As I write this piece Arsenal have just lost in the first knockout round of the Champions League 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich. Arsenal fans therefore are facing another season of relative mediocrity as the club seek to retain their place in the top four of the league and the prize of Champions League qualification for next season.
Should that be all that the club and their fans expect? Should they settle for a place in the top competition in Europe each season or are the fans entitled to expect their side to challenge at the top of the league and towards the latter stages of the Champions League.
In order to challenge for honours again changes are needed in the structure of the club with Arsene Wenger retaining full control over several important aspects of the club from training to physical preparation and recruitment at first team level.
These are all aspects of the club that can be supplemented by the appointment of specialists who would be in a position to at least advise the first team manager and share the workload allowing Wenger to concentrate on preparing the side for upcoming fixtures.
The purpose of this piece however is to look at the first team with a view to recruitment in the upcoming transfer window. We will identify two key positions of the pitch in which Arsenal should look to strengthen if they are to find their way back to the top level.
The first thing that we need to consider is the age profile of the squad. This is a slightly more complicated way to view recruitment needs as each position has a slightly different regression point in terms of age. For example, players who play as goalkeepers, central defenders and defensive midfielders tend to be able to play at their peak in to their 30’s while players in more explosive positions like fullbacks, wingers or strikers tend to peak in their late 20’s. Whilst there are always exceptions to this rule this does still tend to be the case.
Looking at the age profile of the Arsenal squad the main area of concern appears to be at left back with Spaniard Nacho Monreal displaying signs of regression at age 31. His back up Kieran Gibbs is younger but is also of a lesser quality.
Therefore, left back will be an area we will look at in depth.
Next we have to look at the Arsenal squad through the lense of quality and depth. For years fans of the club and those in the media have been clamouring for Arsene Wenger to invest in a defensive or controlling midfielder. This is an area in which the club has been lacking since the sale of former captain Patrick Viera.
Many thought that the need had been addressed last summer with the big money signing of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach. So far the Swiss international has failed to live up to expectations and I believe that he would be better served in a more advanced role which means that there is still a need for a player that can fulfil the deeper role.
Our second area of interest will be the base of the midfield.
For the purposes of this article I have identified three potential signings for Arsenal in each of the two positions that have already been discussed above.
The young Spanish left back would certainly not come cheap. Having made the slightly surprising move across the border from Spain to Portugal he now finds himself with Benfica who are known for being difficult to deal with in the transfer market.
Grimaldo is very much a fullback in the modern mould having been moved back to the left back position from the wing. As such his biggest strength lies in the attacking phase of the game where his runs from deep provide an attacking outlet either on the line or inverted as he is comfortable carrying the ball in to central areas.
Over thirteen matches so far this season Grimaldo is averaging 1.4 shots per game and 1.3 key passes per game showing his value in the attacking game.
He is however equally impressive in the defensive phase where his pace ensures that he is rarely caught out of position. Over those same thirteen matches Grimaldo is currently averaging an impressive 2.8 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per match.
The young left back is equally capable of playing the ball diagonally in to space as he is playing in short combinations along his side of the pitch.
Here we see Grimaldo in possession on the left-hand side of the pitch. He quickly identifies that the defensive block has been pulled over to his side of the pitch. This leaves the space to be exploited on the opposite flank and Grimaldo has the quality to play the diagonal pass to access that space.
Once again I have chosen to highlight the contribution from Grimaldo in the attacking phase. As he moves in to the final third of the pitch he has taken up an inverted position in towards the centre of the pitch.
Instead of becoming flustered in this position we instead see the Spaniard hold on to the ball and pause in possession. As the passing lane opens Grimaldo has the quality to access the space by playing the ball through the lines and in to the path of the advanced player.
Club: Aston Villa
Amavi was something of a revelation when he first moved to English football with Aston Villa and he immediately made the left back role his own. He displayed advanced defensive instincts for his age but more crucially he quickly became an important part of the attacking phase for Villa. Unfortunately for both parties he suffered a serious injury early in the season which saw him miss the rest of the campaign, a campaign that ended with Villa being relegated.
Many onlookers thought that the Frenchman would move on before this season but he has instead stayed with Villa in an effort to help them win a quick return to the Premier League.
In the defensive phase this season over the course of 28 matches Amavi has averaged 1.9 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game as well as 3.2 clearances. His offensive statistics are slightly less impressive which may be indicative of the struggles that Aston Villa have faced this season so far. He has 0.2 shots per game and just 0.7 key passes per game so far.
Here we see the recovery ability of Amavi as he covers round in to the central areas.
As Leeds look to attack in transition the through ball is played in the channel between Amavi and the left sided central defender. The striker is in a pocket of space between the two central defenders and he immediately looks like the favourite to pick up the ball as he moves beyond the defensive line.
Instead Amavi showcases his speed over short distances in covering back and even through the striker is first to the ball Amavi is positioned to quickly dispossess him and move forwards.
Once again here we see Amavi at a disadvantage as the attacking player has the ball in space and should be able to make the cross relatively easily.
Instead Amavi is able to recover his position making it round to challenge the man on the ball and win possession back for his side.
