Rating the players: What Wenger leaves behind…

Date published: Sunday 22nd April 2018 1:48

With Wenger now confirmed as departing this summer, the responsibility now falls upon Ivan Gazidis and Sven Mislintat to recruit a new coach and provide that man with the tools to succeed. But what does Wenger leave behind?

Below is a player-by-player assessment of Arsenal’s squad. Every first-teamer aged 21 or over is included, and it’s clear plenty must accept responsibility for this demise along with Wenger…

 

Goalkeepers

Petr Cech
Not quite unfit for purpose, because that would be unnecessarily harsh. But Cech should certainly be moved on this summer, if only because he is now on the gradual decline that footballing old age brings. Manchester City’s form this season and last demonstrates the positive difference a goalkeeper trusted by his defence can make. Arsenal must follow the same example.

David Ospina
Ospina has never been good enough for Arsenal’s needs as a first-choice goalkeeper. The arrival of a new signing this summer could cause Cech’s departure, but more likely is that they allow Cech to be second-choice and move Ospina off the wage bill. This is not the time for sentiment.

Matt Macey
Signed a new deal in December that will keep him at the club beyond this summer, and as a 23-year-old homegrown player that’s absolutely fine. Now for some more first-team minutes – Macey has managed just 210 in all competitions in his Arsenal career.

 

Defenders

Laurent Koscielny
Will clearly stay beyond this season, and might still be Arsenal’s best central defender despite turning 33 in September. There are relevant concerns about Koscielny’s form this and last season, particularly in terms of decision-making, but hope too that Wenger’s departure might remove a layer of complacency. That’s not the first time you’ll hear that.

Hector Bellerin
The poster boy of Wenger’s demise. Bellerin was signed from Barcelona at the age of 16 and established himself as one of the most exciting attacking full-backs in Europe by 2015. Since then, he has slumped badly. The vibrancy in Bellerin’s play has vanished, replaced by a positional weakness and general rounding of the sharp edges. There is great hope that a new coach, one who might demand greater consistency, could turn Bellerin into one of the best.

Nacho Monreal
Arsenal’s player of the season, and now capable of playing at both left-back and in central defence with equal comfort. Monreal is hardly a superstar and is now 32 – when did that happen?! – but if they were all like him then Arsenal would not be in this mess.

Shkodran Mustafi
“His confidence is lower,” said Wenger on Mustafi on Saturday. “He has played many games and most of the mistakes he made have been post-Europa League games because he was a bit jaded. He is a young defender who has had ups and downs. I believe overall he has potential.” Thankfully, Wenger will no longer make these decisions. The lack of ruthlessness has been the single biggest issue with his final two years at Arsenal, and that must change this summer. Starting with Mustafi.

Rob Holding
He’s 22 and English, so while we’re still nowhere near convinced that Holding is good enough to be a regular starter at Arsenal you can’t change every player in one summer and there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Might as well keep him and let him prove – or otherwise – his usefulness.

Calum Chambers
He’s 23 and English, so while we’re still nowhere near convinced that Chambers is good enough to be a regular starter at Arsenal you can’t change every player in one summer and there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Might as well keep him and let him prove – or otherwise – his usefulness.

Sead Kolasinac
Arrived with great fanfare given both his reputation as a lung-bursting, gallivanting, physical full-back and the lack of transfer fee, and it looked in August and September as if Kolasinac would make himself a cult hero at the Emirates. Twenty-one league starts is hardly a disaster, but the suspicion is that Wenger doesn’t fancy him much. Clearly his replacement might.

 

Midfielders

Granit Xhaka
A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It seems unlikely that Winston Churchill was referring to Xhaka in October 1939, but he might as well have been. Xhaka is the £35m midfielder who only passes sideways, and whose party trick to regularly leave himself exposed against high-class opponents. Does Wenger’s replacement build a central midfield around him, or tell him to sling his hook?

Mohamed Elneny
“He’s a guy who contributes a lot to the collective quality of the team, he defends well, he attacks well, he is a continuity player, he puts oil in the engine,” said Wenger when announcing Elneny’s new long-term contract in March. That sounds like he’s talking about Toni bloody Kroos, rather than a player who has been given fewer Premier League minutes than 13 other Arsenal players.

Aaron Ramsey
The player that Arsenal should look to build around more than any other, which only raises the concern that he could be poached by an elite club this summer. I have forever been doubtful of Ramsey’s chances of maximising his potential at Arsenal, suffering regular injuries and farmed out on the right, but this season has proved me wrong. Keep, keep, keep.

Jack Wilshere
Having considered it for 2-3 minutes – I know, thoughtful – it’s surely less likely that Wilshere stays at Arsenal if Wenger goes than if he stays. It is now clear that the club aren’t going to relent and offer him a pay rise given Wilshere’s injury problems (and he was injured for the West Ham game), and a new coach will surely have different ideas. That might be a good thing for player and club.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Arsenal’s Player of the Month in February and March, which is baffling given that I can’t remember him playing that well in the Premier League since his debut against Everton. Still, he was only signed in January and was clearly the work of Mislintat, so there’s no point pretending that he isn’t going to be key next season. Without sounding all Proper Football Man, it feels like Mkhitaryan needs a kick up the arse to get him going.

Santi Cazorla
This makes me so sad, but they need to let it go. Cazorla has not managed a Premier League minute since October 2016, and has played 23 league games in almost three years. Everyone at Arsenal will desperately hope that he can play professional football again, but at the age of 33 it cannot be their responsibility anymore.

Mesut Ozil
Potentially the big winner of Wenger’s exit. Ozil got his massive pay rise, got his new deal and might now play for a manager that will demand more from those around Ozil. That could leave the German with greater responsibility for creating chances and better big-game performances from the team that stop him from being attacked in the media. Given the money Arsenal have agreed to pay him, Arsenal have to make this work.

Alex Iwobi
The year is 2023, and the world is a nuclear wasteland following the Cold War II. One of the few survivors was found in a cellar in north London, and has joined a band of fellow nomads who must travel the world in search of new life. To pass the time on the long summer evenings, they play football with a ball fashioned out of tin cans welded together. The leader of the group turns to his assistant after one such game. “Who is he?,” he says, pointing to the north London survivor. “Alex,” comes the reply. “Alex Iwobi.” “Do you reckon he’s any good?” the leader asks. “F*ck knows,” is the assistant’s reply.

 

Strikers

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Look to the home game against West Ham for all the evidence you need that Arsenal were incredibly lucky to sign Aubameyang in January, given the prospective lack of Champions League football. Without him, the attack lacks just as much impetus as the midfield and defence, which is a damning way of saying that a striker who has been at the club for less than three months is now their most important player. Mislintat will be happy.

Alexandre Lacazette
A difficult first season, and one that could still end with Lacazette being eclipsed as the club’s top league goalscorer by someone who arrived on the final day of January. Still, if Wenger’s replacement is prepared to play with Lacazette and Aubameyang as a fluid front two with Mesut Ozil behind creating their chances, Arsenal could easily look very sexy, very quickly.

Danny Welbeck
Probably all hinges on whether Welbeck is happy to remain as a useful squad player rather than a key first-team performer, because his chances of being the latter will surely end with the departure of a manager who desperately wants to see the best in every one of his players. Still, if he wins the Golden Boot in Russia…

Daniel Storey – in italics because I’m not an Arsenal striker.


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