Arsenal last won the Premier League in 2004, with an incredible team of “Invincibles” as they went the entire campaign undefeated.
Patrick Viera manned the ship from the middle of the park, Robert Pires frightened opponents on a weekly basis, and a lethal partnership between Henry and Bergkamp dismantled defences like they were made of straw.
Now, in 2015, eleven years have passed since the Premier League trophy was in Wenger’s hands.
Of course, the costs that came with the Emirates stadium was bound to be a stumbling block in Arsene Wenger’s mission for progress and the eventual recapture of the Premier League crown. Bu in 2013 and new commercial deals were struck it was time for the Frenchman at the helm to decide whether to delve into the deep, dark market and compete with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City for the best that there is, or to bow out honourably, after 17 years in charge.
So his decision to pay a colossal £42.5m to sign Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil brought sheer delight if not shock and surprise to the table.
After years of signing players such as Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, Ozil represented the start of something extraordinary.
The problem with signings like Arteta for fans of a club like Arsenal is that the Spaniard’s signing, just to take an example, was not a big show to the rest of the league what the club is capable of the transfer market. Players like William Carvalho and Lars Bender would be big signs of intent, which was exactly what the doctor ordered when it came to the marquee signing in Ozil.
However, Wenger has struggled to fit the German into the team as much as Ozil has struggled to adapt into his philosophy.
Perhaps that’s not fair, as Ozil has displayed signs of something magical at times, such as when he was given licence to roam in the league match against Hull last season.
Ozil admittedly struggled to maintain a performance standard that was expected of him in 2013/14. It is unlikely that many Arsenal fans would challenge that opinion. The playmaker needed to show a rapid escalation in his work-rate, and strive to impress in big games instead of drifting into the background. In the 2014-15 season he arguably did this.
Wenger moved again to show his muscle in the market, paying over £30 million to secure the services of Alexis Sanchez from another gargantuan Spanish side, in Barcelona. This was a master move.
It’s clear to see when Sanchez is on the ball or involved in an attack, those watching are just mesmerised. With the outstanding ability to play up front, behind a striker or out wide, Alexis gives Wenger many viable options, which he can exploit to his advantage. 25 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, as per WhoScored, is a terrific return for a debut season in the Premier League.
The point with Sanchez, in comparison to Ozil, was that he is truly the first piece of a large puzzle in mounting a challenge for the Premier League title. The Chilean epitomises the signal of intent that Arsenal have needed to sound for so long. It was known to everyone that the club needed to spend, but it’s crucial to utilise the finances on exactly who and where on the pitch. Alexis Sanchez is the first player to instigate what needs to be a rejuvenation, a renaissance of Arsenal in the Premier League.
Identifying who is needed can either be as straight forward as signing a £100,000 a week contract, or as complex as explaining quantum entanglement. Locating where, often begins with finding weak points in a team, specifically in games such as the 6-0 reverse against Chelsea in March.
Absolute no structure in midfield, calamitous defending and a simple lack of common sense derailed Arsenal’s hopes of ever catching Chelsea in that vital fixture last campaign. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny has been suspect at times, which is why the signing of their rival’s shot stopper in Petr Cech has been one of Europe’s best deals of the summer.
Potential defensive frailties
Wenger has not been afraid to spend money in the offensive ranks with the recent additions of Ozil, Welbeck, and Sanchez. The signing of the England and former Manchester United man was impressive to cover the maimed Giroud, who had suffered a broken ankle against Everton, where it would have been expected that Wenger utilise Lukas Podolski or perhaps push forward one of his younger starlets like Chupa Akpom.
However, when it has come to resolve defensive issues, Wenger has been more than happy to roll the dice and deputise players untried in positions. Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin were both hastily promoted from their ranks in the youth academy, and Nacho Monreal was forced to play at centre-back for a period in the season following an injury to Laurent Koscielny.
Despite the prompt progress of both Coquelin and Bellerin, for which the club’s academy and Wenger himself should be praised for, investment needs to be made into defensive positions. The arrival of Southampton’s Calum Chambers was desperately needed and whilst his ability to operate at centre-back and full-back will undoubtedly aid Wenger, a long-term replacement for Mikel Arteta in front of the defence alongside Coquelin needs to be found.
