The dust has settled on another enthralling Premier League season and it’s feeling like more of the same for the Gunners.
Mikel Arteta’s side finished fifth after defeat to Newcastle in the penultimate game saw a top-four finish slip from their grasp. But missing out on Champions League football should not undermine the positive progress made this season.
Eight points better off than last term, three places higher and a youthful side playing with a temperament well beyond their years are tangible signs that things are improving at the Emirates.
Furthermore, the plight of Manchester United and the uncertainty surrounding Chelsea should give belief to Arsenal fans that another slight improvement next year could be enough to see a return to Europe’s most glamorous competition.
Make or break window at the back for Arsenal
Arsenal spent over £160 million last Summer to bring in six players and showed plenty more the door, but even so, Arteta is still some distance off his ideal side. It left them with a smaller squad to select from compared with their top four counterparts and it was ultimately exploited in the closing stages of the season. Stellar performances from the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli up front could not compensate for the injuries to key defensive personnel at crucial points in the campaign. Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu all missed a significant chunk of the season further exacerbating defensive frailties. If Arteta is hoping not to fall victim to the same set of circumstances again and stem the flow in 2022/23 then he will need to add to his side in those areas of the pitch.
One option available to Arteta in that regard is Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti. The Frenchman is set to leave the Catalonian side this Summer, and Xavi is keen to move the 28-year-old on as his side plan to reclaim the La Liga title from arch-rivals Real Madrid. Reports say that the Gunners are first in line according to these betting apps. Question marks still remain as to whether the Frenchman is willing to join Arsenal in the Europa League despite their return to European football. His general attitude is also a cause for concern, especially with Arteta’s desire to only sign players who are passionate about the North London club. Even so, there is little doubt Umtiti would bolster Arsenal’s defensive ranks.
Another man heavily linked with a move towards North London is Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Ruben Neves. The Portuguese midfielder has been a long-term target for the Gunners and with the 25-year-old making clear his interests to move away from Molineux, the central midfielder should be one of Arteta’s top priorities. It won’t be easy after Wolves boss Bruno Lage slapped a £70million valuation on the international’s services and the likes of Manchester United and Porto are waiting in the wings for the signature of the much sought-after midfielder. But if Arteta managed to lure him down to London then he could prove to be the intimidating presence the Gunners desperately need.
There is also interest in Bologna left-back Aaron Hickey following his impressive performances for the Serie A outfit. Arsenal are in desperate need of a versatile left-back to accompany playmaker Kieran Tierney with the Scot sitting out on the sidelines following knee surgery, and Nuno Tavares looking out of his depth at this level. The 19-year-old has surpassed expectations whilst in Italy and has made significant contributions in both attack and defence for I Rossoblù netting six times over the course of the season. Arsenal’s youngsters have seized the opportunity with some standout performances this season and if given the time, Hickey could be nurtured into a similarly impressive talent.
Who’s the right man up front?
Despite a disappointing climax to the season and looming questions over Arsenal’s attack following the departure of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, the Gunners’ success up front has been evident to see throughout this season. Their youthful set of attacking midfielders and wide forwards are among the best in the country and have proven more than capable of filling the void left by the Gambian in January. Having said that, acquiring an out-and-out goalscorer will probably be the priority this window if they are to make their mark in Europe next season, especially considering the additional fixtures the midweek games will add to both their calendar and subsequently their injury list. There is a lot of choice for the Gunners’ to contemplate and getting the right man to give them that extra firepower is absolutely crucial for their prospects next term.
The man garnering the most attention is Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus with Arsenal showing interest in the Brazilian star as early as November last year and Technical Director Edu maintaining a close relationship with him during that time. Jesus’ future at the Etihad is in doubt after the newly crowned Premier League champions secured the services of Norwegian superstar Erling Haaland. The Gunners are now primed to capitalise on the opportunity with a bid of £35million expected in due course. Arteta will need to shrug off the competition to require his services though as North London rivals Spurs have emerged as potential contenders for the 25-year-old’s signature. But if the Spaniard managed to add the Brazilian to his squad then it could provide the extra impetus needed in front of goal.
Arsenal have also made enquiries over Paulo Dybala after the Argentinian played his final game for Juventus and is walking out the door for nothing this Summer. The 28-year-old has scored 113 goals in his 283 appearances for the Italian club including 13 this season and has proven pedigree in finding the back of the net. However, he is a Champions League calibre player and whether that significantly dents Arsenal’s chances is unknown. Staying in Italy, there is also the prolific Tammy Abraham to consider who has been in imperious form for Jose Mourinho’s Roma. There is no doubt the Englishman would be open to returning to the Premier League for the right price and Arteta would surely be keen to get the deal done that he missed out on last Summer.
As always seems to be the case the Gunners have a big window ahead of them and with year-on-year improvement thus far under Arteta, there is reason to be optimistic for Arsenal fans.