Arsenal have never had a problem with their attacking options, whether it was Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil creating or now Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring the goals.
Arsene Wenger’s long reign was built on a solid defence at first, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown and Tony Adams providing the base which was then protected in midfield by Manu Petit and Patrick Vieira.
Over time, that fell by the wayside as Wenger looked for players capable of attacking, often forgetting the problems he had at the back. Vieira was never replaced and, slowly but surely, Arsenal began to slip out of contention for trophies.
Per Mertesacker, whilst a decent defender, was not fit for purpose. Lauren Koscielny hasn’t been fully fit for a long while and one of the main reasons the Gunners have failed to win trophies for many years is their frailty at the back.
Now, with Unai Emery taking charge, are those problems about to be addressed?
Unai Emery – By Football.ua, CC BY-SA 3.0
Emery has previously managed Paris St Germain, Valencia and Sevilla. With a fresh face comes a fresh outlook – a new impetus to get the right player into the right positions. History will eventually see Wenger as the visionary that he was but, right now, the bitter taste from many years of average recruitment is still in fans’ mouths.
They’ll get to enjoy the fruits of that recruitment, the Ozil creativity and Aubameyang goals, but this time from a proper foundation, a defence hopefully built on more than a diminutive Koscielny and a succession of attacking full backs.
The first moves Emery has made have been promising. Petr Cech, whilst a valiant attempt at bringing in a top keeper, has been in decline since leaving Chelsea and despite David Ospina carrying Colombia through to the World Cup 2018 last 16, his presence isn’t likely to see Arsenal amongst the favourites in this season’s Premier League betting, where they currently sit at 28/1.
Emery recognised that and made Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno his first signing for £19.3m. Leno has 230 outings under his belt for the German side, he’s been a regular in European competition and has been capped for Germany. He’ll be the last line of defence, but hopefully won’t be as exposed as Cech was at times.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos – By Werner100359 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
In front of him, there’s another new face too. It’s rare for Arsenal to sign two big-money players at the back without a fanciful lightweight midfielder as well, but that is the change emery brings to the culture. Sokratis Papastathopoulos will earn them a fortune in additional printing revenue on the back of shirts, but he’ll bring more than a shortage of iron on ‘P’s and a couple of tongue-twisted commentators.
The Greek international has played for Dortmund, Milan and Werder Bremen and has over 79 caps to his name too. The fee is undisclosed, but the intention is not. Emery has identified the problems of the past and has moved swiftly to resolve them.
Arsene Wenger might not have won a lot of trophies in his last decade as manager, but he did sign wonderful players with talent in abundance. His inability to find the balance was his undoing, but the early signs are the new man in charge knows exactly what is needed.
That could spell danger for the rest of the Premier League.