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A big window so far, but still work to do for Arteta: what can he do to complete the project?

A longer piece analysing what Arsenal need to do for the remainder of the summer window.

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Image Credit: Getty Images

For long-time followers of Arsenal, this transfer window has felt like a fever dream. After season upon season of a mind-numbingly conservative approach to spending, the club is finally flexing its financial muscles. The window has only been open for three weeks, and Mikel Arteta is all but confirmed to have landed three statement signings in Kai Havertz, Declan Rice and Jurrien Timber, splashing out north of £200m. But is this truly enough? Our key downfall last season was a clear lack of squad depth, with Gabriel Jesus even admitting in a recent interview that the loss of William Saliba in February was the key factor behind the loss of the title. With some outgoings sure to take place this window, Arteta and Edu must be sure to patch over any holes if we want to fire on all cylinders again next season.

Defence

With the addition of Jurrien Timber, the Arsenal defence looks to be sorted. As mentioned above, a key part of the eventual downfall was the loss of Saliba; while Rob Holding is a solid aerial presence and a strong tackler, he simply lacks the on-ball ability to replicate the Saliba role, and our performances suffered as a result. On the flip side, Timber is in the 99th percentile for several passing statistics across all centre halfs, confirming his potential to play in a ball-playing role at the heart of defence next season. His ability to play as a right back, too, provides further competition for Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu, providing another boost defensively. The Dutchman’s prowess on the ball also gives him an edge, as he can be deployed as an inverted right back, in the style of Alex Zinchenko, giving Arteta even more fluidity regarding team selection. Essentially, Timber is a brilliant signing, and an absolute steal on the current market at under £40m.

Jurrien Timber

Jurrien Timber turning out for Ajax [Image Credit: Getty Images]

The only thing to do now for Arteta is to offload the less capable defensive players in the side. Holding deserves a lot of credit: he has been a great servant and has invariably given his all when playing, but he now falls far down the pecking order of defenders, and it would be best for his career if he was to move now. Another player who should be offloaded is Cedric Soares: he is ageing, and with the addition of Timber, will find himself as the fourth-choice right back, so now is the time for him to move on and get some playing time in the twilight of his footballing days. If the club successfully makes these difficult decisions, then the club will undoubtedly have its best core defensive group for a long time, perhaps the most key factor in finally winning some major trophies again.

Midfield

Perhaps the biggest boots of all to fill will be those of Granit Xhaka. After several mediocre seasons at the Emirates, the Swiss international finally proved his worth throughout the last campaign, becoming an integral part of our title-challenging side. For the first time this year, Arteta deployed Xhaka in a more creative role, with his late runs into the area eventually becoming his trademark. So as he departs to Bayer Leverkusen for a healthy €25m, Arteta must have a plan in mind to replace him. One rumour is that this has already been pre-empted through the signing of Havertz, who has a similar build to Xhaka and is also very left-footed. This, however, seems a little off.

Granit Xhaka will join Bayer Leverkusen

Granit Xhaka and his family at his final outing at the Emirates in May [Image Credit: Getty Images]

Havertz, by trade, has been an exclusively attacking player for all of his career, so it seems slightly naïve to put him in a role where a high defensive work rate is one of the key requirements, especially considering the adjustment required to change to Xhaka’s position from the centre-forward role in which he played most recently at Chelsea. Likewise, Emile Smith-Rowe and Fabio Vieira are both potential candidates, but are equally more offensively-minded players, with the latter also lacking the physical development necessary for such a demanding position. The obvious imbalance in this potential midfield becomes ever more obvious when considering the presence of fellow attacking player Martin Ødegaard in the side, whose performances and captaincy make him practically untouchable for next season. So can Arteta find a way around this without having to change the system that worked so well for us in 2022/23?

Look no further than one Declan Rice. The young English star has it all: strong defensive awareness, elite composure on the ball, and a surprising turn of pace for a man of such stature. Although he has primarily been deployed in a deeper position at the London Stadium, Rice’s versatility gives Arteta a great level of freedom in where to play him. Equally, Thomas Partey also has great ball carrying ability, so if he is kept at the club could also represent a decent option to play in that slightly more advanced position. It should be noted, however, that as Partey ages in the long term, another signing in the box-to-box profile will be necessary to maintain a high level of midfield quality. Who that may be is unclear right now; Moises Caicedo is possibly the most ‘Arsenal’ option on the market right now, due to his youthfulness and incredible tenacity, but the £100m price tag that Brighton have slapped on him makes him an unfeasible purchase at the minute. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see, but if we can hang on to Partey for this season then there can’t be any reason for complaint.

Rice tackles Partey

Declan Rice punishes a Thomas Partey error at the London Stadium [Image Credit: Getty Images]

Attack

The final area in which there is further scope for improvement is in our front-three depth, primarily at striker. Gabriel Jesus is a fantastic option as a starting centre-forward, but naturally his best attributes are his dribbling and hold-up play, rather than his aerial presence and finishing, and so is best deployed as a false nine. What is missing at the club is a more physical option who can make his mark in the less technically-oriented league games. While Eddie Nketiah had some brilliant moments last season, his comparatively diminutive presence in the box meant that he was often shut down by the more powerful defenders, with the 1-0 loss at Goodison Park perhaps the most telling example of this. Folarin Balogun had a fantastic season in France last year, netting 21 times for Will Still’s Reims side, but his desire for first-team football means that he is unlikely to be happy in a secondary role at the club.  Combine this with the need to make back some money after the early spending in this window, and it is clear that cashing in on Balogun is the best option.

So who could do it? Barring the machine that is Erling Haaland, the best option on the market is probably Napoli’s Victor Oshimen, but this is frankly an unrealistic target, as he has already said that he wishes to stay in Italy next season. As a more genuine option that fits the mould, Dusan Vlahovic could be a brilliant shout. He is highly physical and an accomplished finisher, who could add another dimension to Arsenal, in the same style as Haaland at Manchester City.

So what needs to be done?

Ultimately, Arteta has a track record of making the right signings for the club, and so Arsenal fans should put faith in him for whoever he chooses. The project is not completed yet, but whichever way you look at it, Arsenal is on a steep upwards trajectory. With the addition of just a couple more key profiles, the club could be challenging both domestically and on the continent in the near future. In the meantime, as Arteta said at the final home game last season, all there is to do is to ‘enjoy the journey!’

NEXT ARTICLE: Bukayo Saka sends funny message to William Saliba after contract extension.

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1 Comment

  1. Chris Panda

    July 12, 2023 at 7:46 pm

    So long as we get Timber and Rice through the door, maybe one more attacker and the squad will be looking good in the first team and in depth. I like Nketiah but he’s just not a 30 goal a season player. But if anyone can find a gem or do a deal it’s Arteta. He’s proved to be an amazing fit for the club and steering us in the right direction. He has all our support and I can’t wait for the season to start. Great article look forward to future ones.

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