The Arsenal boss will only add ‘exceptional’ players to his squad but with transfer deadline day approaching the Gunners are lacking depth in three key areas
COMMENT By Greg Stobart
Arsene Wenger has described Arsenal’s start to the season as “very average” and that assessment faces a significant risk of a downgrade to “poor” when they face Newcastle on Saturday.
Already five points off the top of the table after one win, a draw and a defeat in their first three Premier League matches of the season, the pre-season bubble of optimism in north London has already popped.
While total spending by top flight clubs has now risen to more than £700 million this summer, Arsenal account for just £10m of that sum from the arrival of goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Arsenal did not finish 12 points behind champions Chelsea last season only because of their goalkeepers – and supporters are demanding more signings to complete the squad if they are to mount a genuine title challenge this season.
By now the whole football world knows the Gunners need a top class striker, a central midfielder and a centre-back.
While clubs brace themselves for last-minute bids from Arsenal for their players, Saturday lunchtime opponents can be fairly relaxed that their main summer business has long been completed.
On the final day of last season, Newcastle’s much-criticised owner Mike Ashley broke his silence and spoke of his ambition to finish in the top eight and win trophies. After years of austerity and treading water in lower mid-table, the ‘Cockney Mafia’ have finally decided to go for it this summer.
Steve McClaren has returned to Premier League management with a point to prove and the club have backed him with ambitious signings in areas of the squad identified for improvement.
Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksander Mitrovic, Florian Thauvin and Chancel Mbemba have arrived at a combined cost of £50m to give McClaren a far more talented and better balanced starting XI than he inherited.
Newcastle are, of course, operating in a very different market to Arsenal. Nevertheless, their business over the summer is in stark contrast to the all-too-familiar inaction at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger has brought in stellar players in the last two years in Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but one of the major criticisms of the Frenchman has been his dithering in the transfer market since Arsenal last won the title in 2004.
Gary Neville criticised Arsenal’s “naive or arrogant” transfer strategy earlier this week and while Wenger insists he wants only “exceptional” players, he can’t argue that there are not players available that would improve his squad.
Wijnaldum, for example, is a talented attacking midfielder with defensive qualities and Champions League experience, with time on his side to add another strength to his game. He could have provided excellent competition for Francis Coquelin in a defensive midfield role that even Wenger has recognised as crucial to the balance of his side.
READ MORE | Is Coquelin among Europe’s best defensive midfielders?
Instead, Arsenal are banking on Coquelin’s form and fitness for their title hopes, despite the 24-year-old being on loan at Charlton as recently as December.
In attack, Arsenal have failed to score in five of their last nine league games, but Wenger has been unable to find a top quality forward to spearhead his attack.
There are also several central defenders that would improve Arsenal. Per Mertesacker is a useful player but nowhere near the level of the great Gunners centre-backs of the past.
Calum Chambers and Gabriel are likely to start again in central defence for Arsenal on Saturday with Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny struggling to return in time having both missed Monday night’s goalless draw with Liverpool.
Newcastle will sense their opportunity to pounce, especially after they showed a renewed defensive organisation and spirit in their own 0-0 draw away at Manchester United last weekend.
In Arsenal’s favour is the fact that they have won their last seven matches against Newcastle.
This time, they face a different Newcastle side out to take advantage of Arsenal’s poor start to the campaign and fire another bullet into their title chances.