor was slowly returning to Arsenal and they then added Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Champions Manchester City.
Those summer additions helped Arsenal produce a starting 11 so good they won 23 of their first 29 league games. However, 2 defensive injuries to the colossal William Saliba and back-up right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu have laid bare the lack of depth that still exists in this Arsenal squad, in terms of being able to actually win the league against one of Sport’s most dominant ever teams in Guardiola’s City. Those injuries have meant Arsenal have had to turn to Rob Holding, a player signed from Bolton for £2M, who peaked in his 1st season for the club as a 20-year old, since then he’s only gone downhill. Arsenal exited the domestic cups very early, they exited the Europa League at its first knockout round, they didn’t have that many players involved at the World Cup as starters for their nations, and STILL injuries have once again derailed their season. It simply must stop happening, the time is now for Arsenal to build a squad which can compete in both the Premier League and the Champions League.
Arsenal have a brilliant, ambitious young manager, a fantastically talented young team who with meaningful additions in the right areas this summer can set themselves up to be the kind of team that produces the consistency of say Klopp’s Liverpool at their peak. They really can. But it requires those at the top to continue being bold and not resting on their laurels. The thinking from the board under Wenger was: “So long as we get the Champions League money by making top 4 we’re happy.” Such thinking can not be allowed to return. That kind of thinking damaged Arsenal for years, damaged United in recent years under the Glazers, and is damaging Spurs under Dan Levy now.
Arsenal could be on the precipice of doing special things at home and maybe even abroad, but they are not there yet. But they must not hesitate, the momentum is with them. They are one of the biggest clubs in the biggest league in the world, therefore they are one of the hottest destinations for talent in the world, and they also happen to play in what is regarded as one of the best cities in the world, the City of London. Having woken from their slumber, it’s time for Arsenal to no longer be a sleeping giant and begin to throw their wait around like the big club they are. Can they go and ruthlessly take West Ham’s captain and best player? Can they go back in for Caicedo, and actually get him this time? The outcome to these questions will surely tell us more about whether Arsenal can once again produce glory years akin to those with Pires, Henry and Vieira or if it will be another era of nearly men, of ‘if’s’ ‘but’s’ and ‘maybe’s’.
In this piece I will lay out what Arsenal must, could and should do this summer to ensure they don’t stand still and continue to evolve.
No movement required in this area for Arsenal this summer. A clear upgrade on Ramsdale would be expensive and they have much more urgent areas to address in front of him. He had an impressive debut season at Arsenal and he’s gotten better in his follow-up campaign. Up until recently he was having a brilliant season, best exemplified by his stellar performance away at Anfield, earlier on he was also outstanding away at Tottenham.
In recent weeks his form has dipped which has led some to question whether he is good enough to be the number 1 keeper in a league winning team. This in my opinion is harsh and a consequence of recency bias, if all Arsenal players were judged on their performances over the last few weeks, they would all need to be replaced as none of them have played like league winners. It’s not a coincidence that Ramsdale dip in performance has come at a time where he’s getting much less protection from his defence and midfield. Though he bares sole responsibility for his awful error at home to Southampton recently, overall he’s conceding more because Arsenal as a team are giving away many more clear-cut opportunities than they were earlier on in the season.
Ramsdale is also one of the best around with his feet which is of course essential to the way Arsenal build-up, so his number 1 spot is assured at the moment. And at 24, he’s still a baby in goalkeeper years with plenty of room to grow over the coming seasons. If he can keep making small improvements the potential is definitely there to become one of Europe’s top goalkeepers, however he is still a way off the finished article. He hasn’t been commanding in dealing with corners this season, his confidence is usually one of his biggest assets but it has been wobbled slightly at times, and his confidence with passing has occasionally become over-confidence which has caused big problems for him and his side. Overall though, Arsenal can be optimistic that this promising young goalkeeper matures into a really great one.
Matt Turner as USA’s Number 1 isn’t a bad one to have as your back-up keeper, but he will be hopeful Arsenal go much further in the domestic cups than in his first season, or else his game time could be severely limited. At 21 it could be a good time for 3rd choice keeper and Estonian International Karl Hein to get first team football on loan somewhere.
