Football Index

Arsenal’s focus turns to Europa League: The key players to take the Gunners to success in Europe

 

Arsenal’s win over Huddersfield on Saturday was not pretty, but it was enough to ensure the Gunners kept up pressure in the chase for the top four. Now, with the next Premier League game not for two weeks and the club out of the FA Cup, the club must turn their attention to the Europa League.

The clubs next two fixtures will be early kick offs in the Europa League (17:55 UK Time) against BATE Borisov, starting with the away leg this Thursday. Although there was an initial improvement in away form when Unai Emery arrived, this has not lasted with the club struggling to perform on the road of late. It will be key that the Gunners gain a positive result to take back to the Emirates, but who will be key to the clubs success in this tournament?

Swiss international Granit Xhaka (£1.84) has been absent in the last couple of league games and subsequently the team has seriously lacked control in the game. He has some weaknesses, but his value to the team, in my opinion, far outweighs these. Xhaka will be a vital part of helping the team establish dominance over their opponents from deep in this competition. If you remember back to last season, Xhaka was exceptional in both legs against AC Milan at doing just this.

Arsenal’s defence hasn’t looked good all season but it has certainly performed better when Sokratis (£0.94) has been in the team. Look at the FA Cup game where Arsenal were dominating until the Greek defender limped off injured, then it all fell apart. For the Europa League Arsenal need to ensure they have a strong backline and for me that should include Laurent Koscielny (£1.43) alongside Sokratis as the first choice defensive pairing.

Lots will talk about Lacazette and Aubameyang as Arsenal’s biggest attacking threats and quite rightly, but with Mesut Ozil (£2.80) out of favour, Alex Iwobi (£1.46) will need to continue his improvement this season and take his game to the next level to help deliver silverware for the club. Without Iwobi and other attacking midfielders Lacazette (£3.12) and Aubameyang (£4.73) will not receive the service they need to score the vital goals. Iwobi must ensure his end product is perfected to help the team be as efficient as possible in attack. The Nigerian’s pace, braveness and unpredictability give him great qualities to make the difference in knockout matches.

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How Arsenal Can Re-Build This Summer With Just £45million Budget

 

It is believed that Arsenal boss Unai Emery would like two new wingers, one left back and at least one centre back in the summer, but has just £45million as a budget. On the face of it, that budget sounds slim and by contrast to Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, it is. But, there’s still an opportunity for the club to make big strides forward with that money in the summer, here’s how.

First and foremost, the club need at least one central defender of high quality. The budget restrictions mean the Gunners cannot simply enter the market for a Koulibaly (£3.02) and compete with Europe’s top clubs for a player likely to cost around £100million. What they have to do is take a gamble on a younger player, yet to reach that level, but already showing signs of getting there. One example is Ibrahima Konate (£1.39), 19. Despite being so young, he’s a physically imposing defender, standing at 6ft 4’, quality in duels and can read the game exceptionally well for a player of his age and size.

Arsenal’s recent loan of Emile Smith-Rowe (£3.34) to the club may have opened up the negotiation door for a deal in the summer and a bid of £30million is likely to be enough to sign the French defender. To recoup some of this fee the club should look to part with Skhodran Mustafi (£1.20), in my opinion. Sokratis (£0.92) and Laurent Koscielny (£1.43) can offer experience central options for another season whilst Rob Holding (£1.09) and Kostas Mavropanos (£1.32) continue to develop. Signed for £35million, Mustafi still has age and so resale value on his side and the club should be able to find a buyer in the region of £25million.

At left back my favourite options would be Ferland Mendy (£2.07) and Ben Chilwell (£2.12). The club will be priced out of Chilwell now with Manchester City talking about bids of around £50million, but Mendy (23) is still a realistic option. £22million could be enough to secure Mendy’s services from Lyon and he would be well worth the investment at that price considering he could be our left back for the next 10 years. Sead Kolasinac is a decent attacking option and Nacho Monreal an experience versatile defender, but one of those would likely make way in order to accommodate Mendy. Kolasinac’s big wages, believed to be around £140,000 per week may see him as the most disposable of the two, especially as he is aged 25 and has market value of around £15million.

So that’s potentially £7million net spent to help try and address two key defensive issues this summer.

Another area to look at is right back. Bellerin has a bad injury and Lichtsteiner is really not up to it so the club will release him in the summer. Calum Chambers will be returning from loan at the end of the season and after a decent spell at Fulham I’m sure there will be suitors for him at around £20million. This amount would be enough to secure talented Norwich right back Max Aarons (£1.87), who is just 19 but already impressing at a high level.

