Au Revoir Arsene
After 22 years at the helm, we are finally about to see an Arsenal side without Arsene Wenger on the touchline for the first time in 21st century. Even if your love for him did start to turn to anger towards the end, nobody can deny everything that he has done for the club and the legacy that will live long in the mind of Arsenal fans across the globe.
I cannot imagine the Invincible Arsene of 2004 imagined that his swansong would involve fan walkouts, the worst away record in the top 4 divisions, 6th place finish and 37 points off the eventual champions. But you have to take the good with the bad in football.
It may not have been a perfect ending, but it has been a fairy-tale journey and now the powers that be at Arsenal have the small task of replacing one of, if not the most iconic man in the club’s history.
The board will be looking to avoid the mistakes that were made at rivals, Manchester United, when Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down. A managerial conveyor belt of high profile managers that were not able to replicate the Scotsman’s success, although it could be argued that none were given ample time to lay the foundations.
As I write this, it has been announced that the most likely man to face up to this mammoth challenge is going to be former PSG and Sevilla manager Unai Emery, a man who is no stranger to success on the biggest stage. Most notably winning the Europa League 3 times consecutively when in charge at Sevilla and more recently winning 4 trophies during his short stay in France with PSG.
But despite his successes, his CV is also littered with some less encouraging stats, such as never finishing in the Top 4 of La Liga whilst with Sevilla, his Sevilla side went an entire season without winning an away game in La Liga and he also never made it past the round of 16 in the Champions League with PSG. You could say that he has shades of Arsene Wenger about him, a tendancy to underperform despite having ample resources to succeed.
The transfer window is already open, and Emery should waste no time in putting in motion the plans that he has for the Gunners. We all know that he is no stranger to splashing the cash, having been responsible for recruiting Neymar to the Parc Des Princes for a world record fee just last summer, although I think the purse strings may be a little tighter at the Emirates.
Much to the dismay of the fans, over the past few years Arsenal has been treated more like a business than a football team with the focus seemingly more on net spend than league position. But now that Wenger has gone the club needs a huge overhaul, and to do that there needs to be money spent, but not like post-Bale Tottenham or post-Suarez Liverpool, the investment needs to be structured and in areas that are actually required.
I personally think that they need an entire new spine, consisting of a goalkeeper, centre half and a robust central midfielder. Of course, you can talk all day about transfer rumours but until they are holding up the shirt then it would be wise to not look too deep into the rumours that are spread across social media. That being said I have identified the 3 rumoured players that I feel would benefit Arsenal in the most in the aforementioned areas.
- Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen) – When Cech signed from Chelsea a few years ago there were rumblings that Arsenal may have just found the final piece to their puzzle but unfortunately, he hasn’t quite been the player he was at Stamford Bridge. The 26-year-old German has amassed over 250 appearances for the Bundesliga side and has been constantly linked with a move to England for the past couple of seasons, and I think he would be a perfect addition to a squad in a redevelopment phase. A good goalkeeper gives confidence to the whole side, more than any other position.
- Sokratis (Borussia Dortmund) – My first option would’ve been Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli, but their asking price looks set to be far to high for any club to offer, never mind Arsenal. Having seen the impact Virgil Van Dijk has had on shaky defence at Liverpool, Arsenal should be looking to follow suit with a centre half with similar credentials. Sokratis is proven at Champions League level and he has been excellent for Dortmund over the past few seasons. This is perhaps the most key position that Arsenal need to invest big in if they want to challenge for major honours.
- Ruben Neves (Wolves) – To some it may be odd for a player freshly promoted from the Championship to go into the starting XI of a Top 6 side, but the Portuguese international is that good. Not only does he have a habit of scoring the spectacular, his passing range is matched by very few and he also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty if required. On paper Neves is made for Arsenal. Not to mention he was the captain of Porto in the Champions League at the ripe old age of 18, the sort of leadership qualities that Arsenal are crying out for.
Arsenal’s current squad boasts the likes of World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, and serial goalscorers in France and Germany, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, with a few additions there is no reason as why they shouldn’t be back in the top 4 and who knows perhaps even loftier ambitions. If Emery can find a way to allow Lacazette and Aubameyang to link up like they did towards the back end of the season, then I see no reason why both of them cannot exceed 20 goals each next term. And with a 40+ goal strikeforce then no teams will want to face them, which hasn’t been the case for the past 2-3 years.
Their current squad is also lined with exciting young talent such as Ainsley Maitland-Niles who made fleeting appearances last season, impressing when doing so. And younger players such as Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah ready to take their chance.
Out with the old and in with the new
It is clear to see that the teams willing to play fast, expansive football seem to be reaping the rewards and heading up the table whilst teams that are still limited to their cagey styles of play seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Emery’s teams have been prolific in front of goal and the Arsenal fans will be hoping to see more “rock and roll football” along with the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Spurs. Which should be a given in this Arsenal side given their wealth of attacking options and their lack of great defensive players.
I think it would be foolish to expect immediate success from Emery as he needs to climatise to the league and adjust to the pace of our game, but I think the board will make it clear from the get go that Top 4 is the number 1 priority and that with the squad he has inherited they should be perfectly capable of doing just that.
I personally feel that Wenger should’ve left on a high perhaps after one of the recent FA cup successes, but he has allowed the situation to sour which has perhaps tarnished his legacy just slightly.
In terms of the appointment I feel it shows ambition to a certain degree although it is somewhat disappointing when there was someone of Allegri’s calibre interested in the job, but it couldn’t be agreed logistically for one reason or another.
Emery will be scrutinised by many, but I do hope he succeeds because Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in England and they don’t deserve to be in the position that they find themselves. If the recruitment is right then who knows what Arsenal side might turn up come August.