Gabriel and Saliba have formed what is the most complete centre-back partnership Arsenal have had since Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure, they are excellent together and Arsenal fans will be hoping they stay together for a long time. However an injury to Saliba exposed Arsenal’s lack of depth at centre-back and this summer needs to be the end of the road at Arsenal for Rob Holding. As the player’s at Arsenal have got better over the last 12 months, the extent to which he has been out of his depth has been further exposed. I think he lacks the speed, physicality, decision making and technical ability to be even a solid mid-table level Premier League defender and would instead be better suited to Serie A, where he could build his career in a way similar to Chris Smalling, who also struggled massively in the Premier League. Holding is obviously a popular dressing room figure, who is liked and trusted by Arteta, but to compete with the likes of City and other strong teams upon their return to the Champions League, they simply need better strength in depth than what Holding can muster and he must be sold.
Arsenal must also part ways with Cedric which seems inevitable, as does the departure of Ainsley Maitland-Niles whom I and many others once considered to have a bright future at Arsenal, due to his versatility. Despite initially winning Arteta over and playing well in Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph, he fell out of favour and having been linked with a permanent move away for some time, surely this is the summer it finally happens. Pablo Mari will also depart permanently for Monza, as per the terms of his loan deal.
Nuno Taveres was signed by Arsenal in the summer of 2022 for £8M but looked out of his depth at left-back in most of Arsenal’s league games, especially at the business end of the season where he was pretty costly in Arsenal’s missing out on top 4. He’s had a resurgent season on loan at Marseille, where he has often been deployed in a more advanced role on the wing. During a particularly good spell it was thought by some that there may be a future for him yet with Arsenal, but I don’t see it. I think he will always lack the tactical discipline and intelligence Arteta demands from his players, and aswell the intensity. The best case here is Taveres finishes the season strong and Marseille want to keep him, in which case Arsenal should be looking to at least make a comfortable profit on the 23-year old.
The subject of Kieran Tierney is an interesting and divisive one. He’s clearly a very good left-back and at 25 is likely approaching his peak. However he is a very different style to Zinchenko, and if the manager wants Zinchenko’s inverted position mimicked by his back-up, Tierney is never gonna be the one to do that well, because he’s not in that mould. Newcastle are thought to be potential admirers, and there’s no doubting he’d likely prove an excellent player for them and improve them even further. So considering Newcastle are now a rival for Champions League places going forward, does that mean Arsenal should definitely refuse to sell to them? Not necessarily, as Arsenal’s top priority has to be Arsenal.
Saudi-backed Newcastle have got huge money and they’re not afraid to splash it around, evidenced in January by them spending £40M on Everton’s want-away winger Anthony Gordon. He had scored 7 times in senior football and never been capped by his country. Therefore if Arsenal are to sell Tierney they would be fools to let him go for less than that. It’s not essential to sell Tierney as he is a solid player, who’s a good option to bring on to replace Zinchenko to help see games out with more defensive solidity, but Arteta has not often used him like that this season, outside of a few very brief cameos. So if Arteta no longer values his importance to the side that highly, it makes sense for all parties for Arsenal to sell, but they would be smart to not allow Newcastle to secure for a low-ball offer, because he’s likely to be very popular on Tyneside, so the Gunners need to make sure they remain firm and don’t sell for below their asking price. Arsenal have struggled in recent years to get good value for their players, for example allowing Leno to join Fulham for just £8M. It’s an area they must improve in this summer.
Where the money from a Tierney sale should then be invested depends on several decisions Arteta could take. Polish International Jakub Kiwior was signed in January from Spezia for £27M. Given the reliability of Gabriel, and Kiwior being left-footed meaning there is only one CB spot (the LCB spot) available to him I find it hard to believe the 22-year old was signed just as a Gabriel back-up. I feel his profile could be used to replicate Zinchenko’s role in the side as an inverted left-back, taking up the usual central positions the Ukrainian takes. He has experience playing left-back and defensive midfield, so it seems likely this is a role that’s been earmarked for him. Therefore Kiwior could act as first in reserve for both Gabriel and Zinchenko, giving the Pole much more opportunities for game time.
