Football Features

The three big signings Arsenal need to make this summer

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 13:14, 2 May 2022

Arsenal are heading into the summer transfer window with a really positive outlook.

The Gunners have been in excellent form of late, winning their past three matches to take control of the race for the Premier League’s top four, two points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur with a North London Derby to come in their final four games.

However the season ends, though, Arsenal will look to this impending summer transfer window as their next big step towards rebuilding their status as an elite club.

After last summer’s recruitment saw the Gunners bring in lots of younger faces with high potential, technical director Edu says that this summer will be different: “After last summer’s revolution, we need the next step. We’ve (got) our strategy ready,” he said in a recent interview with ESPN Brasil.

“We’re going to focus on signing one or two players.”

But who could those players be? Well first we have to narrow down the positions, and one is obviously going to be a striker after the club let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave mid-season without a replacement.

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The former Arsenal captain is thriving for new club Barcelona, with 11 goals in his first 19 games, and while Arsenal aren’t exactly struggling in his absence there is a definite hole in the team up-top. Despite his brace against Chelsea, Eddie Nketiah is not the answer and neither is Alexandre Lacazette, whose contract expires in the summer anyway.

But what of the second position? Well, The Athletic’s David Ornstein (who also says that Mikel Arteta would like two forwards) has said that Arsenal are looking to sign a central midfielder, and there have been links to the likes of Ruben Neves and Youri Tielemans. So that seems like a good bet if Arsenal are only making two big signings.

Who could they be?

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Gabriel Jesus to answer the call?

While there are a multitude of forward options available for Arsenal this summer, the one name that consistently crops up is Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus. The 25-year-old Brazilian has always been a fairly reliable performer for Pep Guardiola, though he has seen his role reduced this season to the extent that more than half of his Premier League goal tally so far this season came in one game.

Now, scoring four times against an opponent is never not impressive, and Jesus’ ability to put goals away at that kind of a clip has to be appealing to an Arsenal side used to creating and missing a large amount of chances.

So far this season in the Premier League Arsenal’s xG is 61.28 which is fourth-best in the division, just behind Chelsea’s 63.57; but while Thomas Tuchel’s men have scored 68 goals Arsenal have just 54, they are underperforming their xG significantly.

Since the start of 2018/19, only one Arsenal player (with over 150 minutes) has scored more goals than Gabriel Jesus’ 0.51 per-90, and that’s Aubameyang. The Brazilian has remained potent even though his minutes are significantly lower than both Lacazette and Aubameyang. Moreover; all 58 of Jesus’ Premier League goals have come inside the box; he is a true fox in the box.

Jesus also has experience winning trophies, having been a big part of all Man City’s title triumphs under Pep Guardiola, and that has to appeal to Mikel Arteta as he looks to build Arsenal into a young squad that can consistently compete for trophies (the two he’s won so far basically belong to Aubameyang and Emi Martinez, both of whom have since left the club). Jesus has also got two goals in an FA Cup final, which makes him very suited to Arsenal.

Moreover, since the start of 2018/19, no Arsenal player has won possession more times in the attacking third than Jesus. When you look per 90 among players with 200 minutes, then Martin Odegaard does appear just ahead of the Brazilian with 0.9 possessions won in the attacking third to 0.89 but the point is that Jesus is someone Arteta can trust to lead the press, and with him and Odegaard pressing at the same time Arsenal could catch a lot of teams slacking at the back.

Finally, given Manchester City’s public pursuit of Harry Kane last summer and Erling Haaland this, it’s clear they hope to improve on Jesus themselves. This would leave him open for sale, and given Arteta’s past working for Pep Guadiola at Manchester City, it’s possible the great Catalan would be happy to do his Basque buddy a favour.

For his part, Jesus is currently focusing on Manchester City and the run-in. “Not time to think about this,” the Brazilian said recently.

“You expect me to say this and it’s true. Not time to think about this, now is the best moment of the season.”

“I want to enjoy it, keep focussed on my teammates to fight for the Premier League. I’ve won with my teammates three times already so I know how it feels and I want to again.”

Isak the perfect partner

While Edu said one or two signings, if Arsenal are looking at a second striker as well that would only make sense. Nketiah is not the standard and Lacazette is leaving, so just bringing one man in when Arsenal are already one man light and set to lose another for sure and a third perhaps just doesn’t cut it seems odd.

Handily, Arsenal have been heavily linked to another forward for the summer, and that is Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak. The 22-year-old forward has a vast skill-set that encompasses everything you’d want from a striker. He’s tall, he’s strong. he’s fast, he’s skilled and has fantastic technique. Just about the only thing he’s lacking is a killer instinct.

Isak isn’t a great goalscorer, his career-high is just 17 in a season. But given his pace and dribbling, if Arsenal were to sign him he would be capable of playing on the left wing and cutting infield to threaten goals. In fact both Isak and Jesus have the tactical versatility to play multiple positions should the need arise and that must make them very attractive to Arteta.

A Red Devil for the midfield

Arsenal needed a holding midfielder for ages, then they got Thomas Partey. And while he is great, he is just one man. With Odegaard emerging as the club’s stand-out player in attacking midfield, and Partey holding as the “Six”, what Arsenal need is the go-between. An “Eight”. Right now they have Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, neither of whom are really ideal for the level Arsenal want to reach.

Elneny is a squad player whose contract expires in the summer, but he’s expressed a desire to stay at the club, saying of Arsenal: “It’s my family for six years. I love this club.” Still, even if he does he’s no starter.

Meanwhile Xhaka is a player who has more than twice as many yellow cards (35) as he does combined goals and assists (15 – seven goals, eight assists) since the start of 2018/19.

Sure, on his day Xhaka is still more than capable of influencing the biggest of games, but he’s also perfectly capable of doing something absurd and getting sent off or giving away a penalty.

Moreover he’s one of the few Arsenal players for whom a transfer market actually exists, with Roma trying to sign him last summer and rumour has it they’re coming back in for him in summer 2022 as well.

So who can Arsenal bring in to complete the midfield trio with Partey and Odegaard?

The two names mentioned by David Ornstein are Ruben Neves and Youri Tielemans, and while the Portuguese is likely to be in too high a demand for Arsenal to compete for his signature, Leicester’s poor season clears the way for Tielemans.

The Belgian midfielder is a fantastically rounded talent, capable of doing almost anything you’d want. Since he joined Leicester at the start of 2019/20, he has created 135 chances (more than any Arsenal player in the same time), completed 96 take-ons (more than all Arsenal players besides Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pépé), attempted 5,703 passes including a whopping 1,882 forward passes (more than any Arsenal player), and made 197 tackles plus 88 interceptions (both more than any Arsenal player has managed).

A year ago it was mooted by some pundits that leaving Leicester to join Arsenal was a sideways move, but given the vastly different trajectories the two clubs are on this season it’s hard to say that still applies.

Marcel Sabitzer is another name that has been linked, and could be a much cheaper option should Tielemans prove too pricy to prise away from the King Power. The Austrian has endured a difficult season at Bayern Munich but his talent is undoubted as seen during his time with RB Leipzig. He would fill in the hole between Partey and Odegaard nicely, for sure, but Tielemans has to be the first choice.

The Belgian wouldn’t come cheap, but he is exactly what Mikel Arteta’s men need to progress to the next level. And given what Edu said about focusing on one or two key players, this is when Arsenal need to step up and pay what it costs to get the man they need.