Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Arsenal Upgrades

Arsenal fell short last season after exceeding expectations for much of the Premier League season. A young squad took large developmental strides under Manager Mikel Arteta, entertaining with their stylish play while accumulating an impressive points haul. Unfortunately, fatigue, inexperience and the behemoth that is Manchester City proved too much to overcome for Arteta’s squad which flagged badly down the stretch.

Undeterred, the club has brought in reinforcements this transfer window to prepare for another run at the Premier League title. Leading the shopping list was West Ham midfielder and English international Declan Rice. After a lengthy process, the Rice deal was closed just in time for the Gunners’ US tour. The purchase price was a club record for Arsenal as they sprinted ahead of others rumored to be interested in the young midfielder. Rice was once a Chelsea academy player, but the retooling Blues never seemed very interested in a reunion. Manchester United was once a rumored destination but their hearts were captured, for better or worse, by another Chelsea academy midfielder, Mason Mount. Manchester City sniffed at a deal late in the process but thought the price too high. Liverpool, of course, was never going to jump in on a purchase which even the profligate Citizens thought too pricey. With add-ons captured, the Rice price will exceed City’s purchase of Jack Grealish as the most expensive for a British player. So West Ham has a pile of money and Arsenal has a dynamic 24-year-old defensive midfielder who captained the Hammers to a European trophy last year and has anchored England’s midfield on 43 occasions.

Arsenal began overhauling its midfield earlier this window by plucking Kai Havertz from Chelsea. An exciting Bundesliga box to box midfielder was made into an underperforming target man at Chelsea where he failed to perform. The 24-year-old Havertz could embarrass Chelsea should he recapture his magic in the midfield of their London rival. Havertz will most likely line up with yet another 24-year-old, Martin Odegaard, in front of Rice in a revamped Arsenal midfield. Granit Xhaka has gone to Bayer Leverkusen. Thomas Partey is supposedly also nearing the door which would potentially present a problem when Arsenal needs to employ a double pivot in front of the back line against more challenging opponents. Former Chelsea man Jorginho is far more adept as a deep lying playmaker than for his defensive attributes. The back line, though, has also been upgraded with the acquisition of Jurrien Timber from Ajax. A natural center back, Timber is expected to displace Ben White at right back from the start.

Just as important, however, is the fact that Arsenal will not be devastated should injury strike their center backs next season. The stretch run of the last Premier League season for Arsenal was made more difficult when William Saliba went down to injury and substitute Rob Holding proved himself unfit to task. Timber provides protection against injury should either Saliba or partner Gabriel Magalhaes be sidelined.

Arsenal is a deeper team which will be necessary as supporters will now expect a better effort in cup competitions. Arsenal de-prioritized those contests with its thinner roster of last season. Fielding a weaker team in Europa League is a tad more acceptable than tanking in the Champions League where the Gunners will compete this season. Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka should be the preferred front line backed by Eddie Nketiah, Leandro Trossard and Reiss Nelson. Trossard was an impactful January pickup with the Belgian international notching more assists than anyone but Keven D Bruyne in the Premier League last season. The versatile Emile Smith Rowe, a promising young player whose season was marred by injury last season, provides additional depth up front or as an attacking midfielder. Bolstered by this summer’s restocking, the Gunners have their supporters justifiably excited for the upcoming season where Arsenal seems poised to take another run at Manchester City while vying for other domestic and European trophies.

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