You know, I’ve been busting my head and trying to complete a season review that, at this point, is totally meaningless. I don’t need to tell Gooners what kind of season we had. Not when everyone has had a chance already to digest the season, come to their conclusions and close that book. The FA Cup triumph was awesome. The poor start in the Premier League doomed any pretentious feelings over ever catching Chelsea. The Champions League campaign died the night Monaco surprised every one of us at Emirates. Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey were great. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal were revelations. David Ospina took over in goal and did a solid job. Wojciech Szczesny was a fool. Both Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil came back from injury looking better. Alexis Sanchez. Alexis Sanchez. ALEXIS MOTHERFUCKIN’ SANCHEZ.
There. Isn’t that a solid season recap? Let’s instead focus on the summer and the silly season musings. Forwards and not backwards.
On first glance, the squad doesn’t need much. It’s a cup-winning side. A top-3 in the Premier League side. There’s both youth and depth in the side. In players like Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Alexis and Laurent Koscielny, there’s world-class talent that can win games. Let’s look at the team:
GK: David Ospina, Wojciech Szczesny, Emiliano Martinez
RB: Mathieu Debuchy, Hector Bellerin, Carl Jenkinson
CB: Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel, Calum Chambers, Isaac Hayden
LB: Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs
CDM: Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Krystian Bielik
CM: Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Gedion Zelalem,
CAM: Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky
AW: Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Serge Gnabry,
ST: Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo
I should say that I expect Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell are likely to be sold and leave London Colney like Abou Diaby and Ryo Miyaichi have already done. I also think the Calum Chambers, who started so many games at RB will eventually find his place as a CB instead with the opportunity to move to RB as needs arise. It’s similar to how players like Santi can play in central midfield or across the three attackers or Theo can play on the right or up front. Like I said, at first glance, this is a solid squad. Which is why I don’t think we’ll see lots of transfer activity from Arsenal this season.
All that said, I think we can all agree that we cannot go next season without an addition of some kind. And that’s both the good news and the difficult news. The need for wholesale changes isn’t dire, but it’s present. More than changes, what is needed is the need for the kind of top level talent that will take the team from 3rd/4th to 1st in the league. In short, Arsenal need to find another Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez.
That’s where the conundrum occurs. Mesut Ozil only came to Arsenal because Real Madrid went after Gareth Bale. Alexis Sanchez was surplus to Barcelona the moment they got Luis Suarez. Arsenal have proven adept at convincing castoffs from other super-clubs that their careers can flourish at Emirates Stadium. So far, he’s been proven right. Ozil, critics aside, has been one of the best midfielders in the league and Alexis took the Premier League by storm this season. In order to improve from what is already available, the club will need to wait for situations where players who are a cut above the rest are for sale and pounce on them.
Which may already be what’s going on with Petr Cech. The long-time Chelsea keeper has been supplanted by young Thibault Courtois at Stamford Bridge and the Czech keeper wants a chance to find a starting gig elsewhere. Arsenal, along with Paris Saint-Germain, are willing to meet the 15 million pounds-valuation for his services. The hope is that, with a family already settled into life in London, Cech will push for a cross-town move against Jose Mourinho’s wishes. Would Cech be an improvement over Ospina and Szczesny? Yes, he would be.
Does that mean I want to see the Colombian or the Pole leave Arsenal? No, but it may be what has to happen in order to close the gap with the Blues. Simple fact is that Ospina and Szczesny are good keepers. They may even be great keepers in the near future. But Cech is already a great keeper, with a career studded with titles and winners medals. Adding him to a defense with Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal and Debuchy ahead of him could spring Arsenal ahead of Chelsea next season.
This is the mindset that the club needs to have: is this a player that can add to our title-seeking campaign next year? Is he heads-and-shoulders above what we have? The problem is that this mindset requires patience. You have to be willing to let other teams rush out and spend money on players whom you’re linked with – say Jackson Martinez ending up with AC Milan – in order to have the players you want appear available.
Does that mean waiting for Rafa Benitez and Real Madrid get Sergio Aguero or Mauro Icardi in order to hope Arsenal can land Karim Benzema? Or seeing if Juventus will land a Geoffrey Kondogbia or another midfielder to hope to land Arturo Vidal? Supporters aren’t necessarily keen to let business wait till the end of the window. This is specially harder now that the season will begin August 2nd in the Community Shield against Chelsea. The desire to have a good start to the season and challenge on all fronts will be strong. To sit and wait while others sort out their business won’t do the hearts of Gooners any good.
OK, so say Arsenal do land Cech, a Vidal-like midfielder and a world-class striker like Benzema. Is there anything else that’s needed? About the only other thing that sticks out is another LB to compete with Nacho and Gibbs. There were rumors last winter of Arsenal being after Valencia’s Jose Luis Gaya, but given he just signed a new 5-year contract with a 50M euro buyout clause, it’s unlikely we would move for him. Maybe there’s a desire for another body given the injuries that Gibbs has battled and in order to ensure we’re not praying there’s a LB-equivalent for Hector Bellerin we have to start at a moment’s notice if injuries should strike.
Ultimately, for me, I hope we have a great summer. One in which there’s the addition of 3 key players that can put this team over the top. We’ve sadly been here before – feeling so close only for the bottom to fall out – but hope springs eternal. And the hope here is that Arsenal can and will seize the chance to finally break through and back to the uppermost echelon of the game. We’re seeing the beginnings of it again: players with the club are lusted after by others, people talk of the goals and the style of Arsenal,