For the first time since 2012, Arsenal FC has not waited until the end of the transfer window to complete their business. Unai Emery’s first window as the boss has garnered praise from Gooners and experts, so take a look at what each new face will bring to the team ahead of the first season without Arsene Wenger.
As his 22-year tenure as Arsenal manager wound down, Arsene Wenger consistently went into the transfer market with way too much confidence in his squad. When the club needed a defensive midfielder to play physically and work hard, he brought in a decrepit Mathieu Flamini. When they needed a big, athletic center back, Wenger opted to stick with Per Mertesacker, who had trouble moving about the pitch before he retired at the end of last season. Additionally, it took five years for Wenger to sign competition for Olivier Giroud, who ran out of energy each season due to lack of depth up top.
In the two months since Arsenal announced his arrival, Unai Emery has made a statement of intent in the market. The Spaniard, along with new transfer czars Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, wasted no time with transfers. The last time the club did their business this quickly was in 2012, when Wenger signed Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud to replace Robin van Persie.
The club previewed the new regime with their busy January window: they swapped out Giroud and the maligned Alexis Sanchez for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and those attackers frequently showed their class in the second half of the season. Emery and company used this summer window to shore up the back line, making this the most complete Arsenal squad in recent memory.
The fact that most of the new signings and key players already in the team will not have to take extended vacations due to the World Cup helps the new manager greatly. The Gunners start the season playing at home against reigning champions Manchester City and away to Chelsea, two teams who had plenty of key players advance to the late stages of the World Cup, so the club could pick up six points against two top-six sides in the first two weeks of the Premier League campaign.
New midfield enforcer Lucas Torreira will likely miss the first match or two since he reached the World Cup quarterfinals with Uruguay, but aside from him and possibly Granit Xhaka, Stephan Lichtsteiner, and Alex Iwobi, the Gunners will have a squad almost at full-strength to start the year, which could help them earn a much-needed advantage over other top English clubs with players who had long stays in Russia and will need a vacation as a result.
All five signings bring something different to the team, and the fact that the transfer team for the Gunners mostly brought in experienced players shows that Emery wants to challenge for silverware immediately. Each player brings something new to the team, and the club has improved greatly on paper thanks to Emery, Mislintat, Sanllehi, and Ivan Gazidis. Read on to see how each new face will impact the team.
Probably the most exciting of the five signings this summer, the 22-year-old brings something back to the club that has been absent since Patrick Vieira left 12 years ago: a tough player in midfield. The Uruguay international’s willingness to stick himself into tackles and run all game sees him draw comparisons to N’Golo Kante and other small, quick defensive midfielders, while his ability to act as the fulcrum between defense and attack will help Arsenal replace Santi Cazorla.
The young midfield dynamo joined in a deal worth around €30 million even though his release clause at Sampdoria was €26 million. Thanks to Gazidis and company kicking in some extra cash, Sampdoria let the Gunners pay the fee in installments over the next three years. This freed up more funds for the north Londoners to spend this summer, and that smart financial planning helped Emery build his ideal side for his inaugural season at the Emirates.
Standing at just 5’6 with braces in his mouth, one would not assume that Torreira averaged 2.8 tackles and two interceptions per game in Serie A for Sampdoria while establishing himself as pound-for-pound one of the toughest players on the continent. He started in all 36 of his league appearances, scored four goals, and completed more than 87% of his passes in the center of the park for the Genoa-based side and earned worldwide attention in the process.
Unai Emery talked about employing a high-octane style of football for the Gunners this season, and Torreira will play a crucial role in the pivot from Wengerball to an aggressive press. His quickness and defensive prowess will let Granit Xhaka burst forward and threaten Premier League back lines with his rocket of a left foot and ability to pick out an incisive pass. Additionally, Aaron Ramsey will have more freedom to fully commit himself to every attack if he, Torreira, and Xhaka share the pitch at any point.
The combative midfielder has the potential to attain all of ex-Gunner Alexis Sanchez’s best attributes: the South Americans share tireless work rates, and if Torreira can emulate the Chilean’s ability to take over matches and lead by example, he will make himself a fan favorite in no time. Arsenal signed the seventh most prolific tackler in Italian football, and if his new manager helps him adjust to life in England quickly, then the midfielder who has drawn comparisons to a Pitbull will play a big role in digging the Gunners out of the rut they have sat in for about a decade.
The Greek center back became Arsenal’s third ex-Borussia Dortmund player signed in the Sven Mislintat era, and Gooners will hope he can add some much-needed steel to the back line. The 30-year-old joined in a £16 million deal, and with Laurent Koscielny out injured with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the club will count on Sokratis Papastathopoulous to help improve on last year’s poor play at the back in the Frenchman’s absence.
Emery will not only count on Papastathopoulous to shore up Arsenal’s notoriously leaky defense, but the defender will also help compatriot Kostantinos Mavropanos develop.
In the past few seasons, Sokratis has established himself as one of the top defenders in Germany. The Greek national team has a reputation for playing nearly impenetrable defense, and Arsenal’s new No. 5 plays a big role in carrying on that tradition today. For BVB last season, he averaged an impressive 3.5 clearances, 2.2 tackles, and one interception in the Bundesliga.