Takehiro Tomiyasu has endured an injury laden 2 seasons with Arsenal, despite mostly being back-up behind Ben White this season. Given Tomiyasu’s 6 foot 2 frame, I believe there could be something to trying to convert him to become a centre-back option. The full-back role demands endless running up and down the flanks, often at speed and I feel trying Tomiyasu in the middle instead could better protect him from injuries. Tomiyasu has experience in the role having played there many times for his country and whilst playing in the Belgian Pro League. He is a good passer with both feet and usually makes good decisions with the ball but his on the ball limitations are exposed more at full-back in this Arsenal team, as he often doesn’t look completely comfortable in the oppositions final third, rarely making runs beyond Saka to offer him that option or just to pull a defender away from the winger, as we have become accustomed to seeing from White.
Whilst a fine right-back defensively, I can only see Tomiyasu’s body breaking down season after season in the role of an attacking full-back, which at Arsenal you need to be, so if he is to have a future at the club I think it needs to be as a back-up for Saliba and Gabriel, with more sporadic appearances at full-back in cases of emergency. Aswell as potentially taking that option, Arsenal will still need to sign a replacement for Holding and it will be very straightforward to identify a clear upgrade, who is more comfortable on the ball and better suited to the physical demands of the Premier League, potentially one who is already playing in it for a club somewhere down the table.
In Arsenal’s position I would then invest money from a Tierney sale on a right-back who can challenge for the position with White, and offer the same things White does with security in possession and with the fitness and attacking instincts to offer the overlap for Saka constantly throughout the game. A new right-back would give Arsenal more defensive flexibility and options, as if suffering with an injury/suspension for e.g they could move White to centre-back where he is reliable and play the new right-back alongside him. Or if White and Saliba were both injured, Tomiyasu could come into RCB with the new right-back now next to him. One right-back Arsenal have recently been interested in is 18-year old Ivan Fresneda of Real Valladolid, with the Gunners and Borussia Dortmund both vying for his services last January. Considering Arteta already has 2 solid right-back options, it seems likely his interest in a third would suggest he also sees a future for Tomiyasu in a centre-half role.
Sell: Cedric, Tavares, Mari, Tierney (if offered around £40M), Holding.
Loan: Trusty (to Premier League club).
Sign: Right-Back, Centre-Back.
Decisions: Tomiyasu as CB option, Kiwior as LB option.
This is the position most rife with rumours when it comes to potential recruits for Arsenal this summer and understandably so. Partey is 30 this summer, Xhaka is already 30 and Jorginho is 31. There are 2 players at the top of virtually every Arsenal fans wishlist: Moises Caicedo of Brighton and Declan Rice of West Ham. Arsenal have already seen a £70M bid for 21-year old Caicedo rejected, but will remain encouraged despite his recent contract extension, due to his initial desire to join the club, which saw him issue a very public transfer request. Since then he has spoken of his desire to see Arsenal win the league, so he seemingly remains interested.
Caicedo shows similarities to the N’Golo Kante we saw at Leicester and in his early years at Chelsea, a player capable of winning the ball cleanly from all manner of unlikely positions, such players are essential to a team and can be the difference across a season between finishing 1st and 2nd, as Kante demonstrated winning back-to-back Premier League’s with Leicester and Chelsea. Caicedo plays well beyond his years, despite having played less than 100 senior club games, with over a third of them being back in the Ecuadorian league. Less than a year after signing him for an undisclosed fee Brighton unequivocally rejected a £70M offer for him, which shows their confidence that when he does leave, it will be for an even bigger fee. They are right to believe that, especially after getting him to commit to a new contract.
Declan Rice has been linked with a move from his beloved West Ham for years now, and Chelsea always seemed likely to be his eventual destination. For Arsenal it was probably seen as a bit of a pipe dream, they’ve not been able to offer him Champions League Football and financially could not get into a bidding war with the likes of Chelsea. However the balance of power has shifted quite drastically this season with Arsenal leading the way for much of the season, with an exciting young manager and group of players which would interest any player looking for his next club.
Caicedo is more of a classic 6 than Rice, though the Brighton midfielder undoubtedly is much more than just a ball-winner, he possesses a diverse passing range. Rice can excel either as a number 6 or a number 8, so the most ambitious Arsenal fans are dreaming of signing them both and having them in the same midfield along with Odegaard. It’s not impossible, and I think it should at least be the club’s ambition to try. They are the bookies favourites to sign both players, but they will likely face stern competition for these players signatures from Liverpool and Chelsea especially who are both desperate for central midfielders.
