Despite the kindest draw they could have hoped for, it was an all too familiar story for Arsenal in the Champions League. A first-leg home defeat in the Round of 16 was followed by a spirited, but ultimately, fruitless, fight back in the return match for the third straight season. That makes it five successive campaigns that Arsenal have exited the competition a round before the quarterfinals. And unlike against Barcelona, Milan and Bayern Munich, a narrow defeat to Monaco can feature no excuses or look to the positives.
A 3-1 home defeat to the Ligue 1 side contained plenty of long-evident, fundamental problems in how manager Arsène Wenger sets up his team both tactically and psychologically. But there were also a number of his players that simply came up short at the sharp end of the world’s premier club competition. There will again be strong clamor for Wenger to add to his squad this summer, but it will be crucial that he this time go after top-level quality.
Here are four potential signings who could help Arsenal finally make it back to the Champions League’s elite next season.
Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Wenger appears to have lost faith in Wojciech Szczesny once again after the ultra-confident Polish goalkeeper turned in a poor performance against Southampton and was then allegedly caught smoking in the dressing room. David Ospina has since taken over as first-choice and generally performed well. Yet the Colombian perhaps lacks the command over his penalty box Arsenal require long term, and there surely must be a temptation to pursue Cech. The 32-year-old has found himself usurped as No. 1 at Chelsea by Thibaut Courtois this season, and it is difficult to imagine him accepting a second campaign as a backup. In the matches he has played, he has shown that he remains one of the world’s best goalkeepers. Cech’s agent has suggested that interest from Arsenal would be welcomed, and his signature could prove a shrewd piece of business for the Gunners.
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
As big a culprit as anyone for the first-leg defeat to Monaco was Per Mertesacker. The German veteran has had a poor season and he has himself admitted that he’s found it difficult finding motivation after lifting the World Cup last summer. But, even ignoring that, his pace has always meant he needs to be protected in the back line. His compatriot Hummels is not exactly all that much quicker, but he would certainly bolster the quality of the Arsenal defense. Superb on the ball, he would fit in well under Wenger’s ideology, and the combination with the speedy Laurent Koscielny could be an impressive one. With Borussia Dortmund almost certain to miss out on the Champions League for next season, Hummels’ commitment to the club is likely be put to the test in the summer. But Arsenal would have to prove their muscle in the transfer market in order to fight off the undoubted competition for his signature.
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
Francis Coquelin has done a capable job in defensive midfield since returning from loan, just as Mathieu Flamini did after re-joining the club last summer. Still, there is a continued sense of Wenger simply stumbling upon short-term solutions to what is a vital role in the team. Arsenal need a true quality operator at the base of their midfield to provide the discipline and anticipation to stem opposition attacks. In Southampton’s Schneiderlin, they have long been linked to player who looks the ideal candidate. In a 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Sunday, the France international again proved his worth with a superb display to thwart the Premier League leaders. The interest in his services could well prove too much for Southampton to resist again this summer, although Arsenal will not get him on the cheap.
Paulo Dybala (Palermo)
While Olivier Giroud scored Arsenal’s opening goal in Monaco and has been in fine form of late, his succession of misses in the first leg of the tie ultimately cost Arsenal progress. It was not simply an off day for the French striker. As sublime as he is with his back to goal, combining with Arsenal’s midfielders, Giroud is not clinical enough for the very highest level. Whether Wenger will be prepared to move him aside and sign an expensive replacement seems unlikely, although there continue to be links with Dybala. The Argentinean is having a superb breakthrough season at Palermo, catching the eye across Europe with 12 Serie A goals to his name to date. His scintillating pace to break in behind defenses is combined with technically adept linkup play, evident in his seven assists this season. A price tag of at least 40 million euros (£29 million) and doubts about Dybala’s slight frame adapting to the Premier League could be a deterrent, however, and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani and Atletico Madrid’s Mario Mandzukic may also be options.