by Patrick Kidd
Arsenal Football Club are coming off their worst domestic season in 25 years of top-flight football, finishing the league in 8th place behind Wolverhampton Wanderers, and more painfully, Tottenham Hotspur.
The Gunners’ tumultuous year reached its low point in November 2019 when manager Unai Emery was sacked by the Arsenal board following a string of disappointing results, culminating in a home defeat to German outfit, Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.
On 20 December 2019, former Arsenal captain Arteta was offered his first managerial position, being appointed as Emery’s successor. Since taking the reins, Arteta has seen a lot more success than Emery.
The Spaniard’s tenure peaked with triumph over Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. However, this victory could still not save Arsenal’s historically abysmal season of football.
[Above: FA Cup Winners, sourced from @Bernd_Leno on Twitter: A moment of positivity in Arsenal’s dismal year. The club capped off the 2019/2020 season with a triumph in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.]
Fortunately, the FA Cup win did secure Arsenal a place in Europe for the 2020/2021 season and this will have an immensely positive impact on the club’s ability to attract interest from good players.
Despite the monetary gain from Europa League qualification, Arsenal’s board and owners are likely to remain extremely frugal during their spell in the transfer window. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, it’s doubtful that they will see any star arrivals at the Emirates this year, particularly given the financial implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are glaring issues all over the pitch for the Gunners that need to be rectified in the current transfer window.
Arsenal’s defensive weakness has long been a joke amongst supporters of the Premier League, but this stereotype is usually contrasted by a high attacking output from the side. In the 2019/20 season, this attacking output was non-existent and as a result, the Gunners’ defensive woes were all the more problematic.
The club conceded 48 goals and kept only 10 clean sheets on the season. Had it not been for the heroics of goalkeeping duo Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez, those numbers may have looked even worse. The Arsenal goalkeepers were forced to make the most saves in the league, keeping out 147 shots between them.
At the other end of the pitch, the North-Londoners took the sixth-fewest shots on goal during the season. In spite of this, Arsenal still managed to finish with the seventh-most goals scored, largely thanks to their Gabonese talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who scored 22 Premier League goals, finishing one goal behind Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy.
Arsenal’s offensive woes obviously weren’t a result of poor finishing, but rather a lack of creativity and penetration. Arsenal’s most blatant inadequacy is in the position of attacking midfielder.
Along with their need for a new attacking midfield player, the club should definitely look to sign a centre-back. There are many options on the transfer market who would fit Arsenal’s budget and make an immediate impact on the team.
In a perfect world, Arsenal would shoot for the stars and sign Jack Grealish. At 24 years old, the Englishman is seen as one of the most promising and influential playmakers in the Premier League, if not the World.
Sadly for Arsenal fans, Grealish’s club Aston Villa have reportedly set his price at a minimum of £80 million. This number would likely exceed Arsenal’s net expenditure across the entire market, let alone for a single player.
Because of the impossibility of the Grealish signing, Arsenal would do great business in signing the young Argentinian midfielder Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City.
[Above: Emiliano Buendia, sourced from 90min.com: Norwich City’s Emiliano Buendia enjoyed a prolific campaign last season and would be a great addition to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side.]
Buendia was a central part of Norwich City’s set-up and enjoyed an excellent season personally despite his team’s relegation. He was a creative machine for Norwich, racking up seven league assists in a team that lacked a proven goal scorer.
Norwich’s deficiencies in front of goal are outlined when you look at Buendia’s numbers this season. Statistically, the Argentinian is one of the most creative players in Europe. In 36 appearances, he produced 135 shot-creating actions¹ at an average of 4.93 per game, also playing 79 key passes² on the season.
The youngster is the exact player that Arsenal needs, a direct bridge from back to front. He is always moving forward and seeking an offensive outlet. He played 145 passes into the final third during the 2019/20 season, 50 more than the £80 million Jack Grealish.
Buendia predominantly played as a wide attacking midfielder for Norwich, but he definitely has the talent and skillset to fill the central number 10 role in Arteta’s preferred 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 set-ups.
Given Arsenal’s creative shortfalls, Buendia would be the perfect budget signing for the Gunners. However, if Arsenal were unable to secure the signature of Buendia, they could sign the more experienced Phillipe Coutinho from Barcelona or they could possibly look internally and promote youth players Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock into the role.
It seems ever more likely that Mikel Arteta will commence the new season with young French arrival William Saliba as the linchpin of his backline. But the promising centre-back is only 19 years old and needs an experienced head next to him. Arsenal’s current personnel of David Luiz, Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi simply cannot fill this role successfully given their proneness to errors and general lack of defensive capability.
This is why the experienced French central defender Samuel Umtiti would be the perfect addition to Arsenal. The World Cup winner has fallen out of favour at his current club, Barcelona, having played only 13 matches this season. At 26 years-old, Umtiti will want to move and get his career back on track.
[Above: Samuel Umtiti, sourced from bleacherreport.com: Samuel Umtiti has suffered through an injury-riddled season and seems to have fallen out of favour with FC Barcelona’s management. Will he be looking for a way out of the Nou Camp for the 2020/2021 season?]
Since taking over, Arteta has favoured playing the ball out from the back to beat the opposition press and start his attacks. Umtiti is the perfect fit for this tactical system. His strong left-foot would complement Saliba’s right-footedness perfectly and his passing ability is one of his strongest attributes.
With a pass completion percentage of 87.1%, Umtiti falls well above Arsenal’s closest defensive challenger, fringe player Sokratis, whose pass completion sits at 80.9%.
On top of this, Umtiti did not make a single error leading to a goal in his 2019/20 season. Compare this to Arsenal’s starting centre-backs, David Luiz (3), Shkodran Mustafi (2) and Rob Holding (2) and it’s clear that the Frenchman’s composure is exactly what the Arsenal backline needs.
Having the French-speaking centre-back partnership of Saliba and Umtiti would ensure successful communication between the pair and Umtiti’s World Cup and Champion’s League experience is exactly what Saliba needs to develop into a World-class defender.
Given his current relationship with the Barcelona management, Arsenal would be able to secure him on the cheap and at only 26 years old, the Gunners can get at least five good years from the Frenchman.
If the market doesn’t allow for Arsenal to bring in the World Cup Winner though, then Manchester City’s John Stones would make a great second choice, given his experience and on-the-ball ability.
Arsenal are going to be looking to book a spot in the Champion’s League during the 2020/21 Premier League season and they’re going to need to bring in some important players if they want to do so and bounce back from their poor performance last season.
Shot-creating action¹ - the two offensive actions leading to a shot or goal. This includes live-ball passes, dead-ball passes, successful dribbles, shots which lead to another shot, and being fouled
Key pass² - a pass that directly led to a shot