ARSENAL’S summer in the transfer market was a curious one because most of the activity was condensed into short flurries. It took some time to get going, but the signings of Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe happened in the same week in July, while Kieran Tierney and David Luiz arrived on the same day that Alex Iwobi was sold.
Whether by design or happenstance, Arsenal frontloaded a lot of their activity by buying, spending almost double their summer budget on the acquisition of Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe (albeit in an instalments style deal where payments are spread). Raul Sanllehi and co then set about balancing the books and clearing the decks.
Carl Jenkinson was finally sold, while a deadline day offer from Everton for Alex Iwobi was deemed too good to turn down. The Nigerian was not at the top of the sell list, but having committed so much expenditure already and with certain other players proving difficult to shift, Arsenal bit the bullet and took the cash for a player they would probably sooner have kept.
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) August 12, 2019
The gap between the closure of the transfer window in England and the closure of the window in Europe was then used to move other players on as Mohammed Elneny, Nacho Monreal and Henrikh Mkhitaryan exited the club. A squad cull was absolutely necessary and there are few arguments with the work that has been done to achieve this.
The club made it very clear that they would happily drive Skhodran Mustafi to a new suitor should one arise, but the German centre-half remains an Arsenal player for now. The individual cases for moving on Monreal, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi are sound- though there remains some contention about the latter. I do wonder whether the club would have sanctioned the sale of Iwobi on deadline day had they already known of a possible move for Mkhitaryan.
The money on the table from Everton might have forced the sale in any case. I think Emery would have preferred to keep him but needs must and while the loss is not ideal, if it were put to you earlier this summer that Arsenal would sell Alex Iwobi to finance a move for Nicolas Pepe, most of us would have taken it without thinking twice.
The decision to move Mkhitaryan on was a straightforward one, especially in respect of his salary. However, losing both Iwobi and Mkhitaryan in the same window is a considerable risk. It absolutely commits Unai Emery to making a success of the Pepe, Aubameyang and Lacazette front three before it has really been tried.
That might not end up being an issue, but I am still not sure if there is an obvious balance in that front three beyond all three players being very good and being able to minimise the issue of chemistry. (Of course, they may form an outstanding chemistry rendering those reservations unfounded).
Beyond the PAL triumvirate, Arsenal have academy products for the wide forward positions in the shape of Nelson, Smith-Rowe and Saka and that means the coach is probably going to have to lean into the idea that Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is a wide forward (again, you may not consider that to be much of an issue). It puts a lot of emphasis on the star studded front three to perform and stay fit and beneath them, it puts the spotlight onto academy players who are going to have to step up quickly.
The sale of Nacho Monreal gave me a similar vibe to the Iwobi sale. Now, the situations are different of course because Monreal is 33, has one year left on his contract and, I think, it’s been clear for some time that he wanted to finish his career in his home country. That said, my suspicion is that, privately, Arsenal would have preferred to sell Sead Kolasinac this summer, but offers weren’t incoming.
Signing Kolasinac on a free transfer resulted in a generous salary that other clubs have balked at. Emery rarely trusts the Bosnian to play in a back four and with an emphasis on building from the back, his fitful passing has to be a concern. But the club simply couldn’t find a role for three left-backs this season, so Monreal’s sale has an air of reluctance about it.
The individual case for selling each of these players is immaculate and even collectively, the clear out makes a lot of sense in the long term. I do wonder if, in the short term, the squad might have been slightly unbalanced by the late summer garage sale at the Emirates. It certainly means Arsenal are placing their stock into some unknown factors.