(Originally posted at Fansided.com in June, 2017)
Arsenal finished outside of the top four for the first time in the Arsene Wenger era. Here’s who they should target to get back into the title race next season.
Arsenal’s 2016-17 season was full of unrest and turmoil. Long-serving manager Arsene Wenger was the subject of constant speculation from the first match until the moment Arsenal announced his contract renewal.
A switch to a back three late in the season may have saved Arsenal’s season and won them the FA Cup, but they need to continue to tinker with the squad to achieve better results in the future. Another year in the Europa League would be tough to stomach for Arsenal fans.
Wenger has already admitted the maximum number of signings in this window would be three. There will be no drastic changes to the club this summer. With that in mind, where should Arsenal start to look?
Petr Cech has been reliably good for the Gunners since his arrival. However, the 35-year-old had some uncharacteristically shaky moments this past season, and Arsenal may be looking for his successor. While Wojciech Szczesny seems to be the logical choice, there are reports he’s headed to Juventus after his loan to Roma ends.
David Ospina, Cech’s backup, seems to be on the way out after not receiving consistent playing time. Arsenal have been rumored to be interested in Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford, which would make sense given his age and upside. Cech may only have a season or two left as the undisputed number one at the Emirates.
The Gunners have already made one move official, the signing of former Schalke left-back Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer. Kolasinac was signed in part because of the switch to a back three, which Wenger seems intent on continuing. He’ll help bolster the left wing-back position which was in flux throughout the final matches.
Arsenal bought center-back Shkodran Mustafi last summer to fix a few defensive woes, but the German found himself out of a starting position after the back three took hold. Mustafi has to find a way to fit into the Gunners’ new system if he wants to see more playing time alongside Laurent Koscielny and fellow newcomer Rob Holding.
If Arsenal hold off Barcelona from prying away right-back Hector Bellerin in the summer, the rest of their defense looks to be set. There’s little chance Wenger splurges for another expensive defender like he did with Mustafi last summer, especially considering the results.
There have been reports linking Arsenal to Virgil Van Dijk, but it’s highly unlikely Wenger pays the transfer fee of £50 or £60 million.
Based on the switch to the 3-4-2-1 formation near the end of the season, Arsenal stumbled upon a solid central midfield pairing. Big money signing Granit Xhaka under-performed early on, but was revitalized in the new system. Aaron Ramsey partnered him for a majority of those matches and was his perfect counterpart. Ramsey can’t seem to stay healthy for more than a few matches at a time, however.
There have been tepid links to Naby Keita, the RB Leipzig midfielder, but the transfer seems unlikely based on how many clubs want him. A player like Keita compliments a facilitator like Xhaka well. A better, more consistent central midfield pairing could help the leaky defense more than another pricey defender might.
Where the big names come into play for Arsenal are in the advanced positions. Alexis Sanchez has been linked with many Champions League clubs, including Juventus, PSG, Manchester City and Bayern Munich. The Gunners will have to offer him huge wages to keep him in London. The same goes for Mesut Ozil, who has hinted at his desire to stay with the club.
If one or both of them end up leaving, a replacement, possibly Riyad Mahrez, could be in the plans. Wenger has expressed his interest in the Leicester wide man, but has not made a formal bid yet.
The position of most dire need for Arsenal is striker. The Gunners have not had a stellar center forward since Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012. Kylian Mbappe has been linked to Arsenal in the past few weeks, but seems unlikely given he’s the prized target of the summer and has an enormous price tag. A less expensive option would Alexandre Lacazette, who Arsenal have reportedly opened talks with Lyon to buy.
Regardless of who Arsenal target, the key areas remain the same. The Gunners need a next-level goalscorer and a solid central midfield addition to take them back to challenging for titles. However, keeping their best players might end up being more important.