It’s a buzzword. A process of change, used to disguise & excuse at times, but also to contextualise and inform. Constant forward motion means clubs are constantly doing what it describes, so in a way, it’s inherently phatic. Yet for Arsenal, it’s a word that defines our contemporary era.
Focus the lens more closely, and the Kroenkes look ready to invest as Arsenal continue their significant period of squad turnover. Come the end of this transfer window, it’s plausible that there could be only 3 players remaining in the squad who were here at the end of the 18/19 campaign. For comparison, at Liverpool, 17 players remain from that time period.
Under Mikel Arteta’s stewardship, Arsenal look to be finding stability, bedding in the foundations of a team for the long term. But we’re not there yet, and how quickly we’re running forwards is yet to be determined.
So let’s get to it. What is on Arsenal’s to-do list this summer?
Circled in red pen, right at the top — incomings.
The forward group looks to be an area where Arsenal will focus a significant amount of their investment, and to get where you want to go, you need a group with quality and balance. Currently, Arsenal’s attacking group who are under contract of Saka, Martinelli & Smith Rowe has creativity, enthusiasm & dynamism, but no-one who I would call a killer, nor anyone who I would say is physically dominant. So the qualities I think Arsenal need to add to their attacking group are as follows;
- A physical presence who can win duels.
- An aerial threat.
- Someone with a track record of high chance conversion.
- Someone adept at dropping deep and linking up.
- A pressing forward.
- Someone who can spin off the shoulder of the last man with pace in behind.
- Adaptability to different game states through versatility.
Lacazette looks set to leave, but we will retain some of those qualities through Eddie Nketiah, who is set to sign a new deal. Eddie’s all round game has significantly improved.
Credit: Scott Willis.
Looking at his per-90 shot, non-penalty, successful press metrics and more, he rarely drops below the 70th/80th percentile on average and has a significant amount of very high value traits when compared to other forwards in the top 5 leagues. But as the graph says, this is a small sample size. Eddie is the perfect forward to add to the group as a rotation option and he can also play from the left, but I doubt he’s signing a new deal without assurances on his play time. With no transfer fee to pay, £100k a week works out fine, but I don’t want him playing every week personally. One to watch.
Signing Nketiah makes sense to a degree, as finding someone who has all of those qualities is nearly impossible unless you’re looking at the likes of Haaland or Benzema. There’s a number of ways of getting what we will still need on top of Eddie.
We have no real precedent for what Arteta might want to add to his forward group as he has made no signings in that area other than Willian & extending Aubameyang’s contract. But we do have names.
The Athletic recently revealed that Arsenal have a number of possible options at CF. Roma’s Tammy Abraham was linked last summer, but Lacazette’s situation prevented that deal from happening. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Alexander Isak were discussed in January, but Sociedad’s unwillingness to negotiate Isak’s release clause may be a barrier as well as his poor goal record since January, and Calvert-Lewin has had an injury-ridden, poor season in an even worse Everton side. Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez is of interest, but he signed a new deal in October 2021 and prefers to play in a front 2. Other names include Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Sassuolo’s Gianluca Scamacca, and 19-year-old Czech forward Adam Hlozek was of interest until his move to Bayer Leverkusen.
A graphic from the excellent Aaron Catterson-Reid shows us how they all compare – Nketiah’s numbers looking pretty impressive.
But, according to The Athletic, Gabriel Jesus is Arsenal’s number one target. Arteta has worked with Jesus at Manchester City, and Edu was the Brazil national team’s general co-ordinator when he first received his call up in September 2016. Pep Guardiola and Tite, Brazil’s coach, have both referred to Jesus as the best pressing forward in the world. The reports are that the personal terms have been discussed for months now, and all that needs to be agreed is a fee – however Nketiah’s new deal may change that.
You could get a wide forward who can also play through the middle with a physical presence like Cody Gakpo and a pacy presser with goal threat like Jesus to layer on Nketiah et al. You could get a guaranteed aerial threat in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and someone who can drop deep, progress the ball through the thirds and defend from the front like Martinez. Victor Osimhen is a shot and xG machine, and Ivan Toney, as one person put it on Twitter, is like Harry Kane-Lite, so adept at threaded balls from deep.
There’s all sorts of combinations that could arise and it’s probably not worth speculating on every single one as it’s a completely fluid situation with so many variables – it’s just clear we need to add those qualities to the group somehow.
It’s easy to get attached to the names we’re hearing like Jesus, and convince ourselves they are the guy. But trust me, the talent is out there. At this point last summer, Arsenal fans were on their hands and knees for Emiliano Buendia, Yves Bissouma and Andre Onana. Names like Marquinhos, Reiss Nelson, Omari Hutchinson and more may yet come into the fold and give us new dynamics. Dare I say Serge Gnabry?
It’s a long summer.