On top of effective defensive play, the Kalamata-born footballer completed 86.9% of his passes and launched 3.7 long balls per game last season. He has never garnered much recognition for his ball-playing ability, but that should not concern Gooners too much. The club needs center backs who focus mostly on defending rather than developing their ball skills, and Sokratis does exactly that.
Sokratis averaged a 6.92 WhoScored rating in the league last season, slightly worse than Koscielny’s rating of 7.08. The Greek ended last season with the 10th-best rating in the Dortmund squad, but with a midfield of Torreira and Xhaka in front of him, his rating should rise this season.
Unai Emery said in a press conference that he wants five captains in the team, and with the way Popastathopoulous barked instructions to his teammates in the 45 minutes he played against Boreham Wood, it appears the aggressive defender will be one of them. The club has desperately needed vocal leadership on the pitch for a long time, and the club’s newest defensive lynchpin will provide that along with a bit of ruthlessness to the team’s back four.
Although Petr Cech moved to the No. 1 shirt after wearing No. 33 in the beginning of his Arsenal career, new ‘keeper Bernd Leno will likely begin the season as the top choice between the sticks. Germany’s fourth-choice goalkeeper joined the north London side in a €22 million deal from Bayer Leverkusen.
The 26-year-old shot stopper, like the man he will replace, has committed his fair share of errors in the past, but Leno has the athleticism and ability to do the spectacular more than Cech does. Leno has the second-most clean sheets in the Bundesliga since the beginning of the 2014 season with 45. He sits behind Manuel Neuer in that category. Additionally, he saved more penalties in the Bundesliga than any other active goalkeeper, stopping nine shots from the spot.
Leno has started for Leverkusen since he was just 19-years-old and he held onto that position since he impressed during his spell on loan to the club in 2011. Standing at 6’3, he concedes a couple inches in height to Cech, but he makes up for that with his athleticism, reflexes, and bravery.
Experts have tipped Arsenal’s new No. 19 to become one of Europe’s top ‘keepers since he earned consistent minutes in goal for his former club. If his new manager and goalkeeping coach aid him to make smarter decisions when distributing the ball, then Leno’s potential will be massive.
The Bietigheim-Bissingen-born player will hope Unai Emery’s tutelage can help him ascend into the highest echelons of active goalkeepers in world football during his stay at the club, and with his stellar play in Germany and raw potential, Leno could become the first long-term mainstay in the Arsenal goal since compatriot Jens Lehmann.
Unai Emery made the veteran Swiss right-back his first signing as Arsenal head coach, and the free transfer was arguably his most boring signing of the summer. But that’s not a bad thing.
First-choice right-back Hector Bellerin struggled for a big part of last season, and with Carl Jenkinson as the only natural cover at right-back, the backroom staff rightly thought it necessary to bring in some cover. Lichtsteiner can help the young Spaniard develop and provide good depth at the position. Bellerin has struggled on defense for the Gunners, but hopefully the Swiss international’s commitment and bravery can rub off on the 23-year-old.
The Switzerland captain had an encouraging World Cup as he and new club teammate Granit Xhaka propelled their national side to the knockout stages of the tournament. The 34-year-old averaged a stellar 3.3 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game, and he neutralized Neymar on the left wing en route to a 1-1 draw with Brazil in their first group stage match.
The former Juventus defender does not have Bellerin’s quality going forward, but Lichtsteiner makes up for it with his toughness and aggressive play on the defensive end of the pitch. Arsenal’s new No. 12 averaged a decent 6.81 WhoScored rating in matches he started in Serie A as a right-back last season, while Bellerin clocked in with a similar rating of 6.79 in the league.
Lichtsteiner adds a different dimension in attack compared to what Bellerin provides, and Emery will love the physical edge the Swiss international plays with. Both the new signing and the new head coach will serve as great resources for Hector Bellerin to learn from, which means Lichtsteiner’s 1-year deal has long-term ramifications for the club.
The 19-year-old central midfielder signed for around €8 million after an impressive year in France’s Ligue 2, where he helped Lorient to a seventh-place finish.
The curly-haired teenager became the second under-the-radar signing in the era of new scout Sven “Diamond Eye” Mislintat after the German added Konstantinos Mavropanos in January. The Gunners missed out on bringing PSG wonderkid Yacine Adli to the club earlier in the summer, so they decided to bring in the lesser-known Guendouzi, who plays in a deeper-lying role than Adli.
Guendouzi’s presence adds yet another impressive young player to Arsenal’s ranks. The David Luiz doppelganger helps form an electric young core at the club along with Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Lucas Torreira, Alex Iwobi, and Mavropanos. With quality midfielders like Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, and Mohamed Elneny in front of him, Guendouzi will not see much playing time in the league.
Look out for the young Frenchman as he plies his trade for the U23 squad this season because he could rise up the pecking order quickly under the tutelage of Unai Emery and new under-23 head coach Freddie Ljungberg.
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