AT the moment, there are so many transfer rumours swirling around Arsenal that it is almost impossible to decipher which ones are rooted in fact. Stories have broken casting the futures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Granit Xhaka into doubt, and then contradicted by alternative lines within 24 hours.
It’s the same on the incoming front: the season has only been over for a couple of weeks, yet the Gunners have already been linked with a whole host of potential signings. That’s somewhat surprising given Arsenal’s paltry budget. Failure to qualify for the Champions League means their spending is likely to be restricted to £40 million or so. Given the restrictions they’re operating under, the link to Belgian right-back Thomas Meunier is somewhat confusing.
It’s not that Meunier is a bad player. Far from it—he’s part of the best Belgian team in several generations, and started 27 matches for the French champions last season. At 6’3”, he would add height and power to an Arsenal need in desperate need of a physical boost. However, with a reported price tag of €30 million, it would be strange for Arsenal to allocate the majority of their spending power to a player they don’t particularly need.
Hector Bellerin is one of the best right backs in Europe. If you're going to sell him and replace with Meunier, it is a sackable offence.
— LTArsenal™ (@ltarsenal) May 31, 2019
Arsenal could do with a right-back. Hector Bellerin’s cruciate ligament injury is likely to keep him out until October at the earliest, and even then he will probably need to be eased back in to competitive football. Of the current back-up, Stephan Lichtsteiner has already announced his departure, and it’s widely assumed that Carl Jenkinson will follow him.
That leaves just the inexperienced Ainsley Maitland-Niles—and it’s possible that Unai Emery views his future in central midfield rather than on the flank. Meunier would make some measure of sense. Not only can he play at right-back, but also right wing-back, making him an asset to Emery whether he lines up with a back three or a back four.
It had been assumed that Emery would be looking to revert to his preferred back four next season, but the Meunier rumours might suggest otherwise. Arsenal’s most effective players are Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and 3-5-2 is one of the formations which copes best with the deployment of a true strike partnership.
Perhaps the reported interest in Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser is with a view to converting the Scotsman to a more defensive role. Full-backs and wing-backs are evidently a major part of Emery’s tactical plans, and it’s possible that he wants to load up with quality in those areas.
Bournemouth's Ryan Fraser is our number 1 attacking target [@jamesbenge]
Most fans won't be happy with that but he is proven in the PL, 7 goals + 14 assists last season and will cost £20-25M. He might not be a marquee signing but he is an upgrade and within our budget. #AFC pic.twitter.com/ef6kDb92Au
— Gunners.com (@Gunnersc0m) June 4, 2019
However, there are many things Arsenal need more than another right-back. Splashing out Meunier would leave little room in the budget for the central defender and central midfielder the Gunners desperately need. Arsenal effectively need to replace two players from the very spine of their team: Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey. The former is on his last legs, and the latter has already gone. That must be the focus of their strategy and their spending this summer.
Meunier has subsequently been linked with moves to Manchester United and Everton. They feel like more plausible destinations—they’re clubs with bigger budgets where he’d become an automatic first choice.
Arsenal could use some cover for Hector Bellerin. However, the task is not to replace Bellerin. Once the Spaniard returns to full fitness, it’s inevitable that he’ll take his place in the starting XI. At that point, Meunier would become a €30 million reserve. That’s just not something that a club with Arsenal’s resources can afford to have.