Balancing Arsenal for a zero balance
Arsenal do have a squad of good players.
Arsenal do have a few very good players.
Arsenal do have a large cluster of highly promising young players.
Arsenal don’t have a modern, athletic, balanced group.
I’ve had a go at reforming our squad below and made an exciting discovery.
Firstly, here are the key issues to creating a modern, athletic, balanced group….
- We need athleticism and speed at Centre Back. William Saliba will offer both but if he’s likely not ready straight away then we go back to square one. Either way he can’t play every game so we need more than one. Long term it would be great if we had a solid partnership with these needed qualities, like VVD and Gomez and that is very possible (see below).
- I’m of the opinion that midfield is the priority. With the introduction of Saliba we at least have a modern option at CB.
The biggest issue at Arsenal is a Defensive Midfielder. We have multiple play makers in Ceballos, Guendouzi and Xhaka but only Torreira as a true DM.
The issue with Torreira is that he is almost perfect if you can keep a compact team block and he only has to cover short spaces as he is very quick in short spaces. The issue becomes when the game is in transition or becomes stretched. Lucas Torreira is quick over 5 yards but can tread water over 20 yards. Transitions have arguably been Arsenal’s biggest issue for 15 years.
The only current option is a medium term project if Arteta wishes to try Ainsley Maitlind-Niles as a DM as he has the athletic and technical profile but not the experience or positional sense which is the most important quality of a DM. The rock where all other qualities build from.
The other midfield area that needs change is based on whether we play 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 (which we did vs Brentford).
If we play 4-2-3-1 then we ideally need an AM who can press, react quickly defensively, consistently add assists and get at least 7 goals a season. Ozil does all of these either once in a while or in the distant past.
Willock seems to be the favoured one but his goal and assist ability is potential based rather than stat proven. Smith-Rowe, the same.
If we go 4-3-3 then we need at least 3 athletic box to box 8’s.
This need illuminates Arsenal’s major problem. We have players that can retain the ball but struggle to effectively carry it and penetrate on the ball and penetrate off the ball to optimum effect.
Again, we have current players that can fit part of the profile needed, but not the end product.
Willock, Maitland-Niles and Smith Rowe can all do the first part. They can win balls we’ve not been winning as they are more athletic than Xhaka, Ceballos, Guendouzi etc…, but their goal scoring and creative play in the final third is all potential based. Is that enough?
The only player in our squad who has the proven potential to do the final part is Bukayo Saka who played at centre left midfield last week. Is half a season of goals and assists enough to trust him? Is he going to end up there?
Truth is that there is risk in even the most secure sounding option. Scholes and Lampard types with the closest to a ‘guarantee’ of final third product every year are so rare. Paul Pogba is the perfect answer but you get major attitude concerns, so again the perfect box to box midfielder might be a thing of the past or a player we develop.
Before I dive into my solutions I’ve tried to be cognizant of the balance needed in age, PL experience and leadership as well as the more unseen qualities of positional sense, communication and organizational skills.
A current strength.
I think it’s likely that Emi Martinez moves as he is more than capable of being first choice at a good club which will help him maintain and possibly push further into the Argentinian squad. I trust Arsenal to adequately replace him. I’m not going to.
I’d love to upgrade at right back. I think Bellerin’s leadership, ceiling and experience deserve the opportunity to prove that he can be more than a decent defender and a submissive attacker.
I’d sign Soares permanently as he’s free and a good back up option. The free part is important as money is needed elsewhere.
Talking of free, I’d sign Kurzawa for exactly the same reasons as Cedric.
I’m not particularly high on either but they do bring experience at the highest level.
I’d sell Kolasinac for £15M.
Upamecano could be transformational for Arsenal and if we were more stable in midfield I’d go for him.
I’m trying to be realistic though and in reality it’s highly unlikely that we would pair Saliba with a 21 yr old, both new to the PL, new country, new everything.
So, I would sign Mari and pay the extra £8M or so.
Rather than invest the £50M needed to get Upamecano I’d buy the next new version who is free, Tanguy Kouassi.
PSG don’t need to take risks on youth as they have the finances to get the finished product so huge talents can be found at clubs like PSG, City, RM etc…
In the long term Kouassi and Saliba could be the world class pair we look for. They are the exact description at the beginning of this blog, modern, fast and athletic.
In the short term we play him enough to develop but at the right times and with the right partner. We also use him as a back up option at DM as he has played there too.
Essentially he is the exact profile needed for both CB and DM and he’s free. Arsenal must be praying he chooses us and I’d say with our willingness to play young players there are only a few ‘big clubs’ that stand a chance as why would he go from not playing at PSG to not playing at City.
