Grading Arsenal on Their 2016 Summer Transfer Window Business

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2016

Arsene Wenger has spent big to reinforce his squad.
Arsene Wenger has spent big to reinforce his squad.David Rogers/Getty Images

The transfer window is now closed, and Arsenal fans are left to reflect on their team’s business.

It has been a tumultuous summer for the Gunners. It started well, with the promising purchase of Granit Xhaka, but the mood darkened as the club failed to land another senior signing before the start of the 2016/17 campaign. 

Fortunately, manager Arsene Wenger appeared to address some of the bigger issues in his squad in the final few days, recruiting Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez to strengthen his defence and attack, respectively.

Those last days of the window also saw a number of players leave on loan—notably Jack Wilshere, who was allowed to make a temporary switch to Bournemouth.

In this piece, we talk through the incomings and outgoings at Arsenal before delivering a final grade for their transfer business.

      

Transfers In

Arsenal did address their major needs in this window. They began the summer looking for improvements all down the spine of their side: central defence, holding midfield and centre-back.

The first of those issues to be sorted was the midfielder. Arsenal moved incredibly early for Xhaka, snapping him up before Euro 2016 had begun.

It was a smart move—Xhaka was excellent for Switzerland in the tournament and might have garnered interest from rival parties had the Gunners failed to seal the deal. 

Granit Xhaka in action for Arsenal.
Granit Xhaka in action for Arsenal.David Rogers/Getty Images

Xhaka has started well at Arsenal, earning comparisons with former great Emmanuel Petit. Per Gerry Cox of the Telegraph, Wenger said:

He is a guy who plays naturally behind the ball, a bit similar to Petit in the way he plays football.

He likes to sit, give good long balls and be available for the centre-backs. He has a good mixture of short and long balls, and in midfield it is important for us to sometimes stretch defenders. 

We have a game that is based on shorter passes than other teams so sometimes you have a player who can kick the longer ball gives us a chance to get some oxygen and some space. 

If signing Xhaka was relatively straightforward, it was significantly more difficult to land a defender and a striker.

Pre-season injuries to both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista exacerbated the need for a centre-half, and Arsenal finally got their man when they landed Germany international Mustafi.

Wenger will have been delighted to secure his primary target—the fact that Chelsea had to return for David Luiz shows how difficult it is to identify a top defender in the current climate.

Mustafi is more than just cover for Mertesacker and Gabriel—he is an upgrade. At 24, he has a chance to build a partnership with Laurent Koscielny that lasts for some time yet.

Securing a striker was Wenger’s trickiest task. It seems Jamie Vardy was his first target. Although not quite of the level some Arsenal fans may have hoped for, he had fired Leicester City to the Premier League title. What’s more, the release clause in his contract ensured he would be relatively cheap. 

However, Vardy turned down the move and signed a new deal at the King Power Stadium, and the Gunners boss was forced back to the drawing board.

In the end, he opted for Deportivo La Coruna’s Lucas. There are some parallels with Vardy—like the England international, the Spaniard has endured a journeyman career before exploding into prominence last season.

Lucas Perez representing Deportivo last year.
Lucas Perez representing Deportivo last year.Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Perhaps Wenger sees in Lucas the same hunger that has enabled Vardy to become a lethal predator. The hardships of the earlier portion of his career are fuel to him now.

Speaking to Sky Sports about Leicester’s surprise success last season, Wenger said: 

There is a theory that says to go to the absolute utmost of your talent you need to suffer in life. When you look at the Leicester team, not one career of all these players was obvious, like starting on the red carpet at 18 years of age in the Champions League.  

Many of the players have been rejected before… it is an interesting case. N'Golo Kante, nobody wanted him in France for a while. That is a good explanation for his character.

These players had a dream that was not easy to obtain, but when they are in a position to reach it, they are ready for the fight.

Lucas, like those Leicester players, has a character forged in adversity. At 27, he’ll now be determined to make up for lost time.

Character is something which unites Arsenal’s major signings. Mustafi, Xhaka and Lucas all wore the captain’s armband for their former clubs at some stage last season. It seems Wenger has acted to address the accusation that the Gunners lack leaders.

Those were the high-profile arrivals, but Arsenal also made some eye-catching purchases of younger players. The most notable of those was Rob Holding, who joined from Bolton Wanderers.

Mustafi’s late arrival has seen Holding pressed into action at the heart of the defence, and thus far he has acquitted himself well.

Takuma Asano and Kelechi Nwakali have also joined, but their first seasons with the club will be spent out on loan. 

       

Transfers Out 

Initially, it appeared as if Arsenal could be set for a bit of a clear-out. The likes of Theo Walcott (h/t The Independent) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (h/t the Telegraph) were linked with moves away, while several players on the fringes of the squad also appeared set to depart. 

In the end, Arsenal haven't made too many permanent sales.

The experienced trio of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky all left at the end of their contracts.

The players the Gunners did receive fees for were younger members of the squad. Isaac Hayden, Wellington Silva and Serge Gnabry all departed without making a significant impact upon the first team. Of that trio, the Germany under-21 international’s loss will rankle most—Arsenal nursed him back to health only to lose him when he began to find form again. 

The main departures from Arsenal have been in the loan market. In some cases, that may be because the club have not found a buyer willing to pay up for unwanted players. One imagines that permanent moves for Wojciech Szczesny and Joel Campbell would have been sanctioned, such is Wenger’s clear lack of faith in their talent.

In other situations, the loan deal suits Arsenal down to the ground. For example, Calum Chambers stands to benefit from gathering experience with Middlesbrough before returning to the Emirates Stadium next season. As a centre-back, he needs regular matches to iron out the deficiencies in his game.

Jack Wilshere has joined Bournemouth on loan.
Jack Wilshere has joined Bournemouth on loan.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

The most intriguing transfer out was arguably the last oneWilshere’s loan to Bournemouth.

The midfielder's omission from Sam Allardyce's first England squad was seemingly the catalyst for the deal. The benefits for the player are clear: He's likely to be granted first-team football as he looks to rehabilitate both his body and his reputation.

However, if Arsenal suffer a number of midfield injuries, they may come to regret allowing such a good player to ply his trade with another club this season.

Wenger might have loaned out a couple of other young players, such as Chuba Akpom or Yaya Sanogo. His decision to keep them in the squad suggests he envisages them playing some part in the first team at some stage.

       

Conclusion

This summer, Arsenal finally took the shackles off and spent big. The fees for Mustafi, Xhaka and Lucas mean this is the greatest outlay of Wenger's reign.

What's more, they've filled some of the yawning gaps in their squad. Ideally, they would have done so before the season kicked off, but it's certainly better late than never.

Arsenal may not have got the world-class striker they wanted, but the purchase of Lucas could turn out to be an inspired gamble. Wenger must also hope the decision to allow Wilshere to leave also pays off—otherwise, he could look foolish for letting his protege go.

Grade: B+

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout 2016/17. Follow him on Twitter here.