With the 2013/14 season just a few matches from concluding, the thoughts of Arsenal fans are inevitably turning towards the summer. Arsene Wenger’s side have arguably been the division’s outstanding team in the second half of the season, and now attention is focused on the upgrades required to make them genuine title contenders next time around.
Anyone hoping for a major overhaul in the squad is likely to be disappointed. Arsenal’s recent form demonstrates that they’re relatively close to matching Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. What’s required is merely some fine-tuning.
Wenger has never been a manager inclined to carry out significant renovations in the space of a single window. Speaking after Tottenham spent the fee they received for Gareth Bale on seven different players in 2013, he said:
“In our job, there is a technical risk when you buy more than three players always because you unbalance a little bit the stability of your squad.”
However, since the end of last season Wenger has added seven players to his own roster: David Ospina, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Gabriel Paulista, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Krystian Bielik.
That sort of turnover in personnel inevitably creates instability. It was arguably one of the hidden factors in Arsenal’s slow start to the season: it took Wenger time to find the best use for his new recruits.
Typically, Wenger’s most successful season have come after relatively quiet summers. In 1997/98, he landed a historic double despite signing only Liberian back-up striker Christopher Wreh and teenage French defender David Grondin. In the summer before the remarkable Invincibles campaign of 2003/04, Jens Lehmann was the only senior addition -- and one enforced by the departure of the veteran David Seaman.
Wenger craves consistency. His best teams are defined by a finely-balanced chemistry; they are based on inter-positional relationships and intuitive partnerships. That takes time to foster. Arsenal are beginning to show that kind of interdependent brilliance, and Wenger will be loathe to compromise the formula he has found by signing in a raft of new additions.
As in 2003, the transfer policy could be determined by departures. Should Wojciech Szczesny deem his demotion irreversible, Wenger would be forced to recruit a goalkeeper to provide either cover, competition or an upgrade on David Ospina.
Mathieu Flamini seems primed for a release, which means that Wenger will need to find a central midfielder with the physicality and ball-winning instincts to provide an adequate alternative to Francis Coquelin. Coquelin has become integral to Arsenal’s newfound balance, but there is no-one obviously able to replicate his aggressive, assertive style of midfield play.
Arsenal are well-stocked in attack, but if Theo Walcott departs there could be a vacancy on the right-hand side of the forward line. Wenger has talked openly about wanting to add another 10-15 goals to his team, and recruiting a wide forward with a predatory instinct to complement Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud would make the Gunners’ threat even more potent.
It’s difficult to see Arsenal making more than three additions this summer. The majority of the restructuring work the squad required has been done in the past 12 months. Now, Wenger’s energies will be diverted in to maintaining Arsenal’s excellent momentum.
Read More From James McNicholas, AKA @Gunnerblog