There is another solution to Kouassi and I think he may get a chance this next month…. Zech Medley. Similar physique and ability to play both positions (as well as left back), but not as quick.
I’d sell Sokratis, Mustafi and Holding for a total of £38M.
My number one signing for the last year has been Wilfred N’didi. I think he’s now the best destroyer in Europe. I’ve come to the conclusion that Leicester won’t sell. They’d be mad to do so as it was proved to them in early 2020 that his absence started to change their fortunes.
I’ve watched Bundesliga religiously for 2 years and am a huge fan of Axel Witsel at Dortmund.
He is the modern day DM. Athletic, fast, great on the ball, elite positioning and defensive ability. At 31 he has 3 more years at the highest level at least. Many seem to rule out players simply because of age and resell value. My argument is that your squad needs players of all ages and players for the future and players for now. As we have been out of the CL for a few years now we can’t just plan for the future, we need players for now too.
I’d be surprised if they sold him but Witsel has spent his career touring the world and is yet to play in England. He may be interested.
I’d buy Axel Witsel for £30M.
Thomas Partey looks like it will happen. I won’t spend much time here as it’s all been said but he should be a game changer. Much like Witsel but 4 years younger.
I’d buy Thomas Partey for £45M.
Petit and Vieira were not essential in their time but transformed Arsenal. This type of player is proving essential now as others have at least one of them.
You may be wondering why the need for two of them? Well, if they were simply destroyers then another profile would be needed. Much like Petit and Vieira they can play, destroy and break lines so both could play at once.
I’d play 4-3-3.
A 3 man midfield needs 3 types of player.
A destroyer, a playmaker and a line breaker.
In Partey and Witsel you have all 3 in both players. This would give flexibility to play 4-2-3-1, also.
I’d play Witsel at DM and Partey on the right side of the central triangle. The third player would be a choice between two more signings.
I’d buy Santi Cazorla for free and Dani Ceballos for £30M.
I’m selling Xhaka for £30M so I need to replace his leadership and PL experience. I’d give Santi a 1 year contract with a view to a second year as a player or coach.
He wouldn’t be able to play more than once a week so Ceballos would get plenty of opportunities, as would Ainsley Maitlind-Niles who I think has the potential to be an Arsenal great. Many don’t agree but I think if he gets his head right, he has a huge ceiling.
After seeing Ceballos’ resurgence in 2020 and knowing how players can blossom in their second season, I’m excited to see him stay.
I’d loan Guendouzi, Willock, ESR, Ozil and Torreira. Willock and ESR have a big future at Arsenal but would benefit from playing 30+ starts. Guendouzi was spoilt by Emery and won’t be happy being at the back of the pack. I’d loan him so he can develop beyond being a ‘jack of all trades but master of none.’
Torreira may have a future too but deserves to play. I’d loan Ozil for his last year so as to not be tempted into falling for the ‘but he’s so talented’ theory. Arsenal need more than a combo of just 5 assists and goals a season and three ‘wow’ moments.
I’d also sign Dominik Szoboszlai for 15M and loan him for a year to a smaller PL club so he can adapt to the physicality. He is one of the most impressive natural footballers I’ve seen in years.
ElNeny will bring in £10M.
I’d buy Justin Kluivert in a swap with Mkhitaryan (plus £20M).
This is a luxury signing but he has the ability to be world class. I’d loan him out for a year, like Szoboszlai, to adapt to the physicality of the PL.
He is the kind of player that you’d pay to go watch. You’ll see.
I’d play Martinelli as both a LW and CF until I figure out which is his strength.
We’d have 5 players for both wings in Auba, Pepe, Saka, Martinelli and Nelson.
I think I’ve found the perfect solution to getting more consistency in front of goal at CF.
I’d sell Lacazette for £40M and replace him with Edinson Cavani for free.
Cavani has guaranteed goals for 10 years and he hasn’t slowed down recently. As I said earlier, players for now AND players for the future.
Cavani could offer two more years and Nketiah could rotate and get plenty of opportunities and crucially, not be behind a player who will be in front of him for 5+ years.
Goals now, goals later.
Here is the most beautiful part of this fantasy window……
I have managed to modernize Arsenal adding speed and athleticism but kept a balance in experience and youth. There is sufficient PL experience and after selling Xhaka we’ve kept the leadership by retaining Bellerin, Luiz and adding Cazorla.
I managed to have a net spend of zero.
£148M in sales, £148M in spend.
If you read this blog back to front this kind of transformation would seem impossible.
Five free transfers helps 👍🏻
Former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with 3 kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years.
Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.