With Champions League money in their pocket for the first time since 2016, Arsenal should have the financial might to be in with a shout, and it will be very disappointing if they are unable to secure at least one of those two. Should Arsenal secure for eg. Rice and the bidding war for Caicedo reach such a level where the money is close to £100M which I think it might, Arsenal would have 2 options, walk away and try to secure the services of a cheaper player who also appears to interest them such as Martin Zubimendi from Real Sociedad, or another interesting solution could be to part-fund the signing of Caicedo by off-loading Thomas Partey.
Now Partey at his best is undoubtedly one of the best in the league in his position, some games he oozes class and looks head and shoulders above everyone on the pitch. Overall he’s had a great season and some brilliant spells in particular but.. there has been times where he has cost Arsenal with some lacklustre play, being too careless and almost over confident. And in a league as fast and furious as the Premier League has now become, he can occasionally lack that real intensity to go alongside his obvious ability. There is also the matter of injuries, he played only 48 league games across his first 2 seasons, this season has been better but he has still missed crucial matches such as United away and City at home, both times he felt sorely missed but it has become an all too regular story. He still has 2 years left to run on his current deal and though 30, he remains young enough that they should be able to get a reasonable fee.
If an offer came in from a club overseas such as one of the big Italian clubs I think it would be something to seriously consider. I don’t suggest the sale of Partey lightly, but *if* it enabled Arsenal to bring in both Rice and Caicedo, and they otherwise couldn’t do it, I’d be in favour of it. Because the idea of Arsenal having a Caicedo-Rice-Odegaard midfield… let’s just say I’d sell more than just a Ghanaian Footballer for the prospect of that. That would be the kind of midfield that could go to any ground in Europe and impose its self physically with the intensity needed to play away at big teams. In recent trips to the Etihad and Anfield, Partey and Xhaka have often been chasing shadows, and even that chase has been more of a slow, laboured plod in pursuit.
But if not unable to bring them both, Arsenal must definitely sign at least one player who can play Partey’s position as it’s essential they become less reliant on him. Both Partey and Xhaka can have big roles to play in Arsenal’s future, but they can’t do it for much longer alone, certainly not when playing in 2 elite competitions week after week, when they return to the Champions League. Xhaka’s limitations come in his ball carrying, he isn’t really capable of regularly carrying it forward for many yards, so instead he always opts for the pass which can become predictable and easier to defend against. Arsenal fans will have been licking their lips watching Rice carry the ball from inside his own after himself winning the ball back and running with it all the way to the Gent box before finishing beyond the keeper. Having a player who could do that as their left-sided midfielder would elevate Arsenal’s game to a new level. Both Partey and Xhaka can have big roles to play in Arsenal’s future, but they can’t do it for much longer alone, certainly not when playing in 2 elite competitions week after week, when they return to the Champions League.
Odegaard is the captain and has had a fantastic season, however there are question marks about the strength in depth in reserve there. Odegaard has had excellent fitness in his time in North London and we all hope it continues, though when the Champions League gets added to the calendar next year it becomes unrealistic to expect him to be available and in form for every game. Fabio Vieira was signed last summer from FC Porto, but has really struggled to impose himself on games, especially in the Premier League. He needs to have a big summer where he impresses in pre-season and gives everyone reason for optimism, because right now he looks a long way off the required level. And Arsenal really need him to become a capable understudy to Odegaard when they are aiming to play 50+ matches next season. There is a real possibility in my opinion that the best option for Vieira could be a season long-loan to a Premier League team, to get him more game time to adapt to the league.
He is not going to dislodge the captain from the team, and currently he looks like he could really benefit from more minutes to properly adjust to English football. A good possibility could be someone like Wolves, who have Portuguese players there to help him settle. This depends on how many midfielders Arsenal sign, but if they do bring in 2 and especially if they also keep Xhaka and Partey, by that point Vieira drops really far down the pecking order and there may not be room in the squad for him.