To be a top club, you have to act like one. Liverpool, Chelsea & City have attacking groups. You’re never quite sure who out of Jota, Salah, Mane, Firmino & Diaz will play, and they all bring such different qualities to the table, meaning you have a full palate to choose from.
This one must be top of the to-do list.
Next, we move to the midfield group, looking to fill the three Mikel likes to use. Currently, this group consists of Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Sambi Lokonga and Martin Ødegaard. Assuming Charlie Patino & others in the youth setup aren’t quite ready to step up just yet and that Granit Xhaka stays, that leaves us with a number of possible options.
I am not a fan of the word “back up”. Signing someone to explicitly be your “backup” rarely works as you tank their value, reduce the competitive level and don’t have an adequate replacement when they need to come out of the team. You have to layer quality on top, and if you already have an unmovable first choice player, you must sign someone who you at least believe at some point in the future could be your first choice, as we did with Sambi Lokonga.
Martin Ødegaard played a lot of minutes last season, and for two seasons now Thomas Partey has had to come out of the team for significant stretches in crucial moments of our season. These guys are absolutely vital for us in every phase of the game, and we can’t afford to be without players of quality in those positions. Therefore, I think the midfield needs two additions or layers on top.
Youri Tielemans is the only name who is being significantly linked with Arsenal at the moment in the midfield, and whether he’s right or not, his type of profile is the first of of the two. Goal threat, progression in our left hand channel, and possibly someone whose strong foot sees them coming inside to mirror Ødegaard. Someone who could play left or right 8, provide competition & cover for Ødegaard but probably cement that left 8 spot. I’ve liked the stability Xhaka has brought rolling round into the double pivot at times in games, so personally I’d look for someone a bit more robust and athletic than Tielemans, but I have to say I haven’t watched much of him, and his attacking numbers can’t be ignored. RB Leipzig’s tireless Konrad Laimer is someone I’ve been following for a while and looks excellent at both sides of the game.
The second is someone who can sit a bit deeper, progress the ball, intercept & recycle possession. Mikel Arteta might see Mohamed Elneny and Sambi Lokonga as able to jobshare on that one, but for me Sambi isn’t ready to do that at the highest level and is more of an 8 at this phase of his development — interestingly, that’s where we saw him on the final day of the season. Elneny has an important squad role as someone who can provide respite especially early on in the season in initial rounds of cup competitions, but is just not good enough for high leverage situations. Arsenal need someone who can take the load off Partey, as we can’t afford another season without quality in the anchor.
In terms of the defensive group, we’re looking in fairly good shape. With William Saliba coming back in, our central defensive group is strong. On the exterior, as long as Tomiyasu stays fit, there’s no problem there. I’ve made my position on Tierney clear before, and even if you happen to think he’s the perfect fit for us unlike me, someone who has missed 48 games since being at Arsenal isn’t going to get us to the top level. The early links to Aaron Hickey look good, a two footed player who could cover both sides and specialises on the left, but I still think we need specialist full back cover on the right, and I’ve heard on the grapevine that Cedric may be off to Newcastle, which I hope is true. Brooke Norton-Cuffy may be an internal solution. There are names out there, but nothing concrete. Nuno Tavares, for me, needs a loan dependent on incomings — but he could be a really special player. He’s a bit of a unicorn.
Finally, the Goalkeeping group. Nothing to do here. Aaron Ramsdale is our certified number one, and I hope he can get back to his best next season having had a slightly worrying drop off. Matt Turner seems a strong, ambitious & intelligent character and can provide ample competition for Ramsdale while Arthur Okonkwo continues his development at only 20 years old.
Transfers will be the most important part of the off-season for Arsenal, and we must get our incomings right.
On the outgoing side, I’d like to see us shifting the likes of Lucas Torreira, Pablo Marí, Hector Bellerín, Bernd Leno, Nicolas Pepe, Alex Runarsson & Ainsley Maitland-Niles for significant fees, though it’s always difficult with players who are evidently not valued by the club. However, I don’t want to see us in a similar situation to this year where we leave our squad unbearably thin in search of being completely streamlined.
It’s imperative we get a new contract sorted for Bukayo Saka. Part of the reason I’m hesitant on the Nketiah deal is because he’s getting £100k p/w — so what should Saka be worth to us? Regardless, he deserves financial compensation that suits his importance to the team and it would be less than ideal to head into the new season with question marks over his future. There’s talk of a release clause — fine. It protects the value, and talent is out there, tough as it would be to see him go. Gabriel Martinelli, along with his new number 11, should be tied down as well.
More widely, I’d love to see some more experience at the club. I am still of the opinion there is space for some older heads to provide oversight on the football side of things, whether at executive or coaching level, and I’d like to see that reflected on the pitch in terms of the age profiles of the players. Packing out our squad with quality players who are heading into their peak, as opposed to players just out of their teens, feels like Arsenal’s next step.
It’s a highly competitive landscape, and the race is never ending. But to catch up, Arsenal have a lot of rebuilding to do.