Yesterday’s reports that we were close to singing Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, ensuring that whatever else happens we’ll remain top of the copy and paste charts for writers next season, seemed to spark some kind of backlash yesterday from Arsenal fans.
I say seemed to because a) I wasn’t paying too much attention and b) I’m pretty well insulated from lots of the Twitter moaning because we can all curate our own timeline and I don’t tend to follow the perpetually miserable (or read what they have to say elsewhere). Therefore, the reason I knew it was happening was when I saw other people comment on the reaction to it.
And hey, I can understand it to an extent. It feels like our new Head of Recruitment is going through the motions a bit. This would be the third ex-Borussia Dortmund players – his former club – and on top of the recent links to 34 year old Stephan Lichtsteiner, it’s hardly the most exciting arrival you can think of. He’s been somewhat underwhelming for Dortmund this season and pushing 30 he’s hardly one for the future.
On the other hand, it’s clear that experience is something our defensive set-up needs. We have a clutch of talented young defenders at the club, but with Per Mertesacker now retired and Laurent Koscielny out of action until sometime close to 2019 with an Achilles problem, there’s a dearth of players who have been around the block a bit. Nacho Monreal is about the only one, and much as I like him, we need a bit more than that.
We have players like Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Sead Kolasinac between the ages of 20 and 24. Shkodran Mustafi is 26 and Monreal is 32. There are obviously gaps there both in terms of personnel and the age profiles of those players. We have to add depth, but we also have to bring in players who can do what needs to be done now, and not when they’ve developed in a few years.
It’s also beneficial for young players and their progress to have people like this in the team. These are players they can learn from, both on and off the pitch, and while both Papastathopoulos and Lichtsteiner are hardly going to get people dancing in the streets the way the capture of Mesut Ozil did, I can see the sense in their potential arrivals.
They’ve both got plenty under their belts, they’re both decent players, and on top of that they’re not costing a huge amount. They’re suggesting £15m for the former while the latter would arrive on a free transfer. It’s not a big outlay for two players who can help add something to a defence that needs it, while we develop some of the younger talent we have as well as scouting and identifying longer-term targets for the future in less chaotic summers and circumstances. It might have been presented as a slick, seamless transition from Wenger to Emery but on any understandable level this has been the kind of upheaval at Arsenal the likes of which we have’t experienced for a long time, if ever when you consider how much has changed. It’s not simply a new manager.
It’s an approach that also leaves more money to add more youthful, dynamic signings elsewhere – I’m thinking central midfield, where it’s going to require something more than Sven going back through his dog-eared Dortmund Rolodex, and goalkeeper. If we have earmarked our transfer funds for those positions and for somewhat more exciting signings, then again I can see sense to the way we’re reinforcing our defensive options.
I think the other thing we have to bear in mind is that despite this all seeming cool and exciting and new and fresh to us after the changes in structure and the arrival of a new manager, we’re not as attractive a proposition as other clubs. We finished sixth last season, meaning not only do not have the draw of Champions League football, we’ve got the Europa League to contend with.
And with all due respect to that competition, it’s shit. I’m sorry, it’s not me being spoiled, and I know loads of other clubs would like to swap with us blah blah blah, but basically it’s rubbish until you get towards the final stages. I can see the benefits, blooding and playing young players in the groups etc, but as much as we all tried to embrace it for being different last year, there was nothing memorable about it beyond the Cologne game which lives in the memory because of what happened in/around the stadium rather than on the pitch.
It is the poor relation of European football no doubt about it, and that has to have an impact on how you’re perceived as a club and a potential destination for new signings. We finished 12 points off the top four, 37 points behind the champions, and those are both significant gaps to make up.
You’re not the first or second club players want to join because of that, and we have to cut our cloth accordingly. I’m hopeful that there’s a bit more to come from us in the market this summer, but this is where we are, this is our reality, and the players we bring in will reflect that. The likes of Papastathopoulos and Lichtsteiner are unlikely to make us champions, but they might help us get back to a level where we can start to bring in the kinds of players who can.
I know realism can be less than exciting at times, but I think we need a dose of that and some patience because the competition for the top four is as stiff as it’s ever been. We’re bringing in a new head coach to work in a brand new structure and system that this club is not used to, after a World Cup summer and a truncated transfer window which demands decisiveness in the market.
There’s no time for dallying, we need to get deals done quickly, and these two arrivals – should they happen – at least speak to a clear plan as to how to address defensive issues. Whether it works remains to be seen, of course, but we’re not hanging around and that in itself ought to be seen as positive.
As I said, let’s hope the IRS have more exciting things up their sleeves this summer, but now it appears they’re banking on the two veterans to bridge the gaps in the defensive make-up of the squad while they get on with them.
James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you later this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra.