Arsenal endured a mediocre 2018/2019 campaign, including failure to make the top four and a loss in the Europa League final to London rivals Chelsea.
The Gunners find themselves in a transitional period following the departure of Arsene Wenger, leaving Spaniard Unai Emery to make the most of restrictive resources available. An area of significant concern – defence.
It is widely believed that Arsenal have a limited budget of around £40-45m, barring player sales, following their inability to make the Champions League. This proves difficult for Emery and the ‘new era’ Arsenal, with new faces amongst the corporate hierarchy tasked with reviving the current team whilst balancing their books
Unai Emery has a reported ‘break clause’ in his current Arsenal contract which would mean he may be dismissed one year earlier than expected, if needs be. It’s fair to say the circumstances are very tight for the former Paris Saint-German coach, dealing with an extremely limited budget whilst expected to take the side back into the Champions League. It is expected that majority of this budget will be invested in defensive acquisitions, considering the abysmal display from the previous campaign.
Arsenal’s strike-force has proven to be one of the best in the Premier League, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang winning the golden boot in his first full season in North London. This has left many supporters frustrated as the defensive display has been much of the downfall. Rob Holding and Héctor Bellerín are two notable exclusions from the back four, ruled out with long-term injuries. Both players had promising starts and had cemented a place in Emery’s starting line-up, with their absence leaving very few trusted options, two of which are ageing – Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis.
The current situation proves to be the most testing yet for coach Unai Emery, whilst also being new for many supporters. Circumstances can be likened to Liverpool over the last few years, seeing them heavily reliant on being able to alwaysscore, with the defence causing far too many problems. Fast forward to recent years and a record £75m spent on the signing of Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton, the Reds have just won their sixth Champions League title and pushing Manchester City all the way in a scintillating title race. Could Arsenal do the same? Probably not for a while but there is hope of improvement, with the right investments.
There is no doubt that Arsenal boast a lot of talent in their side, although not at the level of rivals City or Liverpool. The lack of funds leaves them no choice but to act extremely smart in an inflated market.
There has been interest in Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney, although an initial bid as been rejected. A signing that would prove a defensive upgrade on current option Sead Kolasinac, whom is better going forward than staying back. The interest may indicate a shift in transfer policy, opting for domestic reliability as opposed to a foreign talent to nurture in the hope of coming good, which seems to be the case with the pursuit of St-Étienne’s William Saliba, who is just 18 years old.
Clear emphasis on defence, something that I’m sure many fans will be pleased with and something that cannot be avoided any longer. Shkodran Mustafa’s erratic form has proven to be a large concern with the German not able to provide much comfort when included. Both aforementioned players would add a lot of quality to this current Arsenal side, especially in the form of Tierney; with the Scottish International heavily likened to compatriot Andy Robertson, a Champions League winner.
There is no doubt that the transfer market is becoming increasingly difficult to operate in, the inflated evaluations and often lack of availability leaves a lot of top clubs shopping from the same aisle. The expectation from supporters and pressure on Emery and Arsenal to produce is exceptionally high, given the clear attacking prowess being held back.
Player sales are a potential possibility but many won’t be displeased if the right defensive acquisitions are bought in return, which will surely be this summer’s emphasis. Emery’s side had a disastrous end to the Premier League season, with one of the worst away forms in the League. If something isn’t done soon, that break clause may be activated yet.