Arsenal: Top 7 Players the Gunners Should Target This Summer
Arsenal faded as title contenders toward the end of last season and will need to make a number of additions in this summer's transfer window if the club wishes to seriously challenge for the 2014-15 Premier League title.
Right-back and centre-back are two immediate needs after Bacary Sagna's decision to move to Manchester City and with Thomas Vermaelen set to join Manchester United in an £11 million move, per Adam Crafton at the Daily Mail.
Goalkeeper and centre-forward are two long-term needs as the prevailing opinion—to which I too ascribe—is that Wojciech Szczesny and Olivier Giroud need competition at their respective positions in order to bring out their best.
In this slideshow, we'll take a speculative look at players who would fill these aforementioned areas—some of whom have been formally linked with transfers and others who haven't—plus two more, and discuss some more economical alternatives to the big names on this list.
Sami Khedira, Real Madrid
The 27-year-old midfielder featured in just 13 league matches for Los Blancos last season, as a knee injury kept him sidelined for most of the La Liga season.
Madrid has a bevy of central midfielders to mind the three-man unit in Carlo Ancelotti's 4-3-3. The Italian manager could be willing to offload the German, if he clinches a deal for Toni Kroos, which, according to Marca (h/t Nick Lustig at the Daily Star), looks to be near completion.
With more pressing needs to address other than central midfield, a Khedira signing would be a luxury, much like the signing of his former teammate, Mesut Ozil, was last season.
A Khedira-Aaron Ramsey partnership could work really well and give Arsenal its own version of the Yaya Toure-Fernandinho midfield powerhouse. Similar to Toure and Fernandinho, Khedira and Ramsey love to push upfield and have the work rate to get back and defend.
They both provide late runs into the box and checking two players who provide a similar threat places a massive onus on the defending team. Khedira is a great counter-attacking force and would help those sweeping moves inherent of any 4-2-3-1 system.
While the former Stuttgart man is generally billed as a defensive midfielder, he is quite a poor tackler and has failed to average more than two tackles per game in any one of his past five seasons.
That's a low number for a player who plays where Khedira does, a position with a proclivity for high-tackle numbers, and it doesn't help that he commits too many fouls for the challenges he actually wins.
His signing and subsequent inclusion in the starting XI would mark a bit of a systemic shift for Wenger as he'd need to do without a deep-lying playmaker, a crucial part of his double-pivot. Mikel Arteta made nine more starts in the central midfield than any of his teammates partly because of his passing acumen, and Wenger's decision to sign Ozil was made knowing that Jack Wilshere would have to be used in the center of the park.
However, replacing a playmaker like Arteta with a box-to-box dynamo like Khedira wouldn't mean sacrificing offensive output, just re-appropriating it. Tactically it'd be immense, as Le Professeur could tailor his team to give it the best chance to defeat the opposition.
Morgan Schneiderlin is another option here, and with two standout years in the Premier League under his belt, he could be looking for a step up. Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw have already left the St. Mary's club and Schneiderlin may not stick around either, according to John Cross at the Mirror. He wouldn't come much cheaper than Khedira but represents a more defensive option.
Signing Khedira would be another major coup, but one that could be deemed a misallocation of resources should Wenger fail to address the team's more imperative needs.
Serge Aurier, Toulouse
In the wake of Sagna’s transfer to rival contenders Manchester City, Wenger will be faced with replacing a seven-year starter and a key cog in the Arsenal defense.
One rumor that has been circulating for a while links the Gunners with Ivory Coast standout Serge Aurier, and earlier this month, Alex Harris at Express reported that the club had already agreed to personal terms with the Ligue 1 standout.
Aurier, 21, broke out in the 2012-13 season with Toulouse, establishing himself as one of the league’s best full-backs and followed that up with an even better performance in the 2013-14 campaign.
According to WhoScored.com, his six goals last season tied him with Loic Perrin, a central defender whom we'll take a look at later, at the top of the Ligue 1 defender scoring charts, and his six assists were second behind just Henri Bedimo. Contributing to 12 goals in a season is a tremendous offensive output for a defender, and that elite ability in the attacking third has him poised to be one of the position’s best for years to come.
Defensively, Aurier was equally as impressive. He averaged an excellent 2.5 successful tackles for every foul he committed last season, and his positional versatility will allow him to deputize as a centre-back, just like Sagna did.
In fact, according to WhoScored positional data, Aurier actually made more appearances at centre-back than right-back last season, but he projects to be more of a full-back in the English top flight.
He is lightning fast and was clocked at 33.52 kilometers per hour by FIFA’s Team Tracking Statistics (h/t 101 Great Goals). That world-class speed is something you can’t teach, He uses it to great effect, marauding up and down the right-flank, constantly making overlapping runs or tracking back to dispossess opposing players.