The club will already see the likes of Petr Cech (retiring), Danny Welbeck (contract expiring) and Aaron Ramsey’s (bosman to Juventus) wages off the wage bill, but shifting Mesut Ozil would go some way to freeing up more vital funds. He’s clearly not an Emery favourite and so an asset of that value must leave, especially when we’re paying him around £300,000 per week. Realistically the club could recoup around £20million for his services, but may need to offset his wages slightly to get that one through the door.

That leaves the budget at £58million to sign two wingers. Let’s presume Denis Suarez (£2.42) does well during the loan deal, he will sign on for around £25million leaving £34million for another winger. That’s probably not quite enough for widely reported target Nicolas Pepe (£6.97), but if the Gunners can also sell Mkhitaryan it would be helpful to the budget and allow the club to secure one of the best young wingers in Europe. Let’s presume the club could get £15million+ for the Armenian, then suddenly Pepe is attainable. Some of my other favourites for this role include: Cristian Pavon, Hirving Lozano, Federico Chiesa and Brais Mendez. All young wide options that would be able to have an instant impact in the first team.

The club did seem keen on adding Cristopher Nkunku (£1.77) in the January window and that deal is said to still potentially happen in the summer. Should Arsenal manage to sell Mohammed Elneny for £10-£15million, it could fund a move for Nkunku, who would cost £15million-£25million. Elneny has attracted some interest over the last couple of windows including from the likes of Leicester and moving him on shouldn’t be a problem.

Despite all those additions, that’s just £45million net spend roughly. This is how Arsenal’s squad could look heading into next season with these changes. It’s notable how much younger the average age would be too:

Goalkeepers: Bernd Leno (26), David Ospina (30), Emiliano Martinez (26).

Right Backs: Hector Bellerin (23), Max Aarons (19).

Centre Backs: Sokratis (30), Ibrahima Konate (19), Rob Holding (23), Kostas Mavropanos (21), Laurent Koscielny (33).

Left Backs: Ferland Mendy (23), Nacho Monreal (32).

Central Midfielder: Lucas Torreira (22), Granit Xhaka (26), Matteo Guendouzi (19), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (21), Cristopher Nkunku (21).

Attacking Mids / Wide Forwards: Denis Suarez (25), Alex Iwobi (22), Reiss Nelson (19), Federico Chiesa (21).

Strikers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (29), Alexandre Lacazette (27), Eddie Nketiah (19).

So despite the doom and gloom around the reported £45million budget (and that’s if the Gunners don’t qualify for the Champions League), there’s still the potential for Emery, Sanhelli and co. to improve the club a lot over the summer with that amount of money.

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Five Realistic Defensive Signings For Arsenal

 

It goes without saying that Arsenal need to sign a new defender this month. Whilst the Gunners have been scoring plenty, they’ve been letting far too many in and Unai Emery is well aware of this problem.

In this article I look at 5 realistic defensive signings the club could make this month.

 

1 – Kostas Manolas £1.77

The Greek defender has a release clause of €36million, an amount that is not out of the Gunners price range and also cheap in the current market for a player of his quality. Manchester United have been linked in recent weeks, but his release clause presents a perfect opportunity for Arsenal to address their defensive issues, if of course, the player wants to make the move. Whilst not bad in possession, a concern for Emery though would be that the player is not the best at playing out from the back.

2 – Malang Sarr £1.79

Sarr is set to become one of the very best defenders in Europe. Whilst he may not be cheap now, the teenagers price is only heading one way. Aged 19, he is already one of Nice’s most important places, starting consistently. He’s also very good on the ball and known for his ability to play out from the back. Could Patrick Vieira, the current Nice manager, do Arsenal a favour here? I think he’d be a fantastic signing, young, but capable of hitting the ground running due to the amount of first team exposure he has already had.

3 – Daniele Rugani £1.34

Rugani is a player Arsenal have been keen on signing for some time, but Juventus have held firm as they appear to view the 24-year-old as heir to some of their more experienced defenders. However the Italian very rarely features in the first team and for someone of his age, he needs to be playing regularly. With just 4 league games to his name this term, Arsenal could possibly tempt the club and player with a bid this month. He’s well suited to Emery’s style of the play, very good on the ball – averaging a 92.4% pass success rate this season.

4 – Mehdi Benatia £1.26

Not the ideal solution, but if money is really limited as reports indicate then the Moroccan defender could be an appropriate solution. The 31-year-old would offer a big physical presence to the team as well as adding a good amount of experience. Some reports have suggested Benatia could be part of a deal that sees Aaron Ramsey join Juventus this month. With Koscielny and Sokratis already at the club though, I would prefer to see a younger player arrive.

