Are Arsenal serious title-contenders with the signings of Mustafi and Perez?
Arsene Wenger is a stubborn man in the transfer market. Just as is the case every year, he has been reluctant to splurge cash on marquee players this summer, unlike other title contenders. To compete for the Premier League title, Arsenal have lacked a strong central defender, a midfield general and a world class striker for quite a few seasons.
The North London club addressed the situation in midfield early in the transfer window by bringing in Granit Xhaka from Borussia Mönchengladbach; the Swiss is a strong force in the midfield, known for his tackling and physicality. A day before the deadline, the Gunners confirmed the signings of Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi to address the two other positions.
Arsenal’s leading man up front – Olivier Giroud – is an enigma, for when in top form, he is the perfect fit for their midfield creators, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. However, he has bad days more often than not, and is certainly far from a goal scoring machine. The need for a top class striker has been evident, considering that the other options, Danny Welbeck and Yaya Sonogo, are not good enough for a team that should be challenging for the title.
After missing out on Jamie Vardy and Gonzalo Higuaín this season, Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez in previous years, the Gunners finally signed a striker, Lucas Perez, reportedly for £17.1 million from Deportivo de La Coruña. Fans might complain that he is hardly a marquee signing, compared to the players that they have been linked with. He is not a young player, and has neither played for the Spanish national team nor on the big stage yet. He does have Champions League experience having played with Greek side PAOK against Barcelona, but that counts for very little.
However, what the Spanish forward brings to the side is the desire to work hard, chase down every ball and create a chance out of nothing. The left-footed striker can run the channels well, and has a good eye for goal, having scored 17 goals, in addition to 8 assists, from 36 games last season for a mid-table team in La Liga.
Perez is at an age where most attacking players can reach their peak scoring form, but even at his best, he may not be a significant upgrade on Giroud. Wenger is taking a massive gamble by signing the Spaniard, but could he spring a surprise and make a difference to win them the title?
The other player coming in at the Emirates Stadium is center-back Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia, with the fee reported to be around £35 million. The German is a solid defender, who is a strong tackler and confident enough with the ball at his feet, but perhaps not to the standards required to play the ball out from the back in the tightest of situations. Los Che fans describe him as a traditional no-nonsense kind of a player. Though prone to the odd mistake, at 24, he is still young and has shown potential to be a top player.
An academy product of Hamburger SV, his rise has been swift recently, and has played frequently with the German national side since being called up two years ago. He will be expected to partner Laurent Koscielny in the defence, ahead of his compatriot Per Mertesacker and the inconsistent Gabriel. The two centre-backs, along with Héctor Bellerín and Nacho Monreal on the flanks, in front of the ‘keeper Petr Cech, mean that Wenger’s team finally seems to have a settled defence.
Arsenal have always had young talent and potential under the tutelage of their French manager. It is the lack of leaders and self-assured players, who will not buckle under pressure that has hurt them for the past decade. They have always been in contention for the premier league title but have fallen short too many times.
Granit Xhaka, Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi have been brought in to fix the specific areas of concern. These may not be the world class players that the Gooners have desired, but if they catapult them to a league title in May, “Le Professeur” will finally be able to silence his critics.
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