The familiar signs are there for Arsenal fans. The list of players that have now moved to top-four Premier League clubs (and United) now includes Sagna, Fernando, Lallana, Lambert, Can, Fabregas, Costa, Herrera, and Shaw. From having to look at golden boy Cesc Fabregas holding up a Chelsea shirt to watching Wenger playing beach football at Copacabana, it would look like the Gunners are reverting back to their old habits of last minute transfer dealings, 4th place trophies and a season that will carry a distinct sense of ‘what if?’ come May.
But it would be premature to criticize Wenger so early in pre-season. The World Cup is still going on after all, and Le Professeur is notorious for his ability to keep all transfer talk under a lid until absolutely necessary; indeed, it looks like the Arsenal boss has been keeping busy this window with two significant signings, Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez, seemingly on the cusp of completion. If as the media suggests, these deals do go through once the World Cup is completed, they would be a fantastic and almost un-Wenger-esque start to the Gunners’ transfer window and would take a good deal of pressure of Arsene Wenger before the new season began.
With Bacary Sagna now joining the stream of Arsenal players swapping the Emirates for the Etihad, the vacant slot at right-back was up for grabs, and it looks like French defender from Newcastle will be slotting in right where his France teammate left off. Debuchy was one of Newcastle’s bright performers in an otherwise awful season, and he was arguably the best defensive right-back in the league this past season. His performances at St. James’ Park earned him a spot on the WhoScored PL Team of the Season, and his defensive stats (particularly his aerial duels and interceptions) are comparable to the more established RBs in the league. Arsenal’s RBs don’t generally have to get forward too much because Walcott represents a pacy winger on that flank, which would mean Debuchy would primarily sit back and provide defensive cover on the right.
His defensive dominance can be explained by Newcastle’s style of play, which doesn’t really require fullbacks to overlap a whole lot but when compared to Sagna his attacking stats hold their own; he’s created more chances (23 with 3 assists) and has double the number of successful dribbles (16) despite having played fewer minutes than his French compatriot.
Arsenal already has two young prospects at RB, Carl Jenkinson and 19-year-old Héctor Bellerín, which is why a move for Serge Aurier (21) would hinder the development of all three youngsters. At 29, Debuchy can contribute a solid 2-3 years at that position with Jenkinson as an understudy, while Bellerin can continue to grow at the Academy or on loan.
It also looks as though Barcelona castaway Alexis Sanchez prefers a move to Arsenal over Liverpool, who are trying to capture him as part of the deal that will see Count Suarez move to the Nou Camp this summer. If this deal goes through, he will be filling Arsenal’s biggest void, the one up top, and at £25mn he is a bargain buy for someone only 25 and with his peak years ahead of him.
Even though he plays on the wings at Barcelona thanks to Lionel Messi dominating the central position, his stats are comparable to Giroud and outstrip the Arsenal man’s on more than one occasion. More importantly, he is a clinical finisher; last season Giroud scored a goal once every seven attempts (16/112) while Sanchez scored his 19 in only 66, which is a one-in-3.4 conversion rate. As the season dragged on and Giroud ran out of steam, he became more wasteful, and it is here that Wenger will benefit from having an able backup.
Critically, Sanchez can be a solution to more than one problem at the Emirates. He is not a straight swap for Giroud; his pace and ability to exploit space between the lines contrasts Giroud’s No. 9 target-man role at Arsenal where he sometimes has to hold up play and drop deep to move the play up the field. Sanchez can play off of Giroud, and when required can step into an attacking winger role to partner up with Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott in a midfeld trident behind Giroud. Sanchez’s arrival at the Emirates will also allow Ozil to flourish; his pace and ability to stretch play to the flanks (particularly when playing with Walcott on the other flank) will open up space in the middle for Ozil to fully achieve his creative potential, something sorely lacking from his first season in England.
A solid right-back and a marquee forward signing for around £35mn would be a great start to the transfer window, especially given how the Sanchez deal will weaken Liverpool after Suarez’s departure. If Wenger can capture a centre-back and a strong central midfield player before the season begins, there can be no doubting Arsenal’s title ambition next season. And for someone who is always accused of not spending money, Arsene Wenger can do a lot worse than Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez.