Goal assesses how the Gunners' summer recruitment drive could affect their starting XI in the first installment of our new series looking at the Premier League's top six sidesArsenal have moved quickly and decisively in the transfer market this summer, bringing in both Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy, while goalkeeper David Ospina and a central midfielder are expected to join the club in the coming weeks as Arsene Wenger tinkers with a squad with genuine hopes of winning the Premier League title.
French full-back Debuchy is a straight replacement for Bacary Sagna, who joined Manchester City on a free transfer, and Nice shot-stopper Ospina will act as cover for current No.1 Wojciech Szczesny after former back-up Lukasz Fabianski moved to Swansea City.
As such, there is likely to be little change across a back-line that excelled last season, particularly at home. Wenger’s men conceded just 11 times at the Emirates Stadium, and kept as many clean sheets, though they conceded a less impressive 1.57 goals per game on their travels.
One of Debuchy’s great strengths is his aerial ability – no full-back won more headers in the division last season – which was an important strength of Sagna’s that Arsenal needed to replace, while the ex-Newcastle man can expect a more adventurous role than the restrictive, defence-first one that he publicly bemoaned at St. James’ Park.
“Debuchy is very good going forward, is very quick in transition,” noted Wenger. “He is sharp in his marking, good with interceptions and quick to go from defence to attack. You feel he always has the desire to go forward, so I believe he will be perfectly suited to our style in that aspect.”
Meanwhile, should Thomas Vermaelen move to Manchester United, the Gunners could use the need to reinforce their defensive cover to purchase a more distinct alternative to Per Mertesacker; a quicker, more mobile back-up to be used as and when the situation requires.
The midfield presents an interesting conundrum for Wenger, with the veteran boss clearly keen to reinforce his engine room with fresh legs.
Arsenal had been preparing a move for Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, but the World Cup winner's wage demands proved too expensive for the Gunners and their strict wage ceiling, and Chelsea are now the frontrunners for the German’s signature.
The club remain preoccupied with strengthening in the centre of midfield, though, which has seen them open talks with Southampton over tough-tackling destroyer Morgan Schneiderlin.
The France international ticks most of the boxes the north Londoners require in a central midfielder, marrying a strong defensive awareness (no player has completed more combined tackles and interceptions in the Premier League in the last two seasons, at a rate of 6.75 per match) as well as passing ability and composure on the ball.
Schneiderlin’s powerful, energetic style makes him a perfect heir to Mikel Arteta, whose lack of mobility has become an increasing burden, and is ideally suited to freeing Aaron Ramsey to continue in the roaming role that reaped such reward last season. Lars Bender, who completed the second most tackles in the Bundesliga last season, has also been linked.
In attack is where Wenger has the most options to play with, particularly following the arrival of Alexis. The Arsenal boss has designs to mould the Chilean into an out-and-out centre-forward, as he did with Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie, but that is unlikely to be realised in the short term, especially while Theo Walcott is injured.
“He can play through the middle, he can play on both flanks and he has the qualities that I think are needed in England,” explained the Frenchman.
“At the moment he might play on the flank because Walcott is injured. As well [he can play] through the middle in some games; we can play with Olivier Giroud, we can play without Giroud in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-3-3. That's why he is a major signing for us, that's why we spend a lot of money on him. He has the quality to be efficient everywhere he plays.”
With Walcott not expected to be fit until the end of August at the earliest, Alexis is likely to spend the early days of his Arsenal career on the right flank – though that is predominantly where he played while at Barcelona, racking up 19 goals and 10 assists from his position on the wing.
One point of concern will be the form and fitness of Mesut Ozil, though, after a Premier League campaign in which he looked lethargic and which was quickly followed by a gruelling, though victorious, World Cup campaign.
The former Madrid and Werder Bremen playmaker had a somewhat quiet time in Brazil – though was deemed important enough to start all seven matches, while only four outfield players saw more pitch time – but Wenger might consider deploying the club-record signing in the same role off the left flank that brought both balance to Die Mannschaft and saw Ozil create the joint-third most chances in the tournament.
For Arsenal, then, next season is not so much about revolution but evolution. The tweaks made have been minor but could be significant. Alexis, likely to displace Giroud in time but limited to the flank initially, offers more variety and pace in attack, the defence has undergone minor tweaking and the club will look to sign a dominant midfielder to dovetail with Ramsey.