But if recent reports are to be believed, it seems as though Wenger has chosen to go in a different direction.
Metro has reported that the Gunners have clinched a £12 million deal for Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy and will confirm the transfer upon the commencement of the World Cup.
The French international has started over Sagna in three of France’s four World Cup 2014 matches thus far, and he has already acclimatized to Premier League football.
Seamus Coleman may have been the best right-back in the Premier League last season, but Debuchy wasn’t far behind. Per WhoScored, he ranked in the top five in tackles per game and interceptions per game among Premier League full-backs, while also winning four aerial duels per game, good for first among league full-backs.
Debuchy is proven, but he is seven years Aurier’s senior, and considering both could be had for similar transfer fees, Aurier marks the better return on investment given his higher ceiling and potential resale opportunities.
Keylor Navas, Levante
The darlings of World Cup 2014, Costa Rica has made a Cinderella run to the quarterfinals, already besting the furthest previous finish—a round-of-16 elimination at World Cup 1990.
Los Ticos have relied on a well-organized defense, employing an offside trap that has absolutely befuddled opposing teams. Both Italy and Greece were caught offsides over 10 times in their matches against Costa Rica, and Jorge Luis Pinto’s well-drilled trap has succeeded in limiting opponent’s scoring chances.
When the opposition has managed to get a shot off, they’ve run into an in-form Keylor Navas, who, along with Tim Howard and Guillermo Ochoa, has been one of the tournament’s best goalkeepers.
If the Gunners can fend off the competition, they would be getting a 27-year-old keeper coming off the best season in his career.
Szczesny is entrenched as the team’s No. 1, but without much competition, there’s a constant risk of complacency. Navas would be a low-maintenance, low-risk signing who would push the Polish international, and I'd even tip him to beat Szczesny for a starting spot.
The Costa Rican international plays his club football in La Liga with Levante and was widely considered to be one of the top two keepers in the Spanish top flight last season, with Chelsea-owned Thibaut Courtois being the 1 or 1A, in whichever order you prefer.
Because of his low buyout fee and superb form for both club and country, Navas has become one of, if not the top target for every club in the market for a keeper this summer. His signing would not be without competition, but luckily for Gunners supporters, there’s another Central American goalkeeper with whom Arsenal has been linked, via Omar Hamouda at Squawka.
Mexican international Ochoa has been another keeper in good knick in Brazil and is available on a Bosman transfer, after his deal with Ligue 1 outfit Ajaccio expired at the end of last season.
Ochoa hasn’t been as impressive as Navas has at club level and is still somewhat of a polarizing figure, vacillating between world-class and overrated, but at 28 years of age and coming off a nice season in France, he’s a great second option if Wenger fails to sign Navas.
Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad
Much has been made of Arsenal’s pursuit of Barcelona and Chile star Alexis Sanchez, but according to Chris Bascombe at The Telegraph, Liverpool is demanding Sanchez as part of any deal that would send Uruguayan superstar Luis Suarez to the Camp Nou.
It seems as though we’re in for another Suarez transfer saga. With his fate seemingly intertwined with that of Sanchez, if Wenger does want to sign a winger, he may be better off going after another La Liga hotshot: Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann.
Nick Lustig of the Daily Star reported that Griezmann could neglect the opportunity to move from the Spanish club, but with the promise of European football and what is sure to be a hefty wage increase, Arsenal has to represent a desirable destination.
Last season, operating on the left wing alongside former Arsenal forward Carlos Vela, the 23-year-old netted 16 goals in 35 league appearances. A shoot-first player, Griezmann hasn’t eclipsed three assists in a season over the past two campaigns, and he’ll need to improve upon that if he were to fit into Arsenal’s fluid attack.
A left-footed player, Wenger could choose to deploy Griezmann as an inverted winger on the right flank, or keep him in his natural left-sided role. He’d have competition on the right in the form of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Griezmann is a tremendous talent who would bolster the attacking corps.
He wouldn’t start from the get-go—Santi Cazorla has made the switch to left-winger seamlessly—but Griezmann is good enough to warrant inclusion anywhere across the three-man attacking midfield, and with the amount of competitions Arsenal is set to be involved in, he’ll have his chances.
Griezmann wouldn’t come cheap—Transfermarkt places his value at €25 million or about £20 million—but when you look at Chelsea and Manchester City, arguably the Premier League’s two best sides at the moment, it’s imperative to have quality talent off the bench, and talent carries a high premium.
A more economic option would be Montpellier's Remy Cabella, who, while he may not have the ceiling Griezmann has, offers much of the same flair and eye for goal that his compatriot does.
