Mikel Arteta has walked into a difficult job at Arsenal but has impressed during the early stages of his tenure. The Spaniard’s next challenge will be to elicit excitement from fans in the transfer market.
Recent dealings from the Gunners have left a lot to be desired, particularly in defence, but Arteta will be hoping to avoid a repeat of certain recruitment shortcomings and sign shrewdly in his first-ever managerial window.
Diehard Gooners will be working up a nervous sweat to see whether Arteta has the Midas or a mindless touch when it comes to transfer activity. These next few weeks could prove telling and will paint a more transparent picture of what fans can expect from the Spaniard.
Either way, Arsenal remain hovering in 10th position in the Premier League table and are 11/1* to finish in the top four, so signings may prove crucial this month, but who could genuinely become Arteta’s first-ever signing in the hot seat?
*Odds provided by William Hill, Squawka’s partner for the 2020 January transfer window. You have to be 18+ to gamble. For more information, go to BeGambleAware.org
A product of Red Bull Salzburg’s famed and fruitful scouting network, Upamecano has been on Arsenal’s radar since the summer, but the club are said to have baulked at the asking price being commanded by current club RB Leipzig.
The 21-year-old Frenchman ticks all the boxes of an elite-level centre-back and, as such, won’t come cheap. In order to sign a top-market talent these days, you need to pay a top-market fee, but Arsenal fans certainly won’t wince if a club-record transfer is broken to sign Upamecano.
There have been numerous attacking candidates linked with a move to north London, but fans won’t be satisfied until the discernible gaps in defence are addressed and amended.
In Upamecano, Arsenal would be getting a defender who has been likened to France legend Marcel Desailly, and at just 21, he already plays with the maturity of a defender 10 years his senior and the intelligence of a stalwart.
At 6ft 1in, Upamecano is a physically imposing centre-back, but he possesses traits that far exceed his mountainous frame; his passing ability is second to none – only four centre-backs in the Bundesliga this season have made more passes than him (932) – while he also boasts a pass accuracy of 88.84 per cent.
It’s no wonder, then, that RB Leipzig currently find themselves at the summit of the German top-flight having conceded the third-least number of goals (20) this term.
If Arsenal have genuine aspirations of getting back to those halcyon days of Arsene Wenger’s early tenure, then they will need to find their next Sol Campbell or Kolo Toure. They need to follow in the footsteps of Liverpool with Virgil van Dijk and Manchester City with Aymeric Laporte and invest significant funds in a centre-back.
There were already questions marks over the quality of Arsenal’s defence but following a season-ending injury to Calum Chambers last month, the need for a new centre-back has never been greater for a club currently in flux.
Shkodran Mustafi remains out of sorts, Rob Holding remains out of favour, while David Luiz and Sokratis remain polarising figures.
06': Shkodran Mustafi vs. Liverpool
07': Sokratis vs. Crystal Palace
09': David Luiz vs. Crystal Palace
Arsenal's centre-backs have been finding the net early… just not always the right one. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/MBzcuf5ttc
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 30, 2019
Highly-regarded teenager William Saliba will link up with the Arsenal first-team, though not until the summer, but at just 18, will Arteta trust him to slot seamlessly into the fold and make an immediate impact?
Even if the Spaniard does hold faith in the Frenchman, Arsenal remain in the hunt for a top-four finish this season; but they will need to tighten up at the back – and urgently – making the purported acquisition of Jerome Boateng a mouthwatering prospect in north London.
The Bayern Munich centre-back has all the hallmarks of a world-class defender and will not only bring title-winning experience to a beleaguered Arsenal backline but also leadership qualities, tackling virtuosity and a renewed impetus on the terraces.
According to Sky in Germany, Arsenal have enquired about the availability of Boateng. If Arteta can pull this off then he will be recruiting a top-bracket player who can marshal his defence, tutor Saliba down the line, and appease supporters who have been driven to the precipice.
The departure of Vincent Kompany from Manchester City over the summer has highlighted just how important and influential an experienced centre-back can be for any club, let alone the league champions. At just 31, Arsenal would be getting their hands on a player who could help heal their backline ailments and herald the start of a new and exciting era in the capital.
However, critics may point out that ongoing doubts about Boateng’s fitness – and his advancing age – suggest Arsenal would be signing a player past his best.
The Ajax phenom was tipped to leave last season’s Champions League semi-finalists during the summer transfer window, but the Amsterdam exodus was somewhat alleviated as Ziyech remained in the Dutch capital, while Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong sought more lucrative pastures.
Well, fast forward half a year and the Morocco international could now be on the move as Ajax failed to secure their place in this season’s Champions League last-16, opening the door for some of Europe’s elite to ask questions.
Arsenal have previously seen their name associated with a move for Ziyech’s signature, and according to Italian outlet CalcioMercato, the club’s supposed interest may be about to transform into something more concrete, with Ajax giving their prized asset the green light to leave the Johan Cruyff Arena.
The report claims Ziyech may become available but only if his £43m valuation is met. While many fans will be brimming with excitement at the possibility of signing one of football’s most creative playmakers, many may point to the recent mini-resurgence of Mesut Ozil as a reason to steer clear of the Moroccan and invest in more urgent areas.
Ziyech would unquestionably add an elite-level panache to Arsenal’s attacking third, making him a very tantalising prospect indeed, but with a large fee to take into account, Arsenal supporters may question Arteta’s tact in the market if a high-quality defender once again eludes the club.
Before Arteta can begin to dream of one day competing in the upper reaches of the Premier League table with juggernauts Liverpool and Man City, he must first address the defensive quandary hampering the club’s prospects.
If Upamenco proves too costly, or Boateng decides against dropping out of the Champions League, then Arteta could turn his attention to a player with vast Premier League experience, versatility and an incredible reading of the game.
Ake has been an impressive component of Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth in recent seasons and has garnered the attention of some of the Premier League‘s top clubs..
The 24-year-old Dutchman is an archetypal modern centre-back in every sense. He has a superb passing range, can bring the ball forward with unwavering composure and can, perhaps most importantly for Arsenal fans, defend.
Arteta could very well be looking to bring a more expansive and liquid brand of football to the Emirates, but until Arsenal sign a game-changing centre-back, all that work further up the pitch will be count for nothing if shots continue to breach Bernd Leno’s net at an alarming rate.