Arsenal have confirmed the signing of Willian Borges da Silva. The 32-year-old winger agreed to a rumored three-year deal to move from west London to north London.
Along with Willian, the Gunners appear to be leaning towards giving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a lucrative, long-term contract. These signings suggest that Arsenal’s plan this summer is to put all their eggs in next season’s basket. From the outside looking in, the plan seems to be to ride their current veterans, plus at least one new one, to the top four.
The strategy is not entirely crazy, there is a world that it could work. That is almost the problem. The fans and, more importantly, upper management can be talked into the strategy. The issue is that outcome is unlikely and they’re banking a ton of resources on it happening.
Arsenal had their fewest points since the 1994-1995 season, leaving them 10 points off the top four. Underlying numbers suggest they were even worse than their points tally reflects. Simply put, Arsenal needs significant improvement to make the jump from where they were last season to the top four.
Willian improves the team if he does not decline next season. The Gunners have a number of young players that entered the first team in the last 12 months, such as Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah. Jumps from those players in consecutive seasons could push the needle. Combine those improvements with growth from the team in year two under Arteta and maybe they bridge that gap.
The risk management here is a problem. Even if all of those things go right, it is far from a guarantee that they are a top four team. On top of that, the odds of all those things going right is not high. Additionally, there are possible negative factors. Their older players, such as star strikers Aubameyang (31) and Alexandre Lacazette (29) could decline, they could be besieged by the injury bug or Chelsea and Manchester United could spend to a degree where Arsenal can’t keep up.
This isn’t the first time they’ve done this. They have employed similar strategies each year since 2017. Arsenal attempted to hold onto Alexis Sanchez and brought in Lacazette in summer 2017. In January 2018, they extended Mesut Ozil, signed Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. They took a more balanced approach with their signings in the summer of 2018, but still refused to sell Aaron Ramsey and signed Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Last summer may have been the clearest example, signing Nicolas Pepe and David Luiz, while reusing to sell either of Aubameyang or Lacazette.
They’ve failed to make the top four every time they’ve attempted this strategy. They have prioritized the short-term, only to fail in the short-term. There has been a lack of long-term thinking and it has put Arsenal in the position they’re in. Now it looks like they’re doing it again. It has the potential to put them in an even deeper hole.