5 – Diego Godin £1.23

With the Spaniard struggling to agree a new contract at Atletico, the Gunners could pounce to sign the experienced Uruguayan defender. He may be 32, but Godin would certainly offer an upgrade on the club’s current defensive options and on a 2 and a half year deal he could be a shrewd signing. Technically the Gunners could sign Godin on a pre-contract agreement now to see him arrive for free in the summer, however, Unai Emery will want a defender now and so a small settlement fee could possibly be agreed with Atletico to make the move happen early. It seems Inter Milan may have already won the race for this one, though.

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Why Ever Banega Would Be A Great Signing For Arsenal

 

Since Unai Emery arrived at Arsenal, the Gunners have been heavily linked to one player in particular. Ever Banega.

The Sevilla midfield maestro has been an important part of the La Liga team for some years and he would bring a huge amount of creativity, experience and energy to the Arsenal midfield.

Arsenal fans will rightly say that the club should be focussing on adding defensive quality to the ranks this month, but with Aaron Ramsey on his way out and Mesut Ozil’s future up in the air, Banega could be a key addition.

The Argentinean international has an £18million release clause, so despite being 30 years old, still looks good value considering the quality he would bring to the side.

Emery has always insisted that he wanted Arsenal to control games, that is something they have perhaps not done enough under his tenure to date, but Banega would certainly help the Arsenal midfield do just that. Emery is a big fan of the player and believed to be putting pressure on the club to complete a deal for the midfielder he has previously managed in La Liga.

In terms of Football Index, Banega could be a very valuable player at Arsenal. Surely likely to be at the heart of everything Arsenal do, Banega is a specialist on set pieces and has an eye for goal, as well as averaging 67.5 passes per 90 minutes this season. These qualities make him a player tailor-made for the Index’s matchday rankings system.

If he joined in January however, he would be cup-tied for the remainder of the clubs participation in the Europa League. This due to his involvement in the competition already with Sevilla this campaign. The Europa League may be Arsenal’s main opportunity back into the Champions League and they will ideally want any new signing to be involved in the pursuit of European success so that is certainly a downside to a move for Banega.

Capable of playing as a number 10, or deeper alongside the likes of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, Banega can help Arsenal transition defence to attack seamlessly and he has managed 2 key passes per 90 minutes for Sevilla this season, that’s more than any Arsenal player, with his closest rivals being Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil, both with 1.8 per 90.

I could see Banega playing as a number 10 under Emery but by doing that, giving the team more defensive balance. Banega has defensive qualities too, averaging 2.7 tackles per 90 in La Liga this season, that’s also more than any Arsenal player to have played more than 1 game this season. Of Arsenal’s midfielders, only Xhaka and Torreira have managed more interceptions.

His intelligence is also a key quality, with great positioning and vision, his tactical awareness would really help Arsenal’s ambitions to defend from the front and improve their off the ball structure.

These statistics highlight both the quality Banega has on the ball, but also the tenacity he has off it. Arsenal fans should look past the player’s age and see he is a midfielder perfectly suited to the way Emery wants to play and a midfield three of Torreira, Xhaka and Banega has a mix of youth, experience, energy, pace, strength and goals – is Emery-ball on its way?

For more on Arsenal and Football Index, follow me @OliPriceBateson Twitter.

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Football Index

The Players Most Likely to Join Arsenal in January

 

Arsenal are about to enter their second transfer window under Unai Emery and it may be a decisive one. Traditionally this window is fairly quiet, but the new Arsenal boss needs to make a few additions to help his side reach the top four.

It may seem like yesterday that Emery arrived, but the Spaniard will already be wary about his long-term position at the club if the Gunners fall off the pace in the race to finish in the top four. Fans and players will be desperate for Champions League football next season and there are a few areas where the squad would benefit from new arrivals to help Emery achieve these goals.

Arsenal have conceded 23 goals in the Premier League this season, compare that to the 7 Liverpool have conceded and you can see the major difference between why Liverpool are so far ahead. Both teams have actually scored 37 goals, but the Gunners defence lets them down. Newcastle (14th) have conceded less goals (22), that alone should be an eye-opener for the club as to where investments need to be made.

(Eric Bailly £1.11 here)

The Gunners had been linked with a move for Eric Bailly, though Jose Mourinho’s departure is likely to hand a lifeline to the defender’s career at the club. Fans will dream of the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, but this is unrealistic. Arsenal’s main defensive target is Mattijs de Ligt according to Spanish journalist Kike Marin. However, the Gunners will face stiff competition from Europe’s top clubs for the Dutchman, with the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain said to be interested. Arsenal may be able to offer him something those clubs cannot though, first team football.

