My blog is a little later this week due to turning 30 this past Monday. A truly memorable weekend included going to the Arsenal Legends v AC Milan Legends game, seeing a Kanu hat trick, a Bobby Pires goal, appearing on TV celebrating said goal and finally, having my retro 1971 FA Cup shirt signed by Arsene Wenger. All in all a quite brilliant weekend.
With there being a lack of interesting football on and the transfer window now shut, we can truly assess the shape we’re in with a modicum of calm. The window started brilliantly for us with the signing of a DM post haste. Granit Xhaka was the man employed to solve our midfield crisis and the promise of next season along with the memory of last season working hand in hand to instil hope once more. This was swiftly followed by heightened interest in Mkhitaryan and Vardy. Not that I was in the slightest bit wanting Vardy to happen, I was excited by the prospect of us for once having done our business early. It seemed like the lessons of past windows had been learnt and there was a determination to right the wrongs of last season. Alas it was all a little too good to be true. Mkhitaryan’s agent Mino Raiola, firmly in bed with Jose Mourinho, pitched for his client to wear the red of Manchester United rather than the red of Arsenal. Incidentally if I was Mr. Raiola I would have done the same thing – he full well knows United will be paying far more for his client and therefore giving him a bigger slice of the pie. This left us pursuing Jamie Vardy. Eughhh is what I thought. I was resigned to accepting that he was joining, however nothing materialised as he rejected us (what is happening in the world of football!?) to stay at Leicester. What started as a front foot window quickly became “plan B, what the bloody hell is plan B!?”. As it turns out a little speed bump in plan B presented itself. Having lost both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel through injury we had to act on two fronts. I firmly believe that we would have placed all our eggs in the striker basket had they both stayed fit, and Shkodran Mustafi would not be an Arsenal player. I can imagine that we may have had an interest in him, however a centre forward was where we needed someone desperately before the window shut, but the centre back problem complicated things. In the end we managed to bag both a centre back and striker in Mustafi and Lucas Perez. Along with Rob Holding and Takuma Asano we ended up spending around £94 million. I wonder if this will reduce the “Spend Spend Spend” banners. Time will tell…Let’s have a look under the hood and figure out what we’ve got to look forward to this season.
Granit Xhaka, in my view, is perfect for Arsenal. One of the problems that we’ve had over the last two years is that the base of our midfield has required two people to do a one man job. The CoqZorla combination has worked well for us but the issue with that combination is that Santi Cazorla is inhibited as to what he can contribute to the team going forward. Now I know Leicester play a completely different way to us, however Kante’s role was solely to win the ball back and either give it to Drinkwater or drive forward with his head down. He did that well for them. His role enabled Drinkwater to be the transition man for Leicester and freed him up to dictate the shape in which Leicester broke forward. Granit Xhaka is designed to do a similar job. His mindset to win the ball back and in addition his excellent distribution skills have given us a real asset. Whilst Cazorla alongside him will need to graft when required, he now has more of a license to roam forward and provide support for Ozil in the creativity department. More options for us and in turn more problems for the opposition. The benefit here is that Xhaka’s traits do seem to suit a certain Aaron Ramsey. He may well rotate the transition role with Cazorla on a game dependant basis, as we all know Wenger loves Ramsey. In fairness I love Ramsey. The great thing about our squad is that it is truly versatile. Ramsey can play wide if needed as well and I can see that happening in big away games for cover. In the main, Xhaka is the DM that we have been crying out for and thankfully our cries have been answered.
Shkodran Mustafi on the other hand is someone we’ve been quietly hoping for but in truth we wouldn’t have been surprised if someone of his ilk didn’t arrive. The injuries to Mertesacker and Gabriel prompted his purchase, as we know, and it looks to be a good one. The centre back market is a tough one at the minute when you consider that Chelsea have plundered £38 million to buy David Luiz back. French journalist Julien Laurens didn’t hold back when discussing this move on bbc sport. That clip alone tells you the scarcity of world class centre backs in the market. With regards to Mustafi, every Spanish journalist from La Liga has mooted this signing to be one of the best of the window for any club. He’s been touted as one of the best players in La Liga last season. I haven’t seen much of him at all other than at the Euros but his numbers look great and his experience spans across the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga after having taken his footballing education from the Bundesliga. On paper this looks like a great signing and one that could be a mainstay alongside Koscielny. Let’s hope they compliment each other well.
Onto Lucas Perez. He was clearly not our Plan A. This is clear. We don’t need the world’s media and their following hordes to shout “WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST CHUCK MORE MONEY AT VARDY!!!???”. By the sounds of it money wasn’t the biggest issue with the deal, more the length of contract. With regards to Perez, he managed to score 17 goals last season for Deportivo and has really good numbers across the board. Interestingly his stats for chance creation, assists, key passes, shot accuracy and pass completion all beat that of Antione Griezmann. Griezmann managed 5 more goals than Perez last season and has a better aerial duel win percentage. The profiles of both players are very similar so it’s interesting to see the type of forward Wenger ended up bringing in. He’s mooted as a hungrier but maybe not quite as technically gifted version of Griezmann by many pundits and does have me a little excited. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved Antione Griezmann at the club, however beggars can’t be choosers. We finally addressed a key area of the pitch and have to be pleased that we at least tried something this window. Don’t listen to the ‘panic buy’ tripe the media is pushing. It’s a signing we needed, wanted and managed to get done. It’s a gamble for sure but at least it’s a gamble we took for once. We were laughed at for not spending enough previously and now we have spent we’re being laughed at as to how we’ve spent it. I’m hopeful and feel like trusting the manager’s judgement here as he’s addressed our issues fairly well over the summer. Yes having this done before the season started would have been great, but we all know that it isn’t quite as clear cut as we think it is.
In addition to the signings coming in there were some interesting outgoings. Firstly Joel Campbell has definitely been pulling pranks on Arsene Wenger for he’s been cast out to Sporting Lisbon. Now I do wonder about this one. I had a suspicion that because we couldn’t move Walcott on that we didn’t have any wide players come in. I also wonder that there may be something in Theo’s contract that suggests he must play ahead of less senior players in the squad or players of less salary. It sounds odd I know but it just seems strange that in Campbell a player who outplayed Walcott by far last season has been shipped out vs Walcott who stayed. Weird but we are where we are. The second outgoing was Calum Chambers and his loan will be a defining one. When a 20 year old who got relegated to League 1 with Bolton plays ahead of you, it’s time to be worried. If he has a big season at Middlesbrough it could change for him at Arsenal, but as it currently stands it looks like he may well have let his chance slip. A good season could well change that but it’s a lot to ask. Thirdly and most interestingly Jack Wilshere has gone on loan to Bournemouth. A really really strange move. I would have loved for him to stay and fight for his place as well as provide true depth to our squad. The fact that there were some great European sides interested in his signature (Juventus & Roma) it seems crazy to me that he’s opted for Bournemouth. Now I totally understand his family situation and not wanting to have mass upheaval with his older son Archie starting school this year. It’s a tough position to be in but one that all players full well know is the case when they make it big. It’s indicative of the culture here in England where homegrown players really don’t want to go out and broaden their footballing education. It’s why from our players through to our coaches, our ideas remain stuck in the past. A discussion for another day however. With regards to Wilshere, he will play week in week out and a full year of football will test his fitness and also his ability. One to keep a close eye on, and I really hope he does well there as I can truly see him being a great for The Arsenal.
All in all I feel it’s been a good window and even though it was a little later than we would have liked it happened nonetheless. Millions spent, issues addressed, now the football can really kick off and excite us all once again.
Have a great week folks.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.