Guwara is perhaps the least well known on the list but he is a left back playing for Darmstadt in the German Bundesliga, a side that are known for their defensive efficiency.
He would certainly improve Arsenal in the defensive phase as he is a more traditional full back – almost in the Nigel Winterburn mould – with less to contribute in the attacking phase.
Over 13 matches so far this season Guwara has 1.9 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per game.
Here Guwara is isolated one on one against the opposition winger in the defensive phase. He displays sound positioning and reading of the game as the wide player tries to beat him with pace on the outside.
Instead Guwara stands strong and is able to dispossess the winger without going to ground.
This time the young German full back displays his ability in the final third having won possession of the ball due to an immediate counter pressing move.
With defenders in a reasonably set structure Guwara flashes the ball low across goal allowing a team mate to peel off to the back post and score a simple tap in.
Name: Lucas Tousart
The signing of Tousart would signal a move back to the French market where Wenger has enjoyed the most success over the course of his career.
The young midfielder is a cultured player that typifies the type of midfield players that France have produced over the last two decades. He is more of a controlling midfielder than simply a defensive midfielder with his capacity to produce periods of interplay with team mates as they move in to the attacking phase.
That is not to say however that his defensive output is lacking. Over 22 matches this season Tousart is averaging 2.1 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game. His passing statistics also impress with an average of just under 47 passes per game and a completion ration of 87.9%.
Here we can see Tousart leading the counter press as the man in possession for the opposition takes the ball facing his own goal.
Tousart moves from the deepest role in the midfield to immediately engage the man with the ball and emerges in possession of the ball.
His ability to read the game and anticipate the movements of the opposition are very advanced for his age.
This time Tousart shows his capacity to play in the attacking phase of the game.
As the French midfielder drives with the ball across the field in to a pocket of space he has the awareness to be continually looking for the opportunity to play the ball forwards in to advanced areas.
He sees that one of his teammates is pulling on the shoulder on the blindside of one of the defenders and he has the quality to slip the pass through the lines with the perfect weight to allow the attacker to take possession of the ball.
Name: Joao Palhinha
Club: Sporting CP
Joao Palhinha is the latest in a series of fantastic midfield players to have been produced through the academy of Sporting CP. He impressed sufficiently in a loan spell with Belenenses to earn a recall to his parent club where he has been exposed to the first team.
A tall angular figure Palhinha is strong both on and off the ball possessing the ability to read play and intercept the ball before it reaches its destination.
In the defensive phase of the game over the course of 20 games so far this season he is averaging 2.8 tackles per game and 1.8 interceptions as well as 1.9 clearances.
As well as being strong defensively Palhinha also contributes well in the attacking phase.
Here we see how composed Palhinha is on the ball. As he takes possession he is facing his own goal with an opponent closing him down.
Instead of playing the ball off quickly he pauses and turnes away from the pressure beating his immediate marker. As a second player steps up to challenge him Palhinha beats him as well before driving forward towards the final third with the ball.
With the opposition driving forwards with the ball in the middle third Palhinha steps out to challenge the man in possession and wins the ball fairly.
He is deceptively quick over short distances and possesses the timing and anticipation to win the ball back for his team in central areas.
As he wins the ball back from the man in possession Palhinha then spins out of the challenge from the next man and drives forward with the ball.
He has the presence of mind to wait for the right opportunity before playing the through ball in to space for the attacking player to chase.
Name: Assane Diousse
Diousse is a player that has impressed hugely at the base of the Empoli midfield. The Senegalese midfielder plays in a manner that belies his relative lack of experience as he is always in position to take possession of the ball before using it intelligently.
Out of all the midfielders listed so far Diousse is the player whose style of play most resembles that of the aforementioned Patrick Viera
In the defensive phase Diousse is extremely effective and over the course of 25 matches this season he is averaging 1.5 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game. He is also strong in the attacking phase with his ability to dictate the game averaging 54.8 passes per game with a pass completion rate of 86.8%.
Here the opposition appear to be in comfortable possession of the ball as they move in to the final third. The man in possession plays a simple short pass in to the feet of the advanced player as they look to move in to a more advanced area to play from.
Instead though the simple pass is read by Diousse who quickly moves in front of the advanced player and showcases his strength and technique in quickly winning the ball back and moving quickly in to the attacking transition.
Here Cagliari are in possession and chasing the game and the man on the ball looks to play a vertical pass beyond the Empoli midfield in to space.
Diousse however reads the passing lane and is quickly and efficiently able to move across to intrecept the ball before it reaches its intended target.
When he wins the ball back Diousse then moves the ball quickly on to a player in space who can launch the attacking phase. Keeping things simple is one of the strengths of his game.
I have highlighted just six players that I believe could significantly strengthen the Arsenal squad. With the exception of Grimaldo of Benfica all would be available for a relative bargain fee. The key however is to move quickly before the reputations of these players grows and they become much more expensive.
It remains to be seen whether Arsene Wenger will still be responsible for transfer policy at Arsenal in the summer but if he is then he should be taking an extremely close look at these players.