Another issue that’s emerged is with Emile Smith-Rowe, who has fallen out of favour with the manager and it remains unclear where he best fits into this Arsenal side. Outwide? In Xhaka’s position? In Odegaard’s position? None seem naturally suited but something needs to be worked out because the Arsenal youth graduate is too talented and has too much to potentially offer to be left in the cold like this. With 10 league goals last season, we cannot give up on ESR and need to develop the 22-year old in a way where he can operate in the team’s system. He cannot endure another season like this one, though admittedly it didn’t help he’s spent so much of it injured.
I believe it’s the end of the road for Albert Sambi Lokonga and we should look to move him on permanently at the end of the season. A season-long loan would not be the end of the world, but I struggle to see his attitude and mentality ever been warmed to by Arteta. And his performances on the pitch for Arsenal always left you feeling cold, like you know he could have given more. Charlie Patino should be given some game time in pre-season, and either given another season long loan, or if he impresses potentially kept around for domestic cup games.
Sell: Lokonga, Partey (if required to sign both Caicedo&Rice).
Loan: Patino (to Premier League club), potentially Vieira (to a Premier League club) depending on the size of Arsenal’s squad.
Sign: 2 Centre Midfielders are essential, ideally they are Caicedo & Rice.
Decisions: find ESR a role within the system.
Arsenal have 2 of the best wingers in the league in Saka and Martinelli, and given they are both just 21-years old, the likelihood is that in years to come they will be 2 of the very best in the world. Arsenal getting both players to commit their long-term futures to the club (Martinelli recently signed a new long-term contract, and Saka’s new contract has reportedly been finalised, just not officially announced at time of writing) is as important for the club’s future as any new signing they could complete this summer. They’ve both been incredible this season and are two of the most exciting and promising players in the world.
There has been question marks about Arsenal’s depth in their positions though. The signing of Leandro Trossard has eased those concerns somewhat, he is an extremely able replacement for Martinelli, and the Belgian’s versatility in the forward positions is of massive benefit to Arsenal. His impact on the side following his January move has quickly made him a fan favourite, and he’s one Arsenal fans should enjoy watching for years to come.
However on the right hand side, they are still very reliant on Saka staying fit. Luckily for Arsenal, the youngster has amazing fitness levels, he’s been involved in every Premier League game Arsenal have played since May 9th 2021. But that will become trickier when Arsenal are back playing Champions League Football as The Gunners will need him at his very sharpest to progress in that competition, it stands to reason that at different stages through the season they will need some alternative there. One option they currently have is Reiss Nelson, the 23-year old who has had an up and down career to date. He had a very successful loan at Hoffenheim, where manager Julian Nagelsmann was very impressed with him. He returned to Arsenal and appeared often after Arteta had replaced Unai Emery but he lost his place the following season and was later loaned out to Feyenoord. This season has been another up and down one for him, he didn’t impress in his Europa League starts, then he got a chance against Forest after Saka went off injured and took it, but then picked up an injury which meant he wasn’t seen again until the Bournemouth game, where he was excellent getting an assist and later an outstanding game-winning goal.
Nelson’s contract expires this summer, though Arsenal are reportedly in talks to extend it. I think that would be a smart move by the club, he’s showed enough in his substitute cameos to prove that there is a real player in there, one definitely good enough to be a solid back-up option. Due to the quality and availability of Saka, Arsenal need a right-wing option who is willing to be patient, but who also has the required quality when called upon. I think Nelson fits into that category, as a Hale End Graduate, an Arsenal boy, he is more likely to be willing to wait patiently on the bench unlike a new signing who could easily get disheartened at the lack of game time. The one concern over Nelson is perhaps his injury record. Given he is behind Saka there will be times in a season where his chances of playing time are few and far between, but there will be definitely be moments he will be needed, whether starting or off the bench, and he needs to be fit and ready for them.
In that right-wing position Arsenal of course still have Nicolas Pepe, who is the club’s record signing after they paid £72M for him in 2019. He has been on loan at Nice this season but has done little to convince anyone there’s a future for him at Arsenal. He is simply too inconsistent. Though capable of hitting real highs, scoring great goals out of nothing and looking very dangerous, just as often he has games where he constantly makes the wrong decisions and is very wasteful. Arteta requires players who even on a bad day never fall below a certain level of technical security and Pepe often falls below that level, so he will never be an Arteta type player. Arsenal should look to move him on this summer, as he is not good enough to push Saka for a place, and will be unwilling to spend the majority of his time sat on the bench. A move is best for all parties, and Arsenal will surely find a willing suitor somewhere in Ligue 1, but should not expect to recoup even half of what they paid out for the Ivorian winger.
