For Arsenal fans, narrowing a summer wishlist down to just five items is a real challenge. The club endured a fairly disastrous end to 2018/19, allowing a top-four place to slip through their fingers before suffering a Eurpa League final battering in Baku.
They’re left with a squad in need of a major overhaul, and an owner unwilling to inject the funds required for a revamp. There is a lot of work to do, starting with...
1. A new centre-half
It’s the perennial transfer prayer for every Arsenal fan: someone to come in and shore up that leaky defence. Unai Emery’s arrival was expected to tighten up the Gunners defensively. Instead, they conceded 51 Premier League goals – an identically abominable record to Arsene Wenger’s final season.
Liverpool’s acquisition of Virgil van Dijk shows the transformative impact that a quality centre-half can have on a team’s defence. Arsenal have been linked with Saint-Etienne’s teenage defender William Saliba, and while he looks like a good prospect, it’s worrying that there is talk of him spending the first year of his contract back on loan in Ligue 1.
Arsenal’s best central defender, Laurent Koscielny, will turn 34 in September and can't be expected to play as regularly as he did in the second half of last season. Arsenal need someone who can improve their defence immediately.
2. A new left-back
A new centre-half has to be complemented by a new left-back. Last season, Emery was forced to play an awkward 3-5-2 system because he didn’t have sufficient faith in either of his left-backs to cope with the burden of playing in a back four.
Nacho Monreal no longer has the athleticism, while Sead Kolasinac never really had the dexterity or defensive awareness required in the position. Arsenal have bid for Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, who would appear to be a shrewd investment. If the Gunners can sell Kolasinac, they might even end up breaking even on the deal.
3. A winger
Since losing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal have lacked players with dribbling ability and directness in wide areas. There are high hopes for the young trio of Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe and Xavier Amaechi, but given their inexperience the Gunners could do with a senior addition on the flanks.
The name currently doing the rounds is that of Wilfried Zaha. He certainly has the profile to restore some excitement to the Gunners' attack, but the concern would be that he appears to be very expensive. Arsenal are not flush with cash and should arguably be diverting the majority of their resources to their defence.
4. Moving Mesut Ozil on
Beloved by some, bemoaned by others – Ozil has succeeded Wenger as the most divisive figure at Arsenal. On his day, he can be sensational – but those days are becoming increasingly few and far between.
The problem is that he is comfortably the highest earner at the club – with 'comfortably' being the operative word. Ozil looks like a player who is content to pick up his pay packet, regardless of whether or not he is integral to Emery’s plans.
But Arsenal can’t afford to use so much resource on a player who doesn’t regularly deliver. Ozil used to occasionally be called a luxury player on the pitch – and sat on the substitutes' bench, he definitely becomes an unsustainable indulgence. It won’t be easy to find a buyer for a player on prohibitively high wages, but hopefully Arsenal can find a compromise.
5. A plan
For a long time now, Arsenal have looked like a club without a plan. Fans showed during Wenger’s reign that they were prepared to accept periods of underachievement if there was a long-term project to invest their hopes in.
When the club hired diamond-eyed scout Sven Mislintat, supporters were excited about the prospect of becoming a graduation school for Europe’s elite talent. However, Mislintat’s departure midway through last season has raised questions about what exactly Arsenal’s strategy for success entails.
Once the Copa America is over, former ‘Invincible’ Edu is due to be appointed as the new technical director (more about his credentials here). Part of his remit is to safeguard the identity and values of the club. It’s something Arsenal sorely need.
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