For the first time in seven years Arsenal are planning for a season in the Champions League.
We could have been talking about Arsenal’s first summer as defending champions for 19 years but Manchester City had other ideas and the Gunners had to settle for second in the Premier League, their highest finish since another runners-up spot in 2015/16 — coincidentally the last time they qualified for the Champions League.
Over the past few seasons Mikel Arteta has been building an Arsenal squad clearly capable of challenging for the Premier League title, but this might be the most important transfer window of his time in charge so far. Arteta not only has to ensure his side can once again compete with Man City, but he also has to make sure his squad is strong enough to challenge in the Champions League too, with hopes of going further than their round-of-16 Europa League exit last season.
The Gunners are currently 5/1 second favourites to lift the Premier League trophy next season and if they make another impressive start then that price won’t be around for much longer.
The Spaniard has wasted no time in adding to his already talented squad, bringing in Kai Havertz, who is able to cover a variety of positions, Jurrien Timber, who can play CB or RB, and Declan Rice, who as their record signing will slot straight into the middle of midfield.
There are also a few departures that Arteta may have to combat, including that of Granit Xhaka, who recently joined German side Bayer Leverkusen after saying his farewells to the Gunners’ faithful in the final game of the 2022/23 campaign.
The question is, who could be brought in? We’ve combined strong rumours, bookmakers’ favourites and a couple of our own left-field suggestions to look at Arsenal’s potential business this summer, as well as profiling some of those players that have already come through the doors at Colney.
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After months of speculation, Mikel Arteta finally got his first choice midfielder as Arsenal completed the signing of Declan Rice from West Ham. The £105m fee makes him the Gunners’ all-time record signing, as well as the most expensive player to move from one Premier League side from another.
According to transfer expert David Ornstein, Arsenal had their first two bids rejected by West Ham, with the third meeting the Hammers’ valuation for Rice, who is out of contract next summer. Manchester City were also reportedly interested in Rice but were put off by West Ham’s asking price, unwilling to match Arsenal’s bid.
Shortly after Rice captained West Ham to Europa Conference League glory, Hammers chairman David Sullivan revealed he had promised to let Rice leave the club this summer, saying: “We gave the promise last summer that if he gave us his all, we would let him leave the club.
“It’s a fair and proper thing to do.”
The Englishman made more interceptions (63) and won possession more times (334) than any other player during the 2022/23 Premier League season and should fit in seamlessly next to Kai Havertz and captain Martin Odegaard in the Gunner’s exciting new midfield trio. Rice was also the only player to have 30+ in the following metrics in Europe’s top five leagues last season – interceptions, clearances, take-ons completed, chances created, aerial duels won and shots, showing exactly why Arsenal paid the big bucks to bring the English midfielder to North London.
Another player Arsenal have added to their impressive squad is defender Jurrien Timber, who can cover several positions in the Arsenal defence.
The Gunners had a good centre-back partnership going between Gabriel and William Saliba last season but part of the reason their title charge fell apart was due to the latter’s injury ruling him out for the final 11 matches — in that time, Arsenal kept just two clean sheets and gave up two-goal leads twice. Still young, Timber isn’t the finished article and does have some improvements to make especially on the defensive side of his game, but in terms of building from the back the Dutchman looks to be a good option.
With Arsenal already filling most of the holes in the squad, the only real position they need to fill is a back up right-winger to support Bukayo Saka, who played in every single Premier League game in 2022/23.
One player that could fit the role perfectly would be (whisper it quietly) former Tottenham forward Marcus Edwards, who has been turning heads in the Premiera Liga with Sporting in the last few seasons, including his performances against his former side and the Gunners themselves in Europe last term.
As well as scoring seven goals and providing five assists, the forward completed the second most take-ons in the division in 2022/23 (69), (just behind Porto’s Pepe Aquino with 75) and would be excellent option off the bench, with his incredible close control and dribbling ability causing tired defences all sorts of problems.
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Another player that the Gunners should consider for the RW role is Samuel Chukwueze, who put in some fine performances for Villarreal last season and along with Saka, cored AND assisted 10+ goals across all competitions. The forward has already been linked with a move to Italian giants AC Milan, but there is no reason why Mikel Arteta side can’t hijack the deal and bring him to North London.
The Nigerian has an impressive turn of pace to stretch defenders and would be a huge asset to the Gunners either from the bench or from the start. He is tenacious, presses well and like Saka, likes to cut in on his left foot, being compared to Arjen Robben earlier in his career.
One of the most wanted young midfielders in the Premier League it seems, Arsenal are among the teams reportedly interested in signing Romeo Lavia from Southampton. Of course, following Saints’ relegation from the top flight, the vultures are circling looking to pick up any talent that doesn’t want at least one season in the Championship.
For Arsenal, Lavia would be the perfect replacement for Thomas Partey who has also been linked with a move away from the Emirates. Lavia was one of the few bright sparks of Southampton’s season, showing consistency and inspiration in an otherwise damaging campaign for the relegated club. And he made his international debut for Belgium too, all while playing for a struggling team.
Three ways Arsenal could line up under Mikel Arteta in 2023/24
Champions League contenders
If Arsenal don’t get an ideal Granit Xhaka replacement, they could just play Kai Havertz in one of the No.8 roles, as the German had been tested there on a few occasions at Chelsea — though without the proper defensive support which is why it didn’t work. In this position Arsenal would also be able to get their full attack in.
Another potential position for Havertz is in the most advanced attacking role, albeit slightly more of a False No.9, forming part of a fluid attack. He didn’t have too much joy here with Chelsea last season but the Blues lacked a system, which definitely isn’t the case at Arsenal.
What if Arteta wanted to experiment a bit and follow the example currently being set by former mentor Pep Guardiola (not that he invented this system)? The quality is there for a move to an attacking three at the back, with rotation options.