Another right-wing option is Marquinhos, who Arsenal signed from Sao Paulo last summer. He had a dream debut away at Zurich where he hit a great goal and assist, but since then on his rare opportunities he’s looked very raw. In January he was sent on loan to Norwich, where again he scored and assisted on his debut but has struggled for impact since. The 20-year old is still young enough to be afforded time and Arsenal have the option to either keep him playing with the under 21′s for now or find another loan move for him.
At striker, Arsenal have some interesting possibilities. Gabriel Jesus was along with William Saliba, Arsenal’s best player before the 2022 World Cup. He brought a new dimension of quality to the attack, and set a new standard for the team with an insatiable work ethic and ability to fashion chances out of very little for himself and his teammates. At the World Cup he picked up a serious injury which required surgery. Upon his return, he quickly got back up to speed and scored 4 goals in his first 3 starts back.
Jesus has many strengths, but he also has his weaknesses, the big one being that he isn’t clinical, which is really the only reason he isn’t one of the world’s very best strikers, because in all other areas such as work rate, intelligence, creativity and dribbling he is, but he is not a man who will ever get 20+ league goals a season. Jesus was very wasteful in the games prior to the World Cup, but Arsenal fans accepted it because they were playing so well, they were winning games anyway in spite of these misses. However in recent games, with the absence of Saliba at the back meaning Arsenal are much less solid defensively, they are conceding more goals and now Jesus’ wastefulness is starting to cost them and therefore becoming more of a problem.
One problem Arsenal have currently is they don’t have a striker who can offer them something completely different to Jesus. The one other out-and-out striker they have is Eddie Nketiah, who other than fresh legs and a fresh mind if Jesus becomes fatigued in a game, doesn’t really offer a different problem to defences than the one Jesus provides. Nketiah doesn’t have an all-round game at the level of Jesus, his hold-up play isn’t as good, even though he’s slightly taller than the Brazilian, hitting long to him is less effective than it is with Jesus on the pitch, and in the box he doesn’t provide a greater threat in the air.
In 9 league starts whilst Jesus was injured, Nketiah played 9 full league matches and scored 4 goals, including that well remembered brace against Manchester United which featured that memorable last minute winner. But in those 9 starts, he fired 6 blanks and didn’t produce any assists either. Nketiah has many good qualities for Arsenal, his attitude is good, he has a serious desire for self-improvement evidenced by the way he has bulked up in recent times, he is a good goal poacher, a reliable cup goalscorer and as a Hale End boy, he loves the club and will be patient for opportunities, conducting himself professionally whilst waiting for a chance, and at 23 he’s young enough to still get better.
However does he have enough quality to ever seriously threaten to dislodge a fit Gabriel Jesus from the side? It’s doubtful and there lies the problem. A team that is looking to win the Premier League and reach the latter stages of the Champions League should be looking to have a striker who can really push Jesus for minutes. It’s of course normal to have a first-choice striker who is a long way clear of the second, and that’s fine if your striker is Erling Haaland or Harry Kane, someone who guarantees lots of goals. Arsenal don’t have that luxury with Jesus and therefore it’s not an acceptable position going forward that Jesus is just the first choice number 9 no matter what, no matter if he has a long scoring drought. Or that if Jesus is struggling in a game, there’s no point taking him off because the back-up striker can’t really offer a better alternative.
So to compete in both the Premier League and the Champions League, Arsenal will need to look at a different option upfront. One such option could be Folarin Balogun, the 21-year old striker currently on loan at Reims. He has scored 18 in 30 league games, and appears to at least present a completely different profile to Jesus, being more of an out-and-out goalscorer and therefore a more clinical finisher. This would definitely seem to present a good substitute option for Arsenal and perhaps even a good starting option at times when Jesus is struggling for scoring form. However there has been rumours circulating that Balogun wants to continue being a first choice striker and doesn’t want the competition of fighting for a starting place. At 21-years old he certainly has no divine right to a starting place ahead of Jesus, so therefore the best option could be to sell the striker. If Arsenal opt for this, they should be looking to get around £40M for him, considering he still has 2 years left to run on his contract. To get less than £30M for him would be a failure, especially if he is sold to a Premier League club.
