Arsenal continue to defy tradition and impresses with the speed and decisiveness of their activity in the transfer market this summer. Having already addressed the need for a forward by spending big on Chilean star Alexis Sanchez and filling the void at right-back with Mathieu Debuchy, Arsenal have now wrapped up deals for goalkeeper David Ospina and Calum Chambers.
Ospina has arrived from Nice for a reported fee of £3.5 million and replaces the departed Lukasz Fabianski. The Colombian No. 1 will now provide backup for Wojciech Szczesny as well as putting plenty of pressure on the Pole for a starting spot.
“I've known him for a long time because he plays for Nice,” manager Arsène Wenger said after Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. “He went to Nice a few years ago and slowly became a very important player. You see that he has the quality because Hugo Lloris played in Nice and when he moved to Lyon they played Ospina. He straight away had a big impact and Lloris was not an easy player to replace. And I felt as well that he did very well at the World Cup.”
A deal for Southampton right-back Chambers has long been mooted, but comes as something of a surprise with Arsenal having already signed Debuchy. Despite committing to a fee that could rise to as much as £16 million for a player with just 22 Premier League appearances under his belt, Wenger believes that not only is the 19-year-old a player for the future but that his versatility could be a real bonus.
“Well he is a player I wanted because I rate his quality and his intelligence,” Wenger explained at Red Bull Arena. “He’s only 19 years old; he can play in different positions as well -- center-back, right-back and center midfield. I hope he will give us good competition to some players in these three positions. The players on the market in England are very expensive. I was ready to take a gamble because I think he’s a player for the future.”
Despite Arsenal’s impressive work in the transfer market already this summer, there is one obvious void that remains unfilled. There has long been a clamor for the Gunners to procure a natural holding midfielder and, despite the return of Mathieu Flamini last summer, that understandably remains. Mikel Arteta, 32, showed last season that he has neither the instincts nor now the athleticism to balance the attacking instincts of the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere when going up against top-level opposition.
Arsenal have certainly been linked with plenty of candidates to fill the role. Sami Khedira has been chief among them. While not a natural holding midfielder, the German World Cup winner would certainly bring some much-needed physicality and mental toughness. Khedira is thought to be available from Real Madrid, yet it has been reported that his wage demands have dented chances of a transfer to the Emirates Stadium.
The chances look no better of Arsenal landing their other two reported targets. Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin has been one of the Premier League’s best defensive midfielders in the past two seasons, but the France international now looks to be on the way to Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham. Meanwhile, although Arsenal are thought to have made a fresh approach for Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender after failing with a bid last summer, they look to have again be disappointed.
It may instead be that, as he has so often done, Wenger looks for an internal solution. Against the Red Bulls, Abou Diaby came off the bench for the second successive preseason game as he continues his latest return from serious injury. Diaby made a late cameo appearance on the final day of last season, but previously hadn’t appeared in a competitive fixture for more than 18 months after suffering a cruciate ligament injury. Following Saturday’s match, Diaby spoke of his confidence that after years blighted by injury, he could now stay fit.
“It’s good, it’s really good,” he said of his knee. “I’ve been working hard to strengthen my knee and now it’s solid. Most important for me is to be back and play games. I’m really, really confident. I’m really optimistic as well. I’ve worked really hard for one year and even during the summer so now I’m sure that it’s going to be a good season.”
Another potential solution also appeared as a substitute in what was Arsenal’s first match in the United States in 25 years. Francis Coquelin has returned from a loan spell at Freiburg and the 23-year-old is looking to finally establish himself in Arsenal’s first-team squad. Wenger, though, was coy when asked about the prospects of Coquelin, as well as Ignasi Miquel and Gedion Zelalem getting regular first-team action this season or whether they would be going out on loan.
“It’s too early to say that, you know,” Wenger said. “It’s our first game.”
Coquelin had a mixed time at Freiburg last season, starting just nine matches in the Bundesliga and playing many of them on the left rather than in central midfield. Given that and Diaby’s history of injuries, there will be some concern, despite a hugely encouraging summer, if Arsenal fail to strengthen their options in midfield.