With all of the international football that has been going on, Arsenal’s transfer business has gone slightly under the radar. With pre-season already underway for the players who remained in North London, new manager Unai Emery has gone about his business in the transfer window quite shrewdly.
Focusing on incoming players rather than those leaving the club, Emery has gone about reshaping what the starting line-up may look like come late-August; starting with the defence.
At the beginning of July, the signing of Papastathopoulos Sokratis from Borussia Dortmund was officially announced, a signing that was reportedly confirmed for several weeks. Prior to that, Swiss full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner and German goalkeeper Bernd Leno were brought in.
While there are plenty of areas that can be pointed to when it comes to figuring out Arsenal’s shortcomings in Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge of the club, an aged and uninspired defence is certainly one of the most prevalent.
Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal all regularly featured throughout Arsenal’s packed fixture schedule – all of whom are over 30 years old.
When it came to younger players, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos had their inexperience shown-up on a number of occasions.
While both goalkeepers that featured during the season – Petr Cech and David Ospina – have significant pedigree, they were not at their best throughout the season, with Cech going several months without clean sheet as he attempted to smash the League record for the highest number of shut-outs.
With the new signings, Emery is attempting to refresh, while also retaining depth. The aforementioned Chambers was immediately offered a new contract as Emery seen him as an important figure in the long-term; while new players are being brought in, not everything is being changed.
Sokratis is likely to make his way straight into the starting line-up whether Emery opts for four players at the back or three. Based on his excellent form from last season, he will be joined by Monreal, who’s displays earned him a call-up top the Spanish squad for the World Cup. When fit, Koscielny can offer a good mix of experience and solidity and the same can be said for Shkrodan Mustafi.
Here's a look at the defensive roster as it stands:
Bernd Leno, Petr Cech, David Ospina
Shkrodan Mustafi, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Papastathopoulos Sokratis, Sead Kolasinac, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Hector Bellerin, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Carl Jenkinson
Now, that’s a lot of defensive depth.
With all of the available players, Emery will be able to mess around a little with his defensive options, especially with the prospect of another Europa League campaign on the horizon. As last season showed frequently, having squad depth is of vital importance as the season progresses.
It’s unlikely that there will be any more players brought in to what is already a bulky defensive roster, but there may potentially be some players out-going or allowed to make a loan move to continue their development in the case of the younger players.
So, how can the refreshed defence help in rejuvenating Arsenal’s form? Well, for one thing, shoring things up at back is something that is desperately needed – by march of the season just gone, Arsenal had lost more games than they had the previous, also disappointing, campaign.
In the 2017/18 season no club in any of Europe’s top 5 leagues made more defensive errors that ultimately lead to a goal than the Gunners, with Petr Cech actually being the worst culprit.
Obviously, defence wasn’t the only issue – the lack of goals, especially away from home, had a big part to play – but it is inherently fixable.
With the forward positions playing home to a lot of attacking talent in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, having a reliable backline working in tandem with a potent strike-force may prove a successful formula for Emery’s Arsenal if he can get them performing.
The core of the team is perhaps the part that looks like it could still undergo some change. Jack Wilshire will no longer take a place in the Emirates midfield, but their looks like there will be some defensively minded players added to the middle of the field.
The most heavily-linked player is Lucas Torreira, who is currently playing at the World Cup with Uruguay and plys his club trade at Sampdoria in Serie A. Occupying the role in front of the centre backs in a defensive midfield position, Torreira would add some extra steel to the already remoulded back-line.
Whether Torreira becomes an Arsenal player or not is probably still a little bit off being decided – on a day-to-day basis there appears to be developments both for-and-against his transfer to North London, as is traditional with the transfer window. Regardless, whether it’s Torreira or not, Emery will likely bring in a player to helm the space in front of his defenders, playing a more specific role than the likes of Granit Xhaka or Mohamed Elneny.
Emery’s job at Arsenal is an enormous one. Taking over from a manager like Wenger that had become so instilled into the culture of the club was always going to be difficult, but then having to go about personalizing and revamping the team multiplies this difficulty exponentially.
Reworking from the back was a very sensible, if “unflashy” approach that Emery will be hoping will pay dividends for him. With the business taking place so early in the Summer, his new look-team will have an extended settling in period as opposed to a player snagged on deadline day, and seeing as there is currently so much change at the club, this could be very helpful.
While it will be unclear exactly how the team will line-out until the league has started up-and-running again, what is clear is that changes are being made by the new manager - and while these changes may not be the most exciting, they do make a great deal of sense.