The signing of Alexis Sanchez makes Arsenal a stronger team than it was last season. But is it yet as strong as its nearest rivals?
I'd say no. Two more pieces are needed to make the Arsenal squad very strong.
Sami Khedira (in terms of those who seem to be available in the transfer market) is the first and clearest of these two pieces. The other (a Sanchez-like player in the other flank), Arsenal could survive without for this season.
Khedira, on the other hand, could be the piece that stands between a very positive season and a very disappointing one for Arsenal. Here are four reasons why.
Every team needs a spine, the piston in the engine room or the chassis that holds the entire vehicle together.
Such a person needs to be dynamic, robust and strong. Bar the resurgence of Aaron Ramsey, whose effort alone is not enough for a tasking season-long campaign, Arsenal have lacked such a person.
Patrick Vieira was this person for Arsenal, whom they haven't been able to replace since he left the club.
Instead, Arsenal had relied on the quick-switch Cesc Fabregas, who was fantastic in attack but weak in defensive recovery, a weakness that lead Arsenal to throw away many matches from winning positions.
Mikel Arteta played the role for Arsenal in his first season with the club, but after Alex Song left for Barcelona, his role changed to that of the midfield anchor.
This is the box-to-box midfield role—manned by the all-round midfielder—who is as comfortably in defending as he is in attacking. Sami Khedira played this role for Germany alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger in the just-concluded World Cup.
There is no reason to think he won't be as fantastic for Arsenal as he was for Germany in the World Cup.
I envision him playing a double pivot role alongside either Mikel Arteta or Matthieu Flamini—or playing further forward between the anchor (Arteta or Flamini) and the furthest man forward (Ozil, Cazorla, Rosicky).
Or he can also play alongside Aaron Ramsey as the deepest midfielder, with Ramsey as the box-to-box. He can play alongside Jack Wilshere, as well.
With Khedira in the side, Arsene Wenger's options in the midfield become numerous. He'd be able to rest Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere or Flamini without weakening the side.
Grit for Silk
A team without strong personalities will rarely possess mental strength—that most important quality without which a team couldn’t become great or hope to negotiate successfully the rigors of a season-long campaign.
Silky and deft touches can only take you so far. When a team faces a strong opponent, it may need a more down-to-earth fighting spirit—brawn in addition to native brains—to survive and be victorious.
When rugged sides, like Stoke City, start kicking you around, you need to be able to kick back. In fact, you better be able to kick back.
Thierry Henry of the Arsenal of old was silky, but he could handle himself when the going got a shard physical. Need we mention Vieira, Martin Keown, Gilberto Silva, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell or even Dennis Bergkamp?
Playing Arsenal, Patrice Evra once said, is like playing children.
Arsenal could play some silky football (the so-called Barcelona lite years), but when kicked or elbowed (off the ball and behind the referee's back, of course) they folded. Like the Arsenal of old, the current team needs to add grit to its silk.
Of course, Mathieu Flamini can surely handle himself, Mikel Arteta, too, even Aaron Ramsey to be certain.
But part of the reason Arsenal fold in big matches is insufficient grit when the big questions are asked. Players begin to lose the ball incessantly up front, begin to hide and are easily brushed off the ball.
What will Khedira bring to Arsenal? A strong personality, strength, robustness and verve. Arsenal need strong personalities to help them stand their own in the tough, gritty matches.
Mesut Ozil is 25. Khedira is 27. They are of similar background: German. Bringing Khedira to Arsenal will be socially beneficial to Ozil. One more German in the team can only be good.
It might not be off the mark to say that it might afford Ozil a big-brother relationship, surely a positive thing socially. I cannot think that having someone of your own background in a team is a bad thing. In fact, I think it has to be a positive thing.
Winning Off the Pitch
It goes without saying that a team's chances in a campaign do not depend on its own self alone but also (in fact, hugely) on its opponent.
A team might be good; it might play well, but if the opponent is stronger, it is bound to lose.
This is why when pundits (objective or subjective) look at Arsenal's squad at the beginning of a season in the light of its closest rivals, they tend to dismiss its chances either at winning the title or making top-four finish.
Arsenal have consistently defied these predictions, of course. But in terms of looking and seeing clear chances of winning for Arsenal, it becomes clear that Arsenal are still behind Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Now from its own admission, Arsenal can do something about this. And part of doing something is not allowing your opponent to strengthen its squad at your own expense when you can help it.
Will Khedira make Chelsea stronger? Of course. Will he do the same for Arsenal? Definitely. Should Arsenal surrender and allow Chelsea to sign Khedira? No.
Allowing Chelsea to have Cesc Fabregas was inexplicable enough, allowing them to further strengthen their midfield with a player that Arsenal could well have is not sound strategy.
Could there be a problem with Khedira's wage demand? Probably. Could a way be devised to go around this? Surely. Human ingenuity knows no bounds. If Arsenal possess the will, they can make the transfer work.
One thing is certain: With Khedira in the team, Arsenal's chances of winning the Premier League title, and even doing very well in the Champions League, increase exponentially.