When Leicester City lift the Premier League title on Saturday, there will be a handful of clubs across England not just looking on enviously but doing so with a deep sense of frustration about their own failures this season. Part of what has made this campaign the most remarkable in Premier League history is that the league’s four richest clubs, and the top four from last season, all failed to varying degrees.
The most obvious case, of course, is last season’s champions, Chelsea, who endured a spectacular fall from grace. But Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have also fallen below expectations, with wage bills close to four times that of Leicester City. While those latter three still have a battle on for Champions League spots, there will already be plans underway to ensure that next season is a much more successful one.
What they need: In a season where all of their major rivals endured struggles, this was a huge missed opportunity for Arsenal to lift their first Premier League title in 12 years. Despite the deep sense of frustration among many fans, manager Arsene Wenger is adamant that he will continue. But, having failed to sign a single outfield player last summer, the club will need to make some significant additions in order to avoid further supporter unrest.
A striker must be the top priority after Olivier Giroud, without a Premier League goal since January, only confirmed this season that he is not the top-class marksman Arsenal require. A center-back should also be on the agenda, with Per Mertesacker turning 32 this year and increasingly vulnerable to injury. Given Francis Coquelin has shown he is little more than capable in the position and Mohamed Elneny is yet to prove himself at the highest level, an exceptional defensive midfielder may also be sought.
Who’s been linked: Big name strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski have been suggested as targets, but both look highly unlikely to be showing up at the Emirates. The 34-year-old Ibrahimovic does not in any way fit the profile of a typical Wenger signing, while Lewandowski, in the event that he does decide to leave Bayern Munich, will have better options elsewhere. As for midfielders, Granit Xhaka appears the likeliest arrival, although Arsenal could well try to prize revelation N’Golo Kante away from Leicester.
What they need: Much remains unknown about Chelsea, given that current Italy coach will take the reins this summer. A strict disciplinarian, the former Juventus boss is unlikely to have any time for the sort of performances many of the club’s stars have put in this season. The futures of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois, Nemanja Matic and, of course, John Terry could all be in doubt.
Even if Terry is offered a contract extension, a young, high-class center-back should be sought. Strengthening the center of midfield must be a priority, while a striker is required whether or not Costa departs. A left-back to allow Cesar Azpilicueta to move to his natural position on the right would also be a boost. In short, it could be a busy summer at Stamford Bridge.
Who’s been linked: Roma’s Radja Nainggolan has been strongly linked and would be an obvious target to give Chelsea the midfield dynamism they have lacked. In defense, interest in Everton’s John Stones could be revived, despite the England international’s mixed campaign. Up front, meanwhile, Antoine Griezmann has again been put forward as a target, although Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain may be more attainable. Chelsea could also welcome some of their numerous loan players back into the fold, notably Juan Cuadrado.
What they need: Just like Chelsea, Manchester City will welcome a new manager who will have plenty of work to do on his arrival. The dismal defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals only reinforced that this is a squad in need of a major overhaul. Yaya Toure will likely be the biggest name to be shown the door by a manger who dispensed with him at Barcelona seven years ago.
And, with Fabian Delph and Fernando also struggling to really impress, it is the midfield, which lacks the type of passers that Guardiola likes to build his side around, that needs the most work. A high-level left-back, who can both attack and defend, has been long overdue and a defensive lynchpin may be targeted given the injuries that continue to plague captain Vincent Kompany. With Wilfried Bony’s future also in doubt, a striker to back up Sergio Aguero is also needed.
Who’s been linked: Ilkay Gundogan appears the perfect candidate to be the lynchpin of City’s midfield, although the Borussia Dortmund star has just been ruled out of Euro 2016 with a dislocated kneecap. Everton’s Stones would offer the ability to play out of defense that Guardiola looks for, as would Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, who has also been linked.
What they need: It remains to be seen who will be in charge at Old Trafford next season, with there still a chance that Louis van Gaal sticks around if the team can clinch a Champions League berth and lift the FA Cup. But whether it’s Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ryan Giggs or someone else in charge, Manchester United, despite spending around £250 million on new players under Van Gaal, need to strengthen several positions.
Even with Marcus Rashford’s emergence and a strong first season from Anthony Martial, an experienced striker has to be a top priority. A winger is also needed, with Jesse Lingard not convincing that he has the quality required for the level United aspire to. Strengthening the midfield is also likely to be an aim, given the physical decline of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger. A center-back wouldn’t go a miss, either.
Who’s been linked: Given that the manager still retains major power at Old Trafford, who ends up in charge will play a large part in determining which players arrive. One midfielder who does appear to be a priority is Benfica’s 18-year-old wonder Renato Sanches. Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos has also been linked with a move, although given Van Gaal turned down the chance to sign him two years ago, the German will surely only arrive if the Dutchman departs. Up front, Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette could be a target, while it is easy to envisage Mourinho, should he take over, seeking a reunion with Ibrahimovic. As has been the case for the past three summers, a superstar will be sought, but United could again be frustrated, especially if they fail to get into the Champions League.