Where Should Arsenal Strengthen in the summer?
A recent return to form for the North London club has seen them regain fourth spot from Everton after being displaced temporarily from their adopted home; the top four. It seems that the smart money would now be on Arsenal finishing the year in a Champions League qualification position as they have a relatively straightforward run-in in contrast to Everton who still play host to title-chasing Manchester City. It is also likely that their nine year trophy drought will be brought to an end in just over 3 weeks. They find themselves in a very winnable F.A. Cup final against Hull City who are still not currently assured of Premier League football next season.
It is up to Arsenal fans to decide if top four and a trophy would be classed as a good season with all the promise that was present earlier in the campaign. But any success should not detract from the fact that significant alterations to the squad need to be made in the summer. Although this may not be completely possible in the immediate short-term, a significant overhaul of the first team squad is necessary in the next couple of years should they have aspirations of challenging for silverware at the absolute highest level.
There are a couple of positions which I do not believe present a pressing concern to Arsene Wenger should he remain as manager, but may need to be looked at should they desire to reach the very pinnacle of competition. Firstly, Wojciech Szczesny does not fill me with confidence between the sticks. His play is wrought with a degree of complacency and high self-belief that is a prime breeding ground for mistakes. Not always as commanding as you would want, and always with the potential to throw one in, Arsenal may want to eventually replace Szczesny.
In addition, they may have an issue at full-back if Bacary Sagna’s contract situation is not sorted out. He has been solid and I believe it would be a mistake to let him leave despite the promising emergence of Carl Jenkinson. However, if Sagna does re-sign as expected, then Arsenal will be set fair at full-back and defensively in general.
The first major position that Arsenal must strengthen this summer is in central midfield. The team needs a combative midfielder to break up the opposition’s play and be a leader. This has been said about the Gunners for so long, and it is a criticism of Arsene Wenger that he has gone so many years without fulfilling that requirement. Mathieu Flamini has done this with a degree of success but does not seem to be in favour during his second spell at the club. He lacks mobility and gives away a few too many needless fouls in my opinion. With Champions League football still not secure for next season, they may struggle to recruit a truly world-class talent, but someone of the ilk of the Juventus pair; Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, is required. Wolfsburg’s Luis Gustavo or Spartak Moscow’s Romulo may be more attainable.
Second on Arsenal’s shopping list should be an A-list striker. Wenger clearly acknowledged the need for one in the summer when he placed a bid of 40 million and 1 pound for Luis Suarez. Instead of following up with an improved bid, he tried to be a little too clever for his own good and the Liverpool hierarchy took an immovable stance. It was also proved later in the window that money wasn’t an issue when they proceeded to sign Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid for £42.5 million. Can you imagine where the Arsenal side may have found themselves at this point in the season if they had been able to add Suarez’s goals to the team? The Gunners were top of the league for long periods of time but have fallen away horribly of late. With the sustained impact that the Uruguayan would have provided surely their situation would be better. Although the signing of Ozil was a signal of intent and galvanised the squad, his performances have faded badly since a few impressive early games.
In retrospect, you would have to say that the small fortune invested in the German midfielder could have been invested better. He is doubtlessly a top quality player, but if there is one position in which Arsenal are not lacking depth, then it is creative and attacking midfielders. They have been hit with injuries throughout the campaign but have never struggled to fill this slot with Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere and Rosicky all on the payroll. Surely Wenger should have seen the presence of so many similar players at the club, with a significant absence elsewhere? After his heroics this season leading to a possible title for Liverpool, Suarez is almost certainly out of Arsenal’s reach this summer. Instead, they could look to bring in Mario Mandzukic from Bayern who may find himself side-lined after Lewandowski’s protracted arrival, or possibly the Udinese forward Luis Muriel.
Finally, the North London club should add depth to their wing department. Although Theo Walcott insists he is a front man; and his goal output justifies this opinion, Arsene Wenger seems to favour him on the flank. This is fair enough as he is still able to provide a significant contribution to the team, perhaps most obviously when he uses his pace on the break. His blistering speed can make any defender look like they are running through treacle, making him a vital outlet for his team.
However, the overall pace in the team has been seriously exposed when Walcott has been out injured this year. Their attack has looked so blunted without his ability to stretch the opposition’s defence and run in behind. Oxlade-Chamberlain is really the only other man who possesses the ability but he is now deployed from a deeper role which nullifies his effectiveness to a certain extent. From watching them recently struggle to break teams down, it is obvious that they need a fast and direct player on either flank who will commit defenders. They can then have joy from the wings themselves or simply create space infield for the more creative players to do the damage. Players who would fit the bill are Adam Johnson from Sunderland and Angel Di Maria, although I can hardly see latter clambering for a move away from the Bernabeu.