It is a far cry from the inefficient, uncertain Arsenal people had come to know. When Mikel Arteta takes his squad to the Adidas training facilities in Bavaria this week he can reflect that, a few further tweaks aside, he is working with the group he believes can win the Premier League.
Pre-season has hardly begun in earnest but their coffers are £200m lighter and the next phase of Arteta’s plan to restore the Gunners’ supremacy can begin without recourse to a deadline-day trolley dash.>>>Continue Reading…
In Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber, Arsenal have hit the sweet spot of youth and experience and that invariably costs a pretty penny. They have 70 years, 95 international caps and more than 600 senior appearances between them; all three are on the correct side of their peak but conditioned to deliver.
Arteta has reduced Arsenal’s age dramatically in recent seasons; a squad feted for its youth last season has become younger still while conforming more precisely to the manager’s vision.
The £105m deal agreed for Rice might make the eyes water but it is not hard to see why Arsenal were relaxed about pushing out the boat. Arteta has rejuvenated a creaking defence and stale front line over the past two years but there was less urgency to freshen up an ageing central midfield pair of Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey that, as long as both were fit, met the levels required.
Xhaka has left for Bayer Leverkusen and Partey, 30 years old like his ex-colleague, may well move on by August. Arsenal were acutely aware they would need a midfield for the next five years and by installing one this early in the summer, the sense of upheaval should be diminished.
Rice’s arrival is the clearest statement yet that Arsenal, for all the “bottling” conjecture surrounding their run-in of 2022-23, are around to stay. He has known Arteta’s plan for him since the pair met early this year and other suitors were always playing catch-up.
Arteta wants Rice to be the linchpin for an evolved version of the 4-3-3 that served Arsenal so well last season. He believes the player’s physicality, running and defensive conscience will allow those around him greater freedom of expression but also thinks Rice, playing in a more consistently front-footed side than West Ham, has the capacity to develop his attacking game.>>>Continue Reading…
One of the league’s best ball carriers from deep should thrive when given extra space and opportunity to do so; he should also profit from the cutbacks Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli routinely aim behind onrushing attackers.
Flanking Rice will be Havertz and Martin Ødegaard. Arteta’s vision is that the pair, who bring up a midfield three of 24-year-olds, operate somewhere between the traditional No 8 and No 10 positions: perhaps an eight and a half, for want of more precise definition.
Ødegaard’s role evolved thus last season and brought 15 league goals. The unlocking of Xhaka, on the other side of the three, rightly drew plaudits but the fit was never natural. Havertz, a more creative and instinctive player, should add movement and guile where his predecessor brought presence. Rice, as robust as they come, knows how to hold the fort.
The theory is enticing and Arteta has the entire summer to make sure it translates into practice. His transformation of Arsenal gives him the benefit of any doubt. Still, there is a sense that in the short-term this revamp constitutes a high-wire act.
Arsenal felt a £21m fee was good business for Xhaka given he turns 31 in December, but his importance to the runners-up was such that they had no chance of replacing him for that amount. The same will be true if Partey, sought by clubs in Saudi Arabia, leaves for around £30m. They have spent big to recalibrate a department that was not failing, at a time when several of the rivals they outwitted last season will also be betting on reboots. There is no guarantee everything clicks immediately and Havertz has yet to show he can deliver on a weekly basis.
Timber should find himself under less of a glare in the short-term. The Eredivisie’s most-prolific passer should operate as a right-back who can tuck in, offering a three-man defensive bank behind Rice when Arsenal are out of possession.
Ben White’s evolution means the Dutchman arrives as competition rather than a bedrock. The signing of William Saliba to a new contract, the most difficult of Arsenal’s recent renewals to achieve and among the most satisfying, means further additions to the backline will be unnecessary unless the deputy left-back Kieran Tierney departs.
Arsenal’s business is not complete. They would like to bring Roméo Lavia in from Southampton to add youth, depth and drive to the reconfigured engine room but a £50m asking price looks rich. Even though Reiss Nelson has signed a new deal, quality cover for Saka remains a live issue. Up front, at least one of Folarin Balogun and Eddie Nketiah is likely to depart. Whoever stays must be good enough to keep Gabriel Jesus on his toes.>>>Continue Reading…
Those matters will bubble on, but to little alarm. Arsenal have put next season’s fundamentals in place and must now hope Rice can propel them to even greater heights.