After a third successive season that saw them fail to qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal are set for a squad overhaul. Several players are reaching the final years of their careers, while others have not delivered consistently since arriving in London.
However, the Gunners’ fifth place finish means that the transfer budget will be significantly lower than in recent years. Here we look at five factors that Unai Emery and the board must consider as the transfer window opens. Bet on football here.
3-5-2 or 4-4-2?
To buy the right players, Emery must first decide on a formation. He started his Arsenal tenure with a familiar 4-3-3 formation that he had used at PSG, but found it hard to accommodate star strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette together. He eventually settled on a 3-5-2 formation, allowing the two to play in their preferred positions.
This system also gave the full backs more license to push forward, but Liverpool have proven that it is possible to do this while playing with four defenders. The decision to field three centre backs has not yielded the defensive stability that Emery desired. It could be that he reverts to a 4-4-2 this season, in which case at least one out-and-out winger will be a priority.
Strengthen the attack or buy cover?
There is no question that Arsenal’s two best performers in the 2018/19 campaign were Aubameyang and Lacazette. The duo contributed 50 goals and 21 assists between them, with the former winning the Premier League Golden Boot in his first full season.
However, the departure of Danny Welbeck has left 20-year-old Eddie Nketiah as the only other recognised striker at the club. Nketiah has only made 19 appearances for the club, the majority of which have been as a substitute. Bringing in a striker to compete with their current stars could prove costly, so it may be advisable to seek a cheap back-up option.
Experienced and proven talent or young starlets?
A main criticism of Arsenal’s transfer policy after their move to the Emirates Stadium was the insistence on buying potential stars instead of experienced players. That approach has changed in the last seven years with big signings such as Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in three consecutive summers.
Names such as Jerome Boateng and Thomas Meunier have been linked this time around and, although both would improve the team, neither will have a high resale value. In recent seasons only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has commanded a fee higher than £20m and, when Arsenal’s next signings do inevitably depart, the club will need to recoup a higher proportion of the original fee. A simple way to do this would be to invest in younger players again.
Alternatively, Emery could do worse than to look at the current crop of talent in the academy. Nketiah netted his first Premier League goal on the final day of the last season, while Joe Willock made an impressive cameo in the Europa League final. Another forward, 19-year-old Reiss Nelson, made 23 league appearances and scored seven goals on loan at Hoffenheim. All three players could feature heavily in the next campaign.
Spread the available funds or invest in one major signing?
Making a marquee signing would be a big boost to Arsenal, not only in terms of ability but also their status as a club. Samuel Umtiti has been suggested as a recruit at centre back, but purchasing a player of his standard would leave Arsenal with no other funds. A move for Youri Tielemans or James Maddison would create a similar problem. Gunners fans shouldn’t expect many big names if they want to see the entire squad strengthened.
Sell established players to raise funds or add to the squad?
To boost the transfer kitty, the club might well cash in on several senior players. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has not matched the form he showed at Dortmund, while Shkodran Mustafi has made too many errors to be depended upon. Both players could be sold to raise funds.
The club also has a huge decision to make surrounding Ozil. The former Real Madrid midfielder has not delivered consistently in his six years at the club and it seems that the departures of Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have affected his influence. Emery clearly does not have enough faith in the German, who only made two league assists last season. Losing him could potentially damage Arsenal significantly, but would give the club a lot more money to spend.