Given he signed a new contract with the club last summer, I do not expect Nketiah to leave as he appears to have a good relationship with his manager and teammates. Nketiah is one of the better cup competition strikers around so can be relied on to net in the domestic cups. However I view Nketiah as a good mid-table level striker who would be a decent starter for the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham. Given he has a contract running until 2027, Arsenal could expect to get decent money should they opt to sell him. And I think there is a strong argument they should sell him, if an opportunity arose to sign a better striker than Nketiah, who aswell offers something completely different to Jesus. Players who fit into that category include the likes of Ollie Watkins, Ivan Toney and Dusan Vlahovic. Given the first 2 names are English and play for Premier League clubs, they would be far from cheap.
However the sales of both Nketiah and Balogun would surely raise some not insignificant money to put towards capturing one of those players. Arsenal could really use a striker who is a real handful in the air, whether that’s in the penalty area to score from crosses, or someone who can win the header when the team opt to go long. It would also be beneficial for defending set-pieces, which Arsenal have been bad on recently. It would give the team that Plan B option in attack they do not currently possess.
Taking the best player off Aston Villa or Brentford will not be easy to achieve, but if Arsenal want to get over the line in the Premier League and really compete for the Champions League, this is the kind of quality and profile they need to really boost their attack. The other option would be to keep both Balogun and Nketiah, which atleast would give Arsenal some depth in that area and form between them would dictate who’s 2nd choice in that department. However if Balogun is determined to move, Arsenal must then go in for a striker and if the additional sale of Nketiah is required to fund the move of a really top one, such as one of the names mentioned, then in my opinion that’s something they should opt to do.
Sell: Pepe, Balogun (if receive an offer of over £30M), Nketiah (if needed to fund the acquisition of a top striker).
Sign: Striker (with a very different style to Jesus).
Decisions: Extend Reiss-Nelson’s contract.
Arsenal played just 3 games across the 2 domestic cups and they played just 8 games in Europe, and they still picked up 2 defensive injuries at the same time which has put their outstanding league campaign on the verge of unravelling. Given they have now been knocked out of the FA Cup before the 5th round stage in each of the last 3 seasons it stands to reason they will be looking to progress deeper in it next season. They had a difficult 3rd round league cup draw in Brighton and an easier draw next season could present the opportunity to go further in that competition.
And after 6 seasons out of the Champions League, Arsenal’s return to the elite European competition is a big moment for the club, they will not want to exit meekly, they will want to make a statement to the world on the biggest stage to show how far they have progressed as a club. The Premier League will be as difficult to win as ever, as it continues to be inundated with quality managers from the top of the league towards the bottom. So assuming that next season Arsenal go further in both cups than they have done this season, the club should be aiming to play over 50 games next season. This will be a new experience for this team, as in recent years they have rotated heavily for the Europa League. Now the team will be expected to perform at a high level twice a week throughout the season and the club needs to ensure they have assembled a squad which can realistically handle that demand.
Season after season, Arsenal’s lack of squad depth has cost them their targets when it gets to April time. They need to reach a stage where they are prepared for the worst case scenario regarding injuries, so they are not in a position where the gap in quality between starter and back-up is as huge as is the case between say Saliba and Holding. Arsenal’s full strength starting 11 is very strong, the one area of the field where there is clear room for improvement is in midfield. Granit Xhaka is a very good player who’s had a very good season, but the difference in the squad’s quality if for example Declan Rice is signed for his position is enormous, as the knock-on effect is that Xhaka would then be a bench option and a very good one as opposed to having Xhaka starting and a bench option like Mohamed Elneny or Sambi-Lokonga, as has been the case at stages this season.
Arsenal have a great starting 11 and they are not miles away from having a great squad, clearing out the last of the deadwood this summer and replacing them with quality will give Arsenal the strength in depth they need to compete on all fronts. With the money they will receive for being back in the Champions League, Josh Kroenke’s growing interest in the club’s on-pitch performance and the possibility of selling non-essential players for a good amount of money, Arsenal have the funds to take their squad to the next level this summer.