This will be a straightforward piece. We will look at where Arsenal lack senior first-team quality and look at how long, based on recent recruitment, it will take for the hierarchy to replace them.
Let’s take a first look at first-team quality. Based on how Arteta wants to play, Arsenal need to be able to sustain pressure against low-blocks and break it down. To successfully do this, you need big threats from either wing as well as general athleticism, ball retention, aerial dominance in both boxes and good passing quality in the team. These qualities will also help the team go toe to toe against better opposition.
Alexandre Lacazette does not have a lot of athleticism. He can’t physically dominate the opposition defensive line and is not a great aerial threat. Stamina-wise, there is a lot left to be desired. However, his link up play is good as well as his movement and finishing. Given that he is 29, almost out of a contract and not going to get better, Arsenal must be looking forward to replacing him in the near future.
Arsenal’s French striker Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring a penalty during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium in London on December 26, 2020. (Photo by Julian Finney / POOL / AFP) /
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a very average one-on-one threat from the out wide wings. He does not offer enough creativity or penetration with the ball against standing defenders. His technique is not best for building play against any block. He is not much of an aerial threat, either. His best qualities are his finishing, off-the-ball movement and acceleration. Declining, old and on big wages, Arsenal must be looking forward to replacing him in the short-term.
Nicolas Pepe has been hit and miss in his second season here at Arsenal. On the right where he can cut in with his stronger foot, he has become really bad in general play. Arsenal may hold on to him because of his age, price and promise but unless he fully turns it around, he needs to be sold on at the right time to recover some of his transfer cost.
In midfield, Arsenal have little in the way of athleticism, mobility, ball-retention or incisive passing in advanced areas. Thomas Partey is the only one with these qualities. Granit Xhaka covers, recycles and distributes well but mobility prevents him from taking his game to the next level. Mohammed Elneny is disciplined, neat and hardworking but that is the bare minimum. Dani Ceballos is not athletic or disciplined enough. He is also not Arsenal owned.
In defense, while Hector Bellerin offers great quality with his inventiveness, movement and passing, his athleticism has since been taken away by a long-term injury. He can’t physically dominate his mark nor defend well enough. He would be good as a bench option.
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND – JANUARY 02: Kieran Tierney of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on January 02, 2021. (Photo by Rui Vieira – Pool/Getty Images)
Kieran Tierney is athletic, technically sound, defensively good and has great mental qualities. Given his relative youth, he needs no replacing but his availability might be cause for concern.
Gabriel Maghalaes is good in the air, can physically impose himself, and while suspect with his communication skills and risk-taking, is good enough at 22.
Rob Holding is a very physical defender who can be part of a good backline. While his general play has massively improved, he is still not the best option for how Arsenal want to play going forward. Can be a good bench option.
So, effectively, Arsenal must replace their entire forward line, at least two midfielders and two defenders to get back to title contenders. That’s 7 first team players. It is a task as huge as the Manchester United rebuild. Given that Arsenal do not have the cash reserves of United, they must take a lot of good decisions as well as patience to get where they want to go.
In recent years, the Arsenal hierarchy have, at the very least, successfully identified problematic areas in the squad. The recruitment is more of a mixed bag but where is it not? Even City and Liverpool, with all the clarity and money and coaching pedigree have had some recruitment duds. It is a thing that comes with the process. Coaching is also a big part of recruitment. How you want to play informs a lot.
In some three years, Arsenal have signed Leno, Runarrson, Sokratis, Luiz, Saliba, Gabriel, Tierney, Cedric Soares, Lichtensteiner, Torreira, Ceballos, Partey, Guendouzi, Martinelli, Pepe and Willian. At least 8 out of these 15 signings have been meant to have an immediate first-team impact. Just half of those 8 starters have been very good so far. The rest have been middling to average while one, for his fee, has been particularly disappointing.
Out of the seven players Arsenal need, they have very promising youth in about four of them. Martinelli, Saka, Saliba and Smith-Rowe all look like they will be good contributors to the first team in the coming years. They are all incredibly young and must not be pushed to play thousands of minutes every season at a high pressure club. Arsenal are quite lucky that they can contribute significantly at the moment. However, it is best if they are used mostly as rotation options.
As such, Arsenal still need an attacking midfielder ahead of Smith-Rowe and wingers ahead of Martinelli and Saka. Given that Martinelli and Saka can play the same position on the left wing, Arsenal may choose to replace only the central and right forward positions. That leaves 6 positions, at least, where Arsenal must recruit first team players.
Based on evidence of the last 6 transfer windows, Arsenal sign an average of a solid 4 players a season, excluding loans. Half of those signings are expected to make an immediate, first team impact. We should reasonably expect a maximum of 3 seasons for Arsenal to recruit players for all the six first team positions that we determined, excluding surprises (Rob Holding developing into the best defender in the league apart). Should we expect surprises? Yes. Bukayo Saka and Martinelli have turned out into solid rotation options. Any member of the squad can take a step up from their current level but for the sake of clarity, we will not be factoring that in this analysis.
Based on the evidence of the last 6 transfer windows, at least 3 out of the recruited players will be very good. That is the baseline. What will 3 very good signings in any of the positions required do to Arsenal’s competitive level? I am pretty sure that it will make Arsenal Top 4 contenders. Unfortunately, most Arsenal fans will not be happy about being competitive for Top 4 in 3 seasons. It will have made it 8 seasons out of the Champions League and extremely weakened Arsenal’s standing in the league.
However, the good news is that anyone of Saliba, Smith-Rowe, Saka, Martinelli, Balogun, Nketiah, Nelson, Miguel Azeez, can develop into first team options if they are still at Arsenal. Saka, Smith-Rowe and Martinelli likely will erase the need for two or three further signings in the future. Arsenal’s recruitment could luck out on an immediate superstar like Liverpool did with Robertson or Salah. If we limit the recruitment to only the last two seasons, Arsenal have recruited Gabriel Maghalaes, Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli and Thomas Partey. That’s two good starters per season. The likely result is that by the time the 2022/23 Premier League season rolls by, we will have our Arsenal back.
It takes a lot to undo the bad team development from the Wenger years. Wenger put too much faith in average players as well as the development of the youth players. The end result was that we lacked a lot of quality in too many positions. With the rise of Tottenham, Liverpool, United and now Leiceister City in addition to Chelsea and Manchester City, it became almost impossible to drag Arsenal up the league anymore. Let’s not forget that Arsene Wenger himself found it too difficult to qualify Arsenal for the Champions League in two consecutive seasons. We will need to be patient, bite our lips and trust in the current project.
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