Good morning everyone, long time no post (by me) and just wanted to drop off a few thoughts about Arsenal’s summer transfer business.
As a long-suffering Arsenal supporter who grew up in the “team youth” Wenger era I am not at all used to Arsenal doing business early and often in the transfer market. For most of the Wenger era we would get one decent named transfer a season and few “prospecting” type deals where Wenger looked for value in the market. Toward the end that changed as the club wanted to spend to hopefully win things but by then Wenger’s tactics had stopped evolving and he was no longer able to compete at the top level.
But despite spending the money Arsenal were still notoriously slow to close deals and often didn’t bring in players until the last minute. It was frustrating to say the least. That did sort of change when Wenger left, though the first group were not really good at getting in the right players and spent money foolishly on some guys who will remain unnamed.
But the hallmark of the new modern Arsenal era is efficiency and focus. They know which players they want, they know that the players want to join them, and they simply get those deals done. And this summer in particular has been magnificent. I think it’s clear that Arteta and Edu wanted to upgrade the Arsenal midfield with players who were more dependable, just as good if not better technically, defensively solid, and probably more important: younger.
You shouldn’t underestimate how the age profile of Rice and Havertz is crucial to this project. Not only are they great technical replacements for Partey and Xhaka, but they are both 24 years old, meaning that they will be coming into their prime over the next three years. Partey is 30 and Xhaka is nearly 31. While these guys do have something left in the tank we know that statistically their performance levels are going to start dropping soon.
As for the specific players I’m incredibly excited to see Rice in the RDM role at Arsenal. I think he’s a superior defender to Partey and while there are some questions about his ability to receive the ball with back to pressure, Arsenal already have a ton of guys who can and do do that for the club. And I know that Arteta will be eager to improve all aspects of Declan’s game. I also think Dec brings a ton of leadership qualities, which Partey does not. I can guarantee you that Dec will not let de Bruyne simply walk past him and score like Partey did: he seems to have an almost preternatural defensive awareness and besides which, he also takes pride in his defending, having started out as a CB will do that to you. People seem to have outsized Partey’s contributions to this team but I remember a player who spent far too much time in the injury room, who shirked his defensive duties a lot, and who was exposed badly as a defensive liability when his cover, Saliba, went out injured. You will have none of those problems with Declan Rice. When Arsenal pen the opponents into their half, Dec is going to be the perfect midfielder to snaffle up any counter attacks, keep the opponents hemmed in, and restart the Arsenal attack.
Havertz also represents both an upgrade on Xhaka both technically in attack and defensively. Folks again, seem to have forgotten how little defending Xhaka did over the last two seasons. Yes, he tracked back occasionally but he was virtually forbidden (presumably by Arteta) from getting a foot in and making a tackle. That left side of Arsenal’s defense fell apart when Martinelli went down injured, because he was such a pressing monster. With Havertz I think you get a lot of that back again, but that’s pure speculation, because he’s been sort of lost in the desert that has been Chelsea these last few years. Havertz is probably the biggest gamble by this leadership team but I’m not overly concerned. I think he’s being brought in for his versatility: he can back up Odegaard, Martinelli, Saka, Jesus, and also play in the LCM role vacated by Xhaka.
Timber is another player who may have been a gamble. In listening to the Hot Shot Pod’s episode on him I learned that he’s an amazing dribbler but might not be as good at passing progression as we are used to seeing. He’s also an aggressive tackler and proactive defender – though I caution about that since that is almost always driven by what the manager wants the player to do. I think he’s been brought in as extra cover for the RB / RCB positions at Arsenal and I’m excited to see what he can do.
And the other amazing parts of this summer so far is that Arsenal got a new contract for Saka, Saliba, and Nelson! They also managed to pawn off Xhaka for 25+m which is incredible and they got their three main targets in BEFORE the trip to the USA. It’s so incredibly important for Dec, Kai, and Jurrien to get into the team and start bonding with their teammates. To learn Arteta’s demanding system of pressing and juego de posicion and the box midfield that Arsenal want to play. By all accounts that’s happening.
The only outstanding piece of business is possibly selling Partey. I’m all for it, frankly. The on-field failures along with the off field problems are more than enough for me to want to call time on his Arsenal career. I don’t really care that he was really good at progressing the ball and that he was good at carrying the ball. He was far too often injured and was incredibly lax defensively. Those two things are non-negotiables for me for a player in that role. It’s telling that he lost his position to a 30 year old former Chelsea player who is about the size of a string bean split in two. Jorginho is widely known as a pretty terrible defender who basically just fouls players to stop play, but at least he does stop counters.
Rumors are spreading that Arsenal are after Romeo Lavia (from Southampton, not Lucas Lavia lol) as a replacement for Partey and if so, that could actually trump the Rice signing in my mind. He’s 19, he’s defensively amazing, and he’s also one of the most technically gifted young players in the league. Please make this happen Edu!
Anyway, even if we keep Partey and don’t sign Lavia this summer has been an absolute blockbuster for Arsenal. I’m very excited for next season.