A disappointing season for Arsenal with their lowest Premier League finish since 1994/95 as they finished a lowly eighth. However, the season has finished with a tint of progress and success.
Under Mikel Arteta it is clear to see the progress that has been made defensively, and that Arteta is adding qualities to this Arsenal side that have been missing for over a decade now. These include an ugly side to their game, adaptability and improved game management. Consequently, Arsenal are becoming harder to beat and this culminated in a 14th FA Cup win for the club after gritty and dogged performances, combined with the lethal threat of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang against Manchester City in the Semi-Final, and Chelsea in the Final.
That FA Cup win could be vital for Arsenal going into a hugely important transfer window. A piece of silverware and a couple of performances that highlight the progress being made, could be enough to convince top scorer and captain Aubameyang to stay at the club. This would undoubtedly represent Arsenal’s best piece of business this summer. In addition to this, the FA Cup win brings added revenue to the club with qualification to next seasons Europa League. It appears that Arsenal do not have the deep pockets of some of their Premier League rivals currently and this revenue combined with some shrewd business will be crucial to help ensure progress next season.
Where do they need to strengthen?
Defence. This is apparent and has been for several seasons at Arsenal. Sokratis looks like he is on his way out with William Saliba last summer’s signing arriving as his replacement, after spending last season on loan at St Etienne. Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares have spent most of their time on the injury table since signing on loan in January, but have both made their signings permanent adding safety in numbers for next season. The move to a back three and particularly with the impressive Kieran Tierney in this back three, Arsenal have shown signs of defensive improvement, but quality additions at CB and LWB would be much needed.
A lot depends on the future of Aubameyang. Firstly, the future of his strike partner and close friend Alexandre Lacazette. It does appear that Lacazette’s future at the club will depend somewhat on Aubameyang’s decision. If Arsenal fail to convince them to stay, then a Striker and a Winger will undoubtedly be required to fill the boots of the two internationals who bring pace and goals to the team.
The conundrum of Mesut Ozil is a great mystery to most football fans and a huge annoyance to Arsenal fans. Ozil was once arguably the best creative midfielder in world football, providing chances and assists in the bucket load. But a drastic change in both form and attitude has left Ozil largely absent for the past few seasons, and with no one willing to pay his incredibly large wages, Arsenal have been unable to get rid of the World Cup winner. Whether or not they can do this in the summer, Arsenal need to find his replacement as creativity in the middle does appear to be lacking. Dani Ceballos has provided some moments of artistry from deep in recent weeks but with his loan up it is unclear whether he will return to the club next season and youngster Joe Willock has yet to deliver performances that lead you to believe he can fill the void.
Focusing on the creative midfield target.
The obvious choice
Phillipe Coutinho. Not much needs to be said with the qualities of Phillipe Coutinho. A sensational time at Liverpool was enough to convince Barcelona to pay over £100m on the Brazilian, who they hoped would help fill the rather large hole vacated by Andres Iniesta. This move has not worked out but a loan spell at Bayern last year where Coutinho managed 9 goals and 8 assists in 34 appearances reminded fans what Coutinho is capable of. Although, not enough to convince Bayern to make the move permanent. Coutinho could well be available on loan again next season, something which will appeal to Arsenal.
Coutinho has experience at some of the biggest clubs in the world and has proven that he can more than do it in the Premier League. He also offers versatility with the ability to play centrally or out wide and will therefore be of interest to Arsenal this summer.
With money a potential problem for Arsenal, they will need to be clever with their business. A dip into the Championship could therefore be the best option and particularly with QPR’s Eberechi Eze.
Eze along with Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Kalvin Phillips is one of the hot properties in England’s second division. Eze has played this season as a left sided attacking midfielder and amassed 14 goals and 7 assists in 46 appearances and has been a shining light for QPR. Due to Eze’s impressive performances and also the potential impact of COVID-19 on clubs in the lower divisions, it is likely that QPR will sell Eze to a Premier League club this summer. But will a traditional Top 6 club take the gamble on him?
Eze’s primary strength is his quick feet and ability to dribble and carry the ball forward breaking lines. Predominantly playing on the left of a 4-2-3-1 last season, Eze is an attacking midfielder capable of playing anywhere behind the striker and also as a number 8. In his role on the left, Eze looks to drift inside and often deep to get on the ball. Eze attempted 316 dribbles & 1v1s last season, the 3rd highest in the Championship, averaging 6.12 dribbles per 90 minutes. In comparison this put him slightly behind Coutinho (6.17) but comfortably ahead of existing Arsenal creative midfielders Ozil (2.94 – during his time with Arsenal) and Willock (4.56). Eze also comfortably had the highest dribble success rate (57%).
The other typical attribute of a creative midfielder is their passing. Eze completed 64 through passes last season with a 36% completion rate, equating to 5th best in the division. This shows he is certainly capable of breaking defences and creating chances for his teammates, and led to him contributing with 7 assists. Technically Eze is very gifted and this is further demonstrated with his set piece ability, trusted as QPR’s main set-piece taker and posing threats with his delivery. Eze does however make significantly fewer progressive passes (7.92) per 90 mins in comparison to Willock (11.22), Coutinho (15.02) and Ozil (17.03), this can be attributed to the lower quality team he plays in but something that Eze could work on.
Eze contributed to 21 goals and assists last year, but this really stands out because his expected goals and assists figure was only 18.19, showing Eze’s real quality in the final third. When watching Eze on the ball he constantly has his head up as he glides forward, allowing him to read the situation and make the right decision. Combining this with his acceleration and technical ability, Eze is a persistent threat to opposition.
Where would Eze fit at Arsenal?
With Arsenal favouring the 3-4-3 formation currently, Eze would fit in the LW position, picking up the ball from deep and driving the ball forward. Eze’s best position is arguably the No.10 with freedom to his game, but with his physicality and good work from deep Eze could develop into a very good number 8 if Arsenal were to adopt a 4-3-3 at points during the season. Eze’s versatility could be key.
Eze would need to improve his defensive work to fulfil a role at Arsenal and in the Premier League, only averaging 3.94 defensive duels per game with a 55% completion rate last season. His role in QPR’s 4-2-3-1 did give him limited defensive responsibility however, and focused on giving him the freedom to drift and contribute to his teams attacking play.
It is hard to look past a player of Coutinho’s class, particularly with his experience at huge clubs like Inter Milan, Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich as well as the previous success he has had in the Premier League. At 28, Coutinho should really be entering his prime and I am sure he would be chomping at the bit to prove himself in the Premier League again. However, Eze is a prospect Arsenal should be considering, he offers the same kind of versatility as Coutinho, despite lacking the top level experience. It certainly cannot be argued that Eze possesses raw talent and could be a face of the current Arsenal rebuild under Arteta for years to come.