(Fernando Calero £1.06 here)

A more realistic alternative to these may be Real Valladolid defender Fernando Calero. The Spanish defender has been in impressive form in La Liga this season, attracting interest from across Europe and could be available for as little as £10million.

(Nicolas Pepe £4.20 here)

Arsenal are also in the market for wide forward it seems. Danny Welbeck’s injury means the Gunners have a lack of attacking diversity in their squad, and could really benefit from a new wide forward arriving. The most heavily linked in this position include Nicolas Pepe of Lille. The Gunners have a long history of unearthing talent from the French leagues and bringing them to England, recent examples include Alexandre Lacazette and Matteo Guendouzi. The Ivorian winger has been in great form scoring 12 and assisting 5 more in 15 Ligue 1 appearances this season. His brilliant final ball and natural width is something Arsenal currently crave. His club are commanding a transfer fee of around £40million to sell their star player in the middle of the season, but reports suggest the Gunners may be willing to cough up such an amount to get their man.

An alternative to Pepe is Cristian Pavon (here) of Boca Juniors. The Argentinian winger hasn’t been in the best form this season, with transfer rumours potentially turning his head. Arsenal would have to pay a similar sum to sign the 22-year-old, with several suitors interested in bringing him to Europe.

With Aaron Ramsey set to leave the club, there are persistent links to Ever Banega (here), a midfielder that Unai Emery is a huge admirer of. Arsenal seem keen to pay his modest £18million release clause, but can they convince the playmaker to come to London?

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Football Index

A Big Week For Arsenal

Following four points from two tricky looking fixtures, Arsenal are within touching distance of the top four and showing real improvements under new boss Unai Emery. 

North London is red again.

What a performance it was in Emery’s first North London derby at the weekend. The intensity and passion shown from the players was something the fans have been waiting for years to re-emerge. It was a derby to remember for both the neutral and of course Arsenal fans, with high quality football and emotion on show throughout.

Strength in depth was on display in this game as was Emery’s ability to be bold and make two half-time changes. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi were hooked for Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey, with the substitutes having a significant impact on the result of the game. We also saw a shift to a 3-4-1-2 formation, allowing Aubameyang and Lacazette to combine in attack, with lethal consequences. Arsenal haven’t been prolific in the transfer market in recent years, but Aubameyang and Lacazette were hefty purchases at £50million each and so far they are proving that the investment was worthwhile.

Whilst both have good goal returns, their ability to make the difference in the big games was doubted before this fixture and it was great to see them at their best when it mattered.

20 unbeaten despite Old Trafford and Mourinho.

Arsenal fans feared the unbeaten run would come to an end when the team travelled to Old Trafford, so often a terrible venue for the club. Despite this, and the presence of Jose Mourinho, the Gunners remained unbeaten, taking the run to 20.

Arsenal will be upset that they didn’t take all three points after leading twice and conceding two avoidable goals. The decisions were also leaning in the favour of United, most crucially for Anthony Martial’s equaliser, with Ander Herrera offside in the build-up.

The young duo of Lucas Torreira (22) and Matteo Guendouzi (19) were mightily impressive in the heart of midfield, not intimidated at all by the environment or opposition.

Whilst there were many positives, the same weaknesses were clear. The defence was again the issue for Arsenal, conceding four goals in the last two outings. Rob Holding’s injury may force the club into the market, but even when fit, it’s clear that a world class defender needs to be added to the squad to take the team to the next level.

Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan again struggled, highlighting the clubs lack of end product and quality in wide areas, whilst Aubameyang did not look comfortable on the left after Alexandre Lacazette was introduced.

There’s plenty of positives for Arsenal to take from recent performances and the marked improvements in big games is certainly great to see as a fan.

Emery already eyeing summer changes to the squad.

We might not yet be one year into Unai Emery’s spell at Arsenal, but already we are seeing some long-term clues as to how the Spaniard may be looking to shape his squad next summer. These clues may be worth considering for Football Index traders with long-term strategies as Emery looks to bring players in that align with his style of play.

The club appear to have confirmed that Danny Welbeck will not be offered a new deal upon conclusion of his current contract, which ends at the end of the season. His latest injury is the third long-term setback the Englishman has encountered since joining the Gunners, it is a sad way for his time at the club to come to an end, but a sensible decision from the club, led by the head rather than the heart.

His departure opens the door for a wide forward to join. The most heavily linked in this position to date is Lille’s Nicolas Pepe. The 23-year-old predominantly plays as a right winger and has scored 10 and assisted 5 in 16 appearances so far this season. His final ball is a particular strength, with his ability to pick a pass and find the back of the net his best attributes. This is something Arsenal’s current wide players (Mkhitaryan and Iwobi) often lack.

