Every club, save Swansea, spent more money on transfers than Arsenal. Swansea sold Gylfi Sigurdsson for £44m and even after buying Bony and getting Renato Sanches on loan earned £23m on transfers. Arsenal earned “just” £14m to put them in second place on the Net Spend Table.
Chelsea spent £72m, Man City £133m, Liverpool £38m, Man U £140m, Everton £46m, and even Tottenham – who are in the midst of a stadium project – earned less money off their transfers than Arsenal, £11m. These numbers are from Transfermarkt so yell at them if you disagree with the figures.
Wenger’s main arguments this summer have been that he wanted to keep Alexis for sporting reasons, not for financial reasons, and that Oxlade-Chamberlain is the future of the club. But at the end, Arsenal balked.
They sold Ox to Liverpool and tried to sell Alexis, then pulled out of the deal leaving Alexis and Man City fuming. Not to mention there’s the fact that Lemar rejected Arsenal. It’s a mess, or as Arseblog put it so eloquently Arsenal are “boiling piss all over the place.”
I can’t imagine Alexis wanting to play for this club. He will probably have to but if he was an Incredible Sulk last season, I wonder what he’s going to be like this season? In the best case scenario he comes back and just plays good football. No sulking, no on-field “thinking man” poses. He just walks on and off the pitch like a pro. I guess that’s what I hope for.
Mustafi is another player who is going to have a “right hump” over this spring and summer. We don’t know what happened between him and the manager but he clearly wanted out and Arsene Wenger clearly wanted to be rid of him. But they couldn’t get the deal done and now we have two grumpy players at Arsenal. One on each end of the pitch.
But beyond the personnel issues Arsenal have a composition problem; what is this team’s best starting XI?
Arsenal finally got the finisher we have wanted for so long in Lacazette. But I have serious doubts that he can play up top by himself. That means that he either has to play next to another forward, like Giroud, or that he’s deployed wide where his main strength is not put to use.
So, for me, our best lineup is two up top. And at the back you have a flat four. Kolasinac, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerin. Arsenal have options there as well, Wenger can play a back three with Monreal, Chambers, Mertesacker, and Holding all able to come in to the team. And for the record, I’m only putting Mustafi in there because I think he’s our second best defender, which isn’t much of a high bar. I’d actually rather see Chambers given a run of games and allowed to learn but I don’t know what Wenger’s plans are there.
Midfield is where the problems are. Wenger seems to struggle to buy players that fit into a system or fill a need. Even the fact that Arsenal were going after Lemar is strange to me, Arsenal don’t need more attacking players – they need center mids. It feels to me like Arsene Wenger just buys the best attacking players he can afford and hopes that the rest of the team will figure itself out. He’s certainly not purposefully building a team.
In the perfect world, we go back two years and have a 100% fit Cazorla and a sharp Coquelin. Sadly, I doubt either of those two will regain their former glory. It’s a real shame, Cazorla was my favorite player on this team and one of the few who I think would have been good enough to get into the Invincibles. And I also like Coquelin. I have a soft spot for players who are less talented but who try hard – I mean, look at this blog. It’s the Coquelin of football blogs.
So, since we don’t live in a perfect world, we have to use Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey. I’ve said this hundreds of times now, I don’t think these players suck. On paper they should compliment each other. So, let’s just say that Wenger is able to get Ramsey to trade his ego in for the betterment of the team. And let’s just say that Wenger gives Xhaka a brain transplant. That leaves just two roster positions open, both of them wide in a 442.
Ozil is an awful choice for a wide player. His strength is in filling holes in attack, that means he needs to be allowed to roam. He can play wide, he does for Germany, but he’s rarely going to shine out wide. Plus, he can’t/won’t defend. So, if you play Özil (and despite not looking like he does much, he’s Arsenal’s most technically adept player so you almost have to play him) you have to play him in the free creator role.
You have a similar problem with Alexis. His strength is dribbling in from wide. That leaves his fullback exposed. And obviously you want to play Alexis in any lineup because he’s so talented. So, I think you are forced to play a 433 – with Lacazette sort of alone up top – he’s not a holdup player so if you do this, Arsenal need to be extra dominant in midfield, winning the ball back a lot and keeping the ball against opposition presses. With Alexis, Lacazette, and Ozil up top. They will have to be backed up by Ramsey, Xhaka, and I guess I’d go with Elneny – Cazorla if he’s healthy is my automatic first choice.
My best Arsenal formation, then, is
Kolasinac – Koscielny – Mustafi – Bellerin
Elneny – Xhaka – Ramsey
Alexis – Lacazette – Özil
And my game plan is 1) get the ball to Özil or Alexis. 2) Get the ball from them to Lacazette. 3) Lacazette shoots, every time. Maybe sometimes some other people get to shoot, but it’s only on accident, from distance because they can’t get the ball to Lacazette, or because they collected a rebound off a Lacazette shot.
But there are still a lot of weaknesses in that midfield and a lot of work to be done to get them all playing together. Plus there are the egos and the hurt feelers from Arsenal’s summer transfer madness. On paper, that’s a team that should make a strong challenge for the top four. In reality it’s a team that’s been practicing 343 all summer and one which Wenger keeps reverting to a 442 whenever the 343 gets overrun in midfield because Wenger hasn’t gotten the message through to Xhaka and Ramsey that they have to control the “red zone” in front of their own 18 yard box. In reality it is also a team with a lot of players on their way out, a lot of players who are unhappy with the club, a lot of players who have been played out of position, and a lot of players who are not playing together as a team. So, in reality it’s a right mess.
But hey, I’ve been asking for something different from Arsenal, a change, from the boring old way that we used to play. From the boring old way that we used to do everything – transfers, the way Wenger treated players, all that stuff that makes Arsenal the Arsenal. And I feel like I can guarantee you one thing about Arsenal this season: it’s going to be different from the last 10 or so!