At the end of last season it looked as if Granit Xhaka wanted out, and that Martin Ødegaard was on his way back to Spain, two players who would take quite a bit of replacing I felt. There were many rumours as to who their replacements should be, some realistic, some not so much. I don’t know what happened to Xhaka’s move but the moment he agreed to stay at the Emirates, Arsenal no longer needed to buy a replacement – he was in effect like a new signing, especially as a contract renewal was soon agreed on. To replace him would have cost somewhere in the region of £40 million, money that was then available to spend elsewhere. He will continue to be targeted by refs and pundits but I suspect will end the season as one of our most influential players, just as he has done before. Ødegaard became available and he is a new signing (though of course he doesn’t feel like one). His arrival on loan back in January did coincide with a slight upturn in results which saw the second half of the season more successful than the first had been. I am biased but think he could be a major player – I like the way he plays, reminding me at times of a less languid Ozil, a more graceful Wilshere.
We have signed Aaron Ramsdale, a backup goalkeeper (which was essential) who is surely destined to soon enough become our number one: I suspect he will be better with the ball at his feet than Leno and I hope that he might be more assertive when it comes to crosses into the box. For balance, I imagine he is not such a good shot stopper as our current first choice keeper. Ben White, our new CB signing came with seemingly very good credentials, and good judges spoke well of him. He had a poor first game and has since been unwell: it may well be that he was under the weather during the game, or maybe playing in a new side takes a bit of time to get used to. I think it would be premature to write him off just yet and I look forward to seeing him play and develop. Still on the defensive side of things, we have also signed a left back, Nuno Tavares, and a right back, Takehiro Tomiyasu. I do not know nearly enough about them to have a view, apart from making the point that since Bellerin’s injury a couple of years ago we have looked a little light in that department, and I can see why it was felt that we needed a back-up with potential for Tierney. I also hear that Tomiyasu can play at Centre Back, which will give more options for the man in charge.
Sambi Lokonga is an interesting new recruit, and its hard to know whether he was bought as a long term project, initially to provide cover in midfield, or whether he was seen as a first-choice starter. I’ve only caught fleeting glimpses of him, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen thus far, and think that a midfield engine room where you perm two from Lokonga, Xhaka, Elneny and Partey is a better base from which to build than seemed likely at one stage, and to my eyes is an improvement from last year. Could it be that Maitland-Niles might also feature in that midfield? He too seemed ready to leave, but now remains, at least for the time being.
The one area that I felt needed strengthening was the striker, but that was never going to happen while we were still paying Aubamayang and Lacazette. No one came in for Lacazette who I guess of the two was the more likely to leave, so we have him for the last year of his contract, but he has shown in the past that he can score goals, and that he does link play well. At the prices we could afford there were few out there guaranteed to come in and do better. Maybe a new target man may be the only target next summer.
Taken all in all it has been an interesting series of deals. For those keen to attack the club and its direction of travel it is easy enough to say that a lot of money has been spent, but spent on players who on the face of things don’t noticeably improve the side. For those who prize ‘winning the window’ it is certainly a disappointment: there is no big glamour signing, no player ‘guaranteed to pay for himself in shirt sales alone’. This summer has certainly been a gift for the soapbox orators at Talk Sport, the mouth frothers at AFTV and as I write I can almost hear the one-sided and seemingly down-to-earth common sense logic put forward by the likes of Darren Gough and Adrian Durham. In many ways I can see they have a point. But it is also true to say that this window represents a significant change in direction for The Arsenal, for the profile of these new players is very similar. They are all young, all between 20 and 23, and all, one hopes, with their best years ahead of them. They have cost quite a lot of money, but I suspect that although they will be very comfortably remunerated, they will not be on excessive wage packets. I don’t know who makes the decisions at the club, whether it is the manager, or the owner, or the Board of Directors, but these new signings do not seem to have been done on a whim, however easy it is for Paddy Power to suggest that the recruitment policy is nothing more than a joke. They do point to a plan, a project, a process.
Not all of these players will be a success, and they certainly won’t turn the fortunes of the club around at once. But there is a good chance that they will integrate well with the other young players already at the club, and that together they might start building a new Arsenal side, a side that has an identity unique and different to previous teams that have represented the club. The profile of the players suggest that they are talented, ambitious, and coachable. Whether or not the current coach will be the one to get the best out of them remains to be seen, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. While I am not brimming over with optimism, I can detect the first faint stirrings of hope, enough at any rate to find me already frustrated that we are yet again in the midst of a wretched International break.
Tim Head @foreverheady