Before Coquelin was recalled from his loan at Charlton, Wenger’s pairing of Mikel Arteta and Matthieu Flamini was irksome to say the least for Arsenal fans. The partnership can work when the team needs to be defensive, the shield the pair offer is quite useful to fend off waves of attacks, but otherwise it stunts the team fluency and style.
Coquelin’s arrival brought a balance to Arsenal’s play and a dominance in front of the defence. On last season’s statistics as per Squakwa, the Frenchman bests both Arteta and Flamini in the air, and is a more proficient tackler.
The 24-year-old wins 3.7 tackles per 90 minutes, compared to Arteta’s 1.79 per 90 minutes, and Flamini’s 1.95.
The issue is that Arteta will be 34 next March, at the same time Flamini will turn 32, with the latter encircled by rumours of a move to Bastia later this summer. Coquelin may well stay in Wenger’s team for years to come, but if the manager wants a pivot in front of the defence, he’ll need a partner.
Granit Xhaka of Borussia Mönchengladbach would be an excellent choice. Whilst Xhaka would not come cheaply having recently signed a new contract until 2019. Nonetheless, he has become a prominent fixture of the midfield for the Bundesliga club and has been pivotal as to why the Foals will compete in the Champions League next year. Only 21, Xhaka is already an established international in the Swiss national team and is the aggressive but dominant force Arsenal need to thrive in their midfield.
After a tough first year in the Bundesliga, Xhaka had many critics but strived to prove them wrong, pushing himself to have a superb partnership with Christoph Kramer in a 4-2-2-2. He can be overly enthusiastic, picking up ten yellow cards and one red, but the Swiss has positional awareness, tackling ability and an exceptional eye for a long range ball.
Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin has been repeatedly linked with various clubs in the past year due to his stalwart performances at Saint Mary’s under Ronald Koeman, who slammed his foot down to block Schneiderlin’s move to the Gunners’ rivals Tottenham last summer. Schneiderlin would be a fine addition, but whether Wenger wishes to fight it out and potentially pay an extortionate fee remains to be seen, with a similar situation seen for Sporting’s William Carvalho.
We could also see a change in formation to just one defensive midfielder in front of the defence to accommodate a midfielder further up the pitch.
At left-back, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal are both competent players who haven’t done much to be forced out of the team, but if the club wish to push forward with world class players, another addition from the Bundesliga in the shape of Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez would be the signing of the summer.
The Wolves pushed Bayern Munich hard at times for the Bundesliga title, and crushed them in January where Rodriguez was one of the stars in a 4-1 win. Another Swiss international, the 22-year-old was without question the best left-back in Germany for 2014/15. An 81 % pass success, 50 key passes, 54 chances created, 60 interceptions and 32 tackles all from left-back in 26 games are quite outstanding statistics.
A more important issue is solving the long-term centre-back issue that will arise at the Emirates with Koscielny (29) and Mertesacker (30) unlikely to be able to perform at their best in the near future.
Some fans have pointed to the old but wise solution in Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin, and whilst having experience is essential, all wise minds but empty legs will not win a Premier League title. Arsene Wenger seems to have made up his mind, having already addressed the fact he will not add another centre-back. Surely feeling that Gabriel, signed from Villareal in January, should provide enough cover with Chambers.
Chelsea’s perfect balance of this can be seen in their squad; John Terry leads the team from years of experience in the league, whilst Eden Hazard’s lightning pace and extraordinary presence on the ball is an example of what Arsenal need.
Up front, Wenger either does not seem interested in adding to his forwards this summer or cannot compete with other clubs. Carlos Bacca of Sevilla and Jackson Martinez of Porto were both available, only for AC Milan to snap up the former and Atletico Madrid to sign the latter player, which left many fans wondering what Wenger’s plans were.
Thierry Henry said back in April that Olivier Giroud was doing ” extremely well” but didn’t believe he was a title winning striker.
The likes of Karim Benzema or Alexandre Lacazette appeal to supporters and either of the French duo would be fantastic moves, but the club’s links with Roma’s Mattia Destro or West Brom’s Saido Berahino should disappoint supporters. They may be good players, but neither Destro nor Berahino will win titles for their team. Alternatively, Alexis Sanchez could be used as an out and out forward, which could be an astute move.
The Premier League is a seething mass of wealth in this present day, and Wenger surely knows that. It is the time to make the ambitious moves in the transfer market in the hunt for the title.