Premier League
June 13, 2017

The Arsenal conundrum and how Lyon players could solve it

How can Arsène Wenger improve his squad this summer?


It’s been an altogether too familiar season for Arsenal Football Club. Besides Wenger, Arsenal’s most valuable players in Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez have also been linked with moves away from the Emirates at the end of the season. In the end, the German superstar looks set to stay, having been quoted by the media saying he’s still got one year left on his contract at Arsenal and is ready to commit to this. The Chilean, however, is still heavily linked with Bayern Munich, as Ancelotti is keen on getting an improvement on Douglas Costa.

After an eternity of failing to reach the Champions League quarter-finals and having not qualified for the Champions League next season, Gooners have had enough, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel last season; delivering arguably their best performance of the season, Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 in a thrilling fashion to still finish the season with some welcome silverware, and more importantly, ease the hearts of many frustrated Arsenal fans.

But let’s face the reality: these aren’t cups that superstars like Özil and Sánchez dream of winning: they dream of winning the Premier League. More importantly, they dream of winning the UEFA Champions League, and holding the 7.5 kg trophy is what’s on the mind of the World Cup and Copa America winners. So, in the end, should Wenger go? Or is this a project that is at the brink of becoming complete? While some disagree, many are still leaning towards the latter option, as Wenger is now staying put for at two more seasons. The million dollar question now is to explore what Wenger should do to complete his project and maybe, finally win the Premier League trophy after 14 years.

Going back to Arsenal’s FA Cup glory, it is quite extraordinary how players like Aaron Ramsey and Per Mertesacker delivered sublime performances in the final, with Ramsey struggled to find consistency in his league performances and Mertesacker having played 34 minutes all season. Mertesacker was a leader in that game, led by experience, often seen coaching and shouting at Rob Holding during the game, essentially delivering an impeccable performance. Aaron Ramsey covered an incredible 14.4 kilometers in the game, and scoring his second FA Cup final winner, he shone again for the Gunners. The fact of the matter however, is that Ramsey is not yet quite the reliable and consistent midfielder that Arsenal drastically need. Having performed in only the final month of the season, this is a genuine concern. Furthermore, Ramsey’s weakness was at full display again even when he was played well, albeit to a lesser extent as usual: he is too often caught going forward and not covering back when Arsenal lose possession, leaving Xhaka as the only midfielder and effectively exposing him. Jamie Carragher recognized this issue on Sky Sports and noticed Xhaka was often playing as the only central midfielder during the course of the game.

The current 3-4-2-1 formation employed by Wenger, has been exposed a lot less by teams than in the usual 4-2-3-1 because of a better defensive structure. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a jab at Aaron Ramsey, who has had one of his best months of his career this May, but it does call for a ‘better version’ of the current Aaron Ramsey. Twitter’s @damola3 summed it perfectly:

As simple as this might sound, this is essentially the player that can form the best partnership with Granit Xhaka and thus giving Arsenal a good structure in midfield, both during offensive and defensive transitions. I can relate very well to John Lennon’s “you may say I’m a dreