Arsenal's Summer Plans: Getting Inside Manager Arsene Wenger's Head
A favorite topic of many pundits, fans and writers on this very site is: Whom does Arsenal need to sign this summer?
The key word in that sentence is “need” and opinions range from Edin Džeko to Brede Hangeland to Igor Akinfeev.
However, rarely is the question asked who Arsenal will sign this summer? This is a much more difficult question, but it can be broken down by position.
Much has been made of the goalkeeping situation at the Emirates. To put it bluntly, Manuel Almunia has not lived up to the standards of David Seaman. His form is inconsistent, he rarely comes up with a game—changing save and he does not take command of the back four.
Some thought that this might be the season that Łukasz Fabiański stands up to be counted. However, he has also been inconsistent and at times even laughable. So, it would stand to reason that Wenger would purchase a new goalkeeper, right?
Well, perhaps not, at least not the type of young, world-class goalkeeper that fans would prefer. Despite his poor displays this season, Fabianski is still considered a top prospect. Behind him, Vito Mannone and Wojciech Szczesny are young, highly-touted prospects.
Szczęsny in particular is looked on as the future in between the posts. If his faith in his young goalkeepers is indeed as high as it would seem, then Wenger has three choices.
He could keep Almunia for another year or two until one of them is ready to step up. If he decides that Almunia is not good enough for another year, then he might bring in an older, experienced goalkeeper for a season or two.
A 33-year-old goalkeeper could be brought in for fairly cheap, play for a couple of years, then move on, clearing the way for Szczęsny. Finally, Wenger could simply opt to play one of the kids now, living with the growing pains. Regardless, it is unlikely that Wenger will splash the cash for a goalkeeper like Akinfeev or Hugo Lloris.
While solid in depth at fullback, it does not take an expert to see that Arsenal is a little short at center—back. Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre are almost certain to retire or move on and it appears that Philippe Senderos’ career at the Emirates will soon come to an end as well. William Gallas is yet to sign a new contract and even if he does, he will be 33—years old come August. Ideally, Arsenal should have four center-backs, but where are they going to come from?
Thomas Vermaelen is quite possibly the next name on the squad sheet, after Cesc Fabregas. Johan Djourou is young and will be fit for the start of next season, though whether he is up to the task of being a first—choice center-back is questionable.
He might be, but at the same time, he has been injured for a long time and will need to work on a relationship with Vermaelen. If Gallas stays, he will be first-choice for at least a year, but that is only three.
Once again, Wenger will likely turn to youth. Håvard Nordtveit, on loan this season at FC Nurnberg, was considered one of the top young defenders in Europe when he was signed. He turns 20 years old in June and he might just be the fourth defender that Arsenal needs.
The other option and one that is mooted quite often on message boards and in the papers, is signing a top—quality center—back. Brede Hangeland is a name that seems to be brought up constantly, but whether Fulham is willing to sell is yet to be seen. Looking at his track record, however, it would not be a surprise if Wenger signs Gallas to a two-year deal and then looks to promote from within.
Arsenal almost have an embarrassment of riches in the midfield. Alexandre Song has been a revelation as the anchorman, Abou Diaby is starting to show some brilliant form, and Cesc Fabregas continues to make his case as one of the best young midfielders in the world. With other options available ranging from Tomas Rosicky to Samir Nasri to Denilson and even the injured Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal is well-equipped in the midfield.
The only possible position that is under-strength is at holding midfield. Arsenal has missed Song when he has been injured, suspended, or away on international duty. Diaby has done a fair job in Song’s absence, but he is really more of a box-to-box player. Yet again, looking at how Wenger operates, he is unlikely to buy. Craig Eastmond has put in a couple of good—if unspectacular—performances in the first-team, and he might just be seen as Song’s backup next season.
Operating under the assumption that Marouane Chamakh will sign on a free transfer for Arsenal this summer, one finds it difficult to find an extreme weakness in Arsenal’s attack.
Robin van Persie, Chamakh, and Nicklas Bendtner provide plenty of depth at the central striker position, perhaps even enough to make it through the worst of injury crises.
On the wings, Andrey Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky, Theo Walcott, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Eduardo and even Bendtner provide plenty of depth. Eduardo and Vela have had a difficult time this season and Eduardo might very well move on this summer.
However, even removing those two from the squad, there are six quality first—teamers on the books and that’s before even taking note of Jack Wilshere.
Looking ahead to the summer, Wenger will not see any glaring needs in his squad. He has shown time and time again that he prefers to keep his players, particularly the young ones, and let them develop instead of splashing big cash.
That being said, it is rare for Wenger to not make a single signing. Most likely, he will sign one or two teenagers for the future and one signing as an upgrade somewhere on the pitch. Perhaps this might be a center—back like Hangeland. It might be another top—quality winger or an experienced upgrade at goalkeeper.
Then again, maybe he’ll see Chamakh as his one first—team signing and look for his squad to improve over the summer on its own. Nonetheless, the speculation will continue, with big names thrown about and not a thought for how Wenger actually operates.
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