“September’s coming soon; I’m pining for the moon,” Michael Stipe sings in R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming,” the greatest track at the center of the elegiac masterpiece that is 1992’s Automatic for the People.
Stipe, of course, is mourning the disappearance of summer, or summers long gone, now fading in his memory. “What if there were two,” he goes on, “Side by side in orbit, around the ferrous sun.” We don’t know, of course, but we can glean that he’s wishing for another youth.
Football has its own elegiac side, though the transfer market often appears concerned only with the present and future. Arsene Wenger, for instance, wants September because that will mean the end of the summer transfer window, enabling him to free himself from worries about Alexis Sanchez, his best player.
Wenger has often appeared an unwilling participant in the transfer market, but he hasn’t survived for more than two decades by being a dreamer unable to live within the boundaries of the system. Here are the areas he needs to fix before the window slams shut.
Beef up the defense
Gabriel Paulista is leaving while Shkodran Mustafi, too, looks like he could be on his way out of Emirates Stadium to Inter Milan. Both of those players have had their faults and weaknesses while at Arsenal but Friday’s first Premier League fixture against Leicester City showed that Wenger cannot go into the new season without replacing them.
While new signing Sead Kolasinac was impressive on the left-hand side of a back three against Leicester, Arsenal’s defense was breached too many times and too often. Nacho Monreal is not the dominant central defender to carry Arsenal to that long-awaited first league title since 2004. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is not the wing-back to help a team to the Premier League. Hector Bellerin is assuredly not a left-wing back. Against Stoke, Arsenal’s defense looked muddled if not exactly awful. And that confusion, inevitably, filters forward to the rest of the team.
Buy another attacking midfielder
While the rumors and reports about Arsenal making another approach for Julian Draxler could be met with understandable fatigue, a transfer for Paris Saint-Germain’s German forward could actually make sense this time.
Wenger’s preferred system this season is shaping up as a 3-4-2-1 formation with Alexandre Lacazette at the point, supported by two attacking midfielders or “pivots.” Against Leicester Danny Welbeck played in one of those positions alongside Mesut Ozil. But Welbeck is a striker not an attacking midfielder. Arsenal would be exponentially more dangerous if they could team Draxler and Ozil, the two Germany international teammates, together—Ozil the passer and Draxler the dribbler who is adept at finishing, too. It appears that Draxler is available because PSG needs to clear out players after the Neymar transfer. Arsenal should move quickly to snap up an unwanted talent.
Sort out the Alexis Sanchez situation
The Telegraph reported last week that Sanchez, who missed Arsenal’s victory over Leicester and its defeat at Stoke City, was being lined up by Manchester City for £60 million. The Sun claimed on Tuesday that Arsenal will accept a bid of £70 million from City for Sanchez, who has entered the final season of his current contract at Emirates Stadium.
Losing Sanchez next summer for nothing would clearly not be ideal for Arsenal, but the current state of limbo is arguably more damaging. As in the contemporaneous case of Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho, Arsenal will struggle to spend £70 million in the limited time remaining in the transfer window. Wenger has to stand firm and hold onto Sanchez or Arsenal’s season is going to begin on a discordant note.
Solve the central midfield problem
Against Leicester, Wenger played Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka as deep-lying central midfielders. Against Stoke, Xhaka played next to Aaron Ramsey, with the Welshman provided license to run forward and support the attack.
Neither combination was entirely convincing. Elneny and Xhaka should have prevented goals; instead Leicester scored three and seemed to play through and over Arsenal with some ease. Against Stoke, Xhaka’s pass towards Ozil never met its intended target, but Jese Rodriguez should not have been allowed to run so far after the mistake to score.
Xhaka is capable of excellence but he needs the right man next to him to bring out his best qualities and stop him having to lunge into tackles. Jose Mourinho went out this summer and bought Paul Pogba a supremely useful lump of granite in Nemanja Matic. Wenger should do the same.
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