This would be another luxury signing as if there was one area Arsenal didn’t need to reinforce it’d be the wing positions, but if Wenger wants Sanchez, he may see some room for improvement.
Mario Mandzukic, Bayern Munich
Disenchanted with life under Pep Guardiola, Mario Mandzukic is primed to depart from the Allianz Arena and is one of the Gunners' top centre-forward targets.
The London Evening Standard's Tom Collomosse is reporting that Arsenal would need to table a deal worth £20 million in order to meet Bayern Munich’s valuation of the Croatian international.
Mandzukic, 28, shares a similar playing style with Arsenal’s current starting centre-forward, Giroud, as both excel in a target-man role, where their hold-up play and aerial abilities can be best utilized. Mandzukic finished the 2013-14 season with 18 goals in 30 appearances, leading the line for one of world football's best attacking sides.
Arsenal represents a unique destination where Mandzukic could play for a huge European club that can afford him an opportunity to win his spot, as so many of world football’s other top clubs have their centre-forward spots already settled.
Guardiola has let disgruntled forwards leave for less than their worth before, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic being a prime example, and Wenger would do well if he can sign the Croatian for less than Bayern’s valuation.
Should Bayern hold firm, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, 22, is another Bundesliga target man Arsenal could pursue. Owned by Hertha Berlin, Lasogga was brilliant on loan at Hamburger SV last season, scoring 13 goals in 18 starts and dominating the air in a league renowned for its physicality.
Hertha may be reluctant to sell Lasogga, especially after it sold star forward Adrian Ramos to Borussia Dortmund, but an inquiry should definitely be made.
Loic Perrin, Saint-Etienne and Matthias Ginter, Freiburg
We'll group these two together because they play the same position.
With Vermaelen seemingly already out the door and Sagna, Wenger's emergency centre-back, also gone, Arsenal's centre-back corps has been decimated.
Enter Perrin and Matthias Ginter.
Perrin is coming off a phenomenal season with Ligue 1's Saint-Etienne, where he captained the team to a fourth-place finish and a Europa League berth. His six goals made him joint top scorer with Aurier among Ligue 1 defenders, and his 4.4 aerial duels won per game were tops for any player in the French top flight last season.
While he isn't the tallest defender—he stands at just 5'11" (1.80 m)—he's got a bit of Tim Cahill in him as he's highly proficient in the air, despite being a bit undersized. He's an accurate tackler, completing three successful challenges for every foul he commits, per WhoScored, and was superb at snuffing out attacking moves, clearing the ball a ridiculous 10.7 times per game, which was also tops in all of Ligue 1.
Ginter didn't enjoy the season Perrin had; however, the central defender was on the 30-man preliminary squad for Germany's World Cup 2014 squad and is touted for big things in the coming years.
Standing at 6'3" (1.90 m), the Freiburg man cuts an imposing figure on the pitch and boasts great size for the position. He reads the game very well and is an extremely accurate tackler—he committed just nine fouls in 34 matches for Freiburg last season, via WhoScored.
Wenger has shown an affinity for signing German talent in recent seasons, and Ginter has to like the idea of coming to play with three full-fledged German internationals and especially Per Mertesacker, who could act as a bit of a mentor for the 20-year-old.
Shkodran Mustafi recently went down with a thigh injury that will keep him out for a few months. The Sampdoria defender had a superb season last year and beat out Ginter for a spot on Low's 23-man roster. He'd be another option here.
Back in May of this year, Neil Ashton and Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail reported that the Arsenal brass would make £100 million available to Wenger for squad improvements.
Using that figure as the transfer budget, let's take a look at whether or not Arsenal could afford to sign all of the aforementioned seven players, using rumored transfer fees or player valuations from Transfermarkt should a rumored fee be unavailable.
- Sami Khedira: £23 million.
- Serge Aurier: Transfermarkt places him at €6.5 million, which equates to roughly £5.2 million using an exchange rate of €1 to £0.80. We'll call it £10 million after his World Cup performance.
- Keylor Navas: £6.5 million release clause.
- Antoine Griezmann: £25 million.
- Mario Mandzukic: £20 million.
- Loic Perrin: €5.5 million or £4.4 million.
- Matthias Ginter: €10 million or £8 million.
Khedira + Aurier + Navas + Griezmann + Mandzukic + Perrin + Ginter = £96.9 million
That's a touch under the reported transfer kitty, and even if you factor Debuchy in instead of Aurier, our total sum rises to just £2 million more.
Will all these players arrive? No. Will half these players arrive? Probably not; some of them haven't even been formally linked with a move to north London.
This is merely a look at what he could do with the money he's reported to have available, and as long as Wenger spends and spends big, we'll be looking at a better Arsenal come next season.