Despite his recent upturn in form, it seems Emery and the club are still not keen to hand Aaron Ramsey a new contract, so the Welshman is also set to part ways in the summer. It will be interesting to see how he is replaced, with Sevilla’s Ever Banega heavily linked. Emery is a known admirer of the Argentinean midfielder who consistently scores highly on match day rankings on the Index – certainly one to watch as the transfer period approaches. There’s also some question marks over Mesut Ozil’s future under Emery, so could Banega be the new conductor at the Emirates?

Stephan Lichtsteiner was the first signing under Emery, but set to turn 35 in January, he only signed a one-year deal at the club and so far there is no indication that this will be extended. This could see the club dip into the market for an alternative to Hector Bellerin on the right hand side. Monaco’s Djibril Sidibé has been regularly linked in the past and the French clubs poor start to the season may see the player push for a move in the Gunners come calling again.

Nacho Monreal’s contract is also set to expire in the summer. Emery may wish keep Monreal as a versatile defensive option, especially with the Spaniard’s ability to play as a central defender in a back five. If not, it could open the door to a new left back arriving, with the Gunners still unconvincing in that position.

Petr Cech is another who may be let go in the summer with his deal expiring and Bernd Leno now taking the number one spot. The Gunners would benefit with keeping Cech’s experience on and off the field at the club, but the 36-year-old may be looking for regular minutes considering his age. Should Cech be allowed to leave, it may present a chance for Emiliano Martinez or Matt Macey to move up the pecking order – saving the club some money to invest in other areas.

No matter how Arsenal perform this season, you can expect Emery to make some significant changes to his squad in the summer now that he has had some time to work with the current crop.

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Football Index

The Arsenal Potential

Reiss Nelson has exploded onto the scene this season following a string of brilliant performances for Hoffenheim. This has seen his price sky rocket on the Index – so traders
will be wondering, who could be the next Arsenal player to rise like Nelson when exposed to more regular first team football.  

 Emile Smith-Rowe (£2.69)

You’ve probably already heard about Smith-Rowe, he’s moved into the first team picture
since Unai Emery took over, and has looked impressive in his brief game time during Europa League games this season. With Aaron Ramsey set to leave the club either in January or at the end of the season, Smith-Rowe will probably have more opportunities to grab the attention of Emery, the fans and the media. Still just 18, the sky is the limit for Emile and he will certainly take inspiration from Nelson’s recent form.

Eddie Nketiah (£2.31)

Aged just 19, Nketiah is a young English forward with a huge amount of potential.
Unfortunately, he has had to compete with Lacazette, Aubameyang and Welbeck so far this season. Welbeck’s injury may present opportunity for Nketiah, especially in the final Europa League group games. If he can get on the scoresheet when given the opportunity, expect hype to follow.

 Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£1.87)

Maitland-Niles is an interesting one. Aged 21, injuries have perhaps restricted his progress so far, but there is clearly a lot of talent there. Now back fit, a few good performances over the festive period could see his price move significantly, especially if he starts to get mentioned in the national team picture. It’ll be interesting to see where Emery deploys the Englishman. He’s very versatile, able to play as a full back, winger or central midfielder. One to watch. 

 Alex Iwobi (£1.83)

He’s not English so won’t get the same media attention, but there’s still plenty of room for
growth in Alex Iwobi’s price in my opinion. Now a regular for club and country, the 22-year-old currently costs less than £2. If he can develop his end product then Iwobi’s price could seriously sky rocket. Emery is clearly a fan of Iwobi and there’s been a marked improvement in his performance since the Spaniard took charge. With a new contract signed in the summer, Iwobi will have the time and space to continue to make steps forward.

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FootballIndex Futures

Arsenal and France centre-back Laurent Koscielny, 33, is a target for Barcelona, along with Chelsea’s Brazilian defender David Luiz, 31. (Mundo Deportivo – in Spanish)

Arsenal and France centre-back Laurent Koscielny, 33, is a target for Barcelona, along with Chelsea’s Brazilian defender David Luiz, 31. (Mundo Deportivo – in Spanish)

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Chelsea & Liverpool unsure on bids for Aaron Ramsey

Chelsea are having second thoughts about making a move for Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey because of the impressive form of England internationals Ross Barkley, 24, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 22. (Star)

Meanwhile, Liverpool have ruled out making a move for 27-year-old Wales international Ramsey, who is set to leave the Gunners for free in the summer. (Sky Sports)

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Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey, 27, has been told by Arsenal he can leave the club next summer. (Mail)

Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey, 27, has been told by Arsenal he can leave the club next summer. (Mail)

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