Is anybody else worried that the first two players targeted by Arsenal’s Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat are ones who were good at Borussia Dortmund whilst Mislintat was employed there?
It’s not that Henrikh Mhkitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang aren’t excellent players, because they clearly are. But when you bring in someone to scour the whole of Europe to bring in talent to improve the team, and he thinks he can do that by simply returning to where he was previously employed, it doesn’t suggest that he has too much faith in Arsenal’s squad, does it?
I bring this up, because the general reaction to swapping Alexis Sanchez for Mkhitaryan has been to suggest that the team will now be more than the sum of its parts. Losing someone who demands the ball as much as the Chilean will apparently be of benefit to our desire to play a free-flowing style of football.
But when the first main act made by our Head of Recruitment is to try and spend £60million on a 28-year-old striker, six months after Arsenal spent £52.7million on a 26-year-old striker, it suggests he thinks the sum of Arsenal’s parts doesn’t add up to an awful lot.
It would be so nice to imagine that Arsenal could replicate the performance from the first twenty minutes against Crystal Palace last weekend and make it the standard from now on. But look at that team compared to the one that beat Palace only three weeks previously, and you can immediately see the problems Arsenal are facing when it comes to chasing a top-four place in the Premier League.
Sead Kolasinac is currently Arsenal’s third-choice left-back. It’s hard to have an issue with him being back-up at the moment, considering Arsenal’s reversion to a four-man back line and Nacho Monreal currently doing a passable impression of Roberto Carlos. But also ahead of the Serbian is a 20-year-old centre midfielder. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has played admirably whilst out of position, but to prioritise his development ahead of getting Kolasinac used to the pace of English football is a strange decision considering Monreal’s injury problems.
Maitland-Niles’ continued deployment at left-back is all the more puzzling considering how poorly Granit Xhaka has played this season. If Kolasinac is seemingly ill-suited to playing in a 4-2-3-1, then the prospects for Xhaka are just as poor. His inability to cover the ground behind him is even more pronounced with one less defender at the back, and Mohammed Elneny was selected on Saturday to literally do Xhaka’s running for him.
It would have been the perfect time to give Maitland-Niles a chance in his best position, surrounded by first-team players instead of squad players during a cup game. Alas, he was needed on the bench in case Monreal got hurt. Sigh.
Arsenal played 4-3-3 on Saturday, with Alex Iwobi and Mesut Özil swapping wings all game whilst Alexandre Lacazette played hide and seek with the Palace defenders – they never found him. With Mkhitaryan now at the club and Aubameyang on the way, a return to Arsene Wenger’s preferred 4-2-3-1 seems imminent.
If so, then the front four will be Lacazette, Özil, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, which is great. So, who out of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are you dropping? You can’t play both of them AND that front four, or else you’ll lose every game 6-3. One of them will have to accept being backup for the other.
Jack desperately wants to stay at his boyhood club, so he might accept not playing every week. But Ramsey? I really doubt it, and his contract’s up next year. Oh joy.
I’m all for buying superstar attackers whenever possible, but Petr Cech is declining, David Ospina is still nothing more than good back-up and Hector Bellerin still doesn’t have a viable back-up.
When David Ornstein tweeted that if Aubameyang was acquired, there would be no significant funds available afterwards, it makes me wonder how good an idea it is to spend all of our money at a position already stronger than a lot of others at the club.
Unless, of course, you want me to believe that Arsenal plan on spending similar amounts of money during the summer on proven commodities instead of young players, which I would concede is possible but not without a change in management first. And how likely is that?
I wish I could get more excited about the incoming signings, but Arsenal have many more problems than just replacing Alexis. If they do indeed reunite Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, it’s a start towards closing the gap on our rivals but nothing more.
But do you know the funniest thing about all of this? If Arsenal succeed in the near future with Aubameyang is at the heart of it, then Mislintat will get the lion’s share of the praise. But if Arsenal get off to a poor start next season, and Aubameyang doesn’t settle in quickly, then it’ll be Wenger who gets the blame.
That’s how much Arsenal’s season is on a knife-edge right now. There’s no more sympathy left to burn, no honeymoon period to grant and no patience left to give. Arsenal need to get good, and quickly. It appears as if the Head of Recruitment thinks the same.