The transfer window has finally slammed shut for another summer. Teams across Europe will be assessing their options now and hoping they will be enough to carry them until at least January when the winter transfer window opens. This summer saw spending reach an all time high. In Britain, the £1 billion mark was finally hit and quickly surpassed when Arsenal confirmed the purchase of German defender Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia for £35m, including add-ons. With that purchase, the Gunners called time on their inward transfer activity. The question is, do Arsenal now have enough to mount a proper challenge for the Premier League title? To better analyse the squad Arsene Wenger has at his disposal, they will be broken down by position – goalkeeper, defence, midfield and attack.
Petr Čech will continue in goal as Arsenal’s number one keeper as Wojciech Szczęsny was once again loaned out to Roma. Depending on who one listens to, this is either a problem position or one of strength for the Gunners. Let it be said that Čech is definitely past his best, and is prone to much more mistakes now than in his days at Chelsea. It became an all too familiar sight to see long range efforts sneak in at his near post during the 2015-16 season. Still, the former Czech Republic international remains a very solid keeper, even if he may no longer be a world class one. For competition, he has the likes of David Ospina and Emi Martínez. Ospina will certainly believe he has what it takes to push Čech this season for a starting berth. The Colombian vice-captain was the subject of much speculation this summer but he has decided to stay and fight for his place. Colombia’s next international tournament will not be for another two years. This along with his status as vice-captain may have influenced his decision to stay and challenge Čech. Martínez will find minutes difficult to come by with the EFL Cup (or League Cup) presenting his best chance for game time this season.
This may be one area of the pitch where Arsenal fans can rest easy. There is ample quality and depth in each defensive position, even with injuries to captain Per Mertesacker and Gabriel. At full back, Spaniards Héctor Bellerín and Nacho Monreal continue as first choice with Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs as their immediate back up options. In Bellerín, Arsenal have one of the most talented right backs on the continent and at only 21 years old, this will remain a position of some strength for years to come. His countryman Monreal has been a picture of consistency for Arsenal, however, at the age of 30, this may be a position Wenger will want to keep an eye over the course of the season. The Spaniard may have started the season in shaky fashion but one would expect him to return to his normal self in due course. Indeed, his performances the past two seasons have earned him the benefit of the doubt.
At the centre of defence is where things start to look interesting for the Gunners. The captures of the aforementioned Mustafi, an Arsenal record fee for a defender, and young Englishman Rob Holding have steadied the ship after the injury bug hit early. Holding has looked solid in his three outings thus far and should prove to be a very shrewd signing at only £2m. Both are ball playing centre backs capable of playing right back. Mustafi is expected to line up beside Laurent Koscielny, one of the finest defenders in England. Interestingly, given the pace of the the back line and their comfort with the ball at their feet, one wonders if Arsenal may return to using a high line in defence. Food for thought.
Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Mesut Özil. Not many in England can call upon a better array of talent than Arsenal in midfield. Wenger has toyed with different combinations, but if the first half against Watford is anything to go on, he may have found his desired partnership in Xhaka and Cazorla, with Özil further ahead. The trio sprayed passes all over the pitch, with Xhaka the chief conductor at the base of the midfield. The Gunners enjoyed control over the tempo of the game in a way that they never knew with Coquelin as the holding player. This in turn liberated Mesut who could then stay further forward to be a danger where he is truly needed. With more fitness and chemistry, this combination could go on to being the strongest in the land. However, with all due respect it was only Watford. Sterner tests surely await this midfield but the early signs are promising. With Ramsey, Elneny and Coquelin, Arsenal have ample cover to handle the rigours of the season. Unless of course injury strikes, and in big way, much like last season.
There has been much debate about the loan departure of Jack Wilshere to AFC Bournemouth. In truth, the England international was not an automatic starter at Arsenal given the talent in midfield. Now fit, Wilshere believed that his best option was to seek a loan move where he would start on a weekly basis. Should he prove his fitness while on loan, and put in the performances he is known to be capable of, there is no reason to believe this loan is the end of his Arsenal career. That said, with two years left on his current deal Wilshere simply must prove himself worthy of an extension in his season on the south coast.
Arsenal have depth in attack, even if the overall quality of all their options has been in question at times. Olivier Giroud should continue as Arsenal’s first choice striker following a good European Championships with France where they finished as runners up to Portugal. Alexis Sánchez remains one of the first names on the team sheet but opposite him, there is strong competition for places. Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi and new signing Lucas Pérez will all be vying for the final starting place. Walcott’s performances so far this season have been refreshingly good, a stark contrast to the nightmare he had last season. Indeed, one would think he and fellow Englishman Oxlade-Chamberlain will have something to prove and are playing for their Arsenal futures. They simply must perform in order to justify the manager’s continued faith in them.
In Pérez, Wenger has himself a curious option. His ability to play in all the attacking positions will work in his favour as the Gunners were crying out for more creativity and mobility in attack last season. The Spaniard enjoyed a good season for Deportivo de La Coruña, scoring 17 goals and assisting a further eight from the centre forward position. Wenger spoke earlier in the summer about wanting to sign a striker capable of playing with or without Giroud and it seems he has found that player, even if he may not have been the first choice on the list of targets. At 27, Pérez is certainly a late bloomer but at £17.1m, he represents a fairly low risk signing. Gooners the world over will be hoping he hits the ground running to give the team the goals it desperately needed at times last season.
Arsenal have a strong team this year that is more than capable of challenging for the title. Though the two Manchester clubs remain the front runners, the Gunners have more than enough powder in their stores to push them both, injuries permitting. They have a solid first eleven with decent bench options in all positions, even with injuries to Mertesacker, Gabriel and Danny Welbeck. New signings Xhaka and Holding seem to have settled well and should Mustafi and Perez do the same, this season could end with some silverware as a reward.