In a Wednesday morning interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein admitted the Gunners hadn’t been “good enough” in recent times and expressed his belief that manager Arsene Wenger would upgrade the squad in the summer, saying, “He has to strengthen the team and I know he will do that.”
But where to begin?
Arsenal are 21 points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester United with seven rounds remaining, and bridging that divide will surely require the sort of spending the London club has recently avoided.
Enhancements, if not direct replacements, are needed at almost every position, and it would hardly be an exaggeration to suggest it could take £50 million, £60 million or even £70 million of investment to contend for major honours in the near future.
Wenger will be given no such war chest, but there will no doubt be two or three additions to his roster come August. A big, reliable central defender will be near the top of the list, as will a blood-and-guts midfielder and a centre-forward.
But a No. 1 goalkeeper is what Arsenal need most, and Wenger would be well advised to designate significant funds for improvement between the sticks ahead of next season.
After all, what you do with the rest of your squad matters little if your goalkeeping is shoddy. You can have the best striker in the world scoring for fun at the other end of the park, but if your ‘keeper is persistently conceding soft goals, messing up set-pieces and skewing his goal-kicks, you’ll still lose more matches than you’ll win.
And make no mistake: Arsenal require an upgrade in goal. Desperately.
Wenger, it seems, has already conceded as much without actually coming out and saying it. Following a 2-1 loss to Tottenham in the North London Derby last month, he dropped former No. 1 Wojciech Szczesny in favour of long-time backup Lukasz Fabianski. The 27-year-old responded with a standout performance in a 2-0 win against Bayern Munich, and in the four matches he has started since replacing his countryman, he has given up just a single goal.
That said, Arsenal will not go into next season with Fabianski as their first-choice goalkeeper.
He may be in decent form at the moment, but there’s a reason he has never managed to nail down a place for himself on a regular basis. It’s the same reason why Szczesny is currently out of favour. Neither are good enough, and if Arsenal are serious about ending a barren spell that became embarrassing years ago, they’ll address that reality in the coming months.
Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas, who is also out of favour these days, is a pie-in-the-sky option, but there are others. Stoke’s Asmir Begovic will almost certainly make a move in the summertime, and Arsenal would seem a good destination for him—as it would for Fernando Muslera, the Uruguay No. 1 who starred at Lazio before moving to Galatasaray.
The thing is, each of these goalkeepers (not counting Casillas, who will likely stay where he is) will cost upwards of £10 million, and Begovic could go for considerably more for that. And while it might not sound like much for most clubs of Arsenal’s stature, it’s the sort of money Wenger doesn’t spend lightly.
That is, unless an 8-2 shellacking by Manchester United has compelled him to. And a true No. 1 would go a long way in preventing results like that.