This was always going to be a hugely significant summer for Arsenal. Heading into the 10th season since the Gunners last tasted Premier League glory, there is an undeniable sense that it is now or never for both the club and Arsene Wenger to show the willingness and the capability to do what is necessary to once again be seriously challenging the biggest clubs in England, not to mention Europe.
The noises coming out of the Emirates have been positive, with chief executive Ivan Gazidis repeatedly insisting that Wenger has the funds at his disposal to compete for the very best players around. Yet, despite plenty of talk there has thus far been no concrete action.
Here are four things required to take Arsenal to the same standing on the pitch as the club’s impressive infrastructure off it.
Acquire a first-rate striker
The departure of Robin van Persie last summer left a massive void that the arrivals of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski never looked likely to fill. To Giroud’s credit, he did a more than serviceable job leading the line and was particularly impressive at bringing others into the play. But the France international is simply not a difference maker when challenging for the game’s biggest honors. The positive sign for Arsenal fans is that Wenger appears to realize this.
A deal for Gonzalo Higuain continues to be pursued and, while there have been frustrating delays, it still looks likely to go through. The Real Madrid man may not quite be of the very highest echelon of strikers, but he is certainly an improvement on what is currently available at the Emirates and the Argentinian’s movement should be a particularly welcome addition to the Arsenal side. The signing of Higuain would also represent an important signal of intent if the deal can be done sooner rather than later.
Maintain an organized defense
Arsenal have struggled at the back for a number of seasons, with some suggesting that Wenger is not keen to focus on defense in training. The appointment of Steve Bould to assistant manager was supposed to change that, but early-season promise faded as both individual and systematic errors once again became all-too prevalent.
Such problems reached a nadir in the defeat to fierce rivals Tottenham in March. Since then, both goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and captain Thomas Vermaelen barely featured and Arsenal went on a tremendous run to the end of the campaign, led by Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. That level of defensive stability must be maintained throughout next season if Arsenal are to challenge. The proposed signing of experienced goalkeeper Julio Cesar would aid those efforts.
Secure a true midfield presence
Alex Song was never in the same league as Gunners legend Patrick Vieira, but the Cameroonian did provide a vital element of physical dynamism in the middle of Arsenal’s midfield. His sale to Barcelona was understandable, but the decision not to sign a replacement and instead depend on the sadly oft-injured Abou Diaby was less so. While Mikel Arteta’s passing has done a good job knitting play together in front of the back four, the Spaniard’s lack of mobility can often be exposed against leading opposition.
Wenger appears to be addressing the deficiency with a bid for the impressive Germany international Lars Bender being rejected by Bayer Leverkusen, while there is also said to be interest in Everton’s Marouane Fellaini. Arsenal are thought to have doubts, but it may well prove shrewd business to pay the imposing Belgian’s £23 million release clause.
Keep Jack Wilshere fit
Arsenal have made much of their “British core” that were all tied down to long-term contracts last summer. But there is one member of that group that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of his importance to Arsenal’s future and that’s Jack Wilshere. The 21-year-old shows all the signs of being the finest English player of his generation. When he returned from injury last season his impact on the Arsenal side was impossible not to notice. With an ability on the ball that would see him fit seamlessly into any side in the world, Wilshere also has that crucial x-factor of being able to carry the ball forward and open up space both for himself and his teammates.
Still, there is one unnerving caveat to all Wilshere’s talents and potential: whether he can stay fit. Having missed 14 months after ankle surgery, he was instrumental in igniting Arsenal’s season before being taken out of the side at the climax of the campaign as a precautionary measure. Wilshere is currently enjoying his first proper pre-season since 2010 and it is vital that Wenger continues to manage his gifted charge in what should be the best season of his young career.