Arsenal spent most of the summer transfer window swinging and missing at a series of targets. They went at Jamie Vardy, but he stayed with Leicester. They then made a serious effort to dislodge Alexandre Lacazatte from Lyon, but his club tried to extract an increasingly inflated amount of money from Arsenal, until the deal collapsed under its own weight. Some rumors regarding Riyad Mahrez and Julian Draxler rose and fell (Julian Draxler will be rumored to go to Arsenal until he retires), Arsenal signed Granit Xhaka to finally add some physicality to a paper-thin midfield, but Arsene Wenger and Co. did not add depth to their back line or provide an alternative forward option to Olivier Giroud.
Their thinness cost them points immediately. Wenger was forced to start Calum Chambers and 20-year-old Rob Holding against Liverpool in the EPL opener, and they lost, 4-3. Against Leicester City the next week, Arsenal were held goalless, and they were unable to shift the tenor of the game during a sludgy second half. They finally played attractive soccer and got a win this morning against Watford, and after they wrapped up the 3-1 win, Arsenal fans got even better news: reinforcements are imminent.
This isn’t a confirmation that the deals are done and dusted, but Wenger doesn’t talk about transfers this publicly until they’re set. Arsenal are already five points in the hole to Chelsea, but the additions of Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia and Lucas Perez from Deportiva La Coruña address the team’s two biggest deficiencies.
Mustafi is the big prize here. He’s only 24, but he’s already entrenched himself on the German national team as one of their best center back options. He made his competitive debut for the Germans at the 2014 World Cup, and scored his first international goal at Euro 2016 this summer. Mustafi is an ideal Wenger center back; he’s calm on the ball, stout against set pieces, and he has good instincts in front of goal. Take his header against Ukraine this summer:
Per Mertesacker is set to miss a few more months with a knee injury, so the starting job is most likely going to be Mustafi’s fairly soon. Of course, it’s critical to conceive of central defense in terms of partnerships, and on paper, he should fit alongside the more cavalier Laurent Koscielny.
Unlike Mustafi, Arsenal did not buy Lucas Perez to start him. For all of Olivier Giroud’s faults, he’ll most likely hold down his spot atop the Arsenal attack. Lucas is such an intriguing fit with the Gunners because he offers them a completely different look. The left-footed 27-year-old is not quite a burner, but he’s much faster and more hard working than Giroud. He picked up 17 goals and eight assists last year for Depor, which shows his range and tendency to look for the final pass. Lucas is not just a blunt object.
Arsenal have sputtered over the line the past few seasons, and followed up promising first halves of seasons with limp stretch runs. A lot of this comes down to injuries, but they’ve also struggled with depth and burnout. Xhaka seems like a workhorse of a player, and if Mustafi can mesh with Koscielny, they may have a more stable foundation than in years past. It’s not ideal that it took them five dropped points to make their moves, but they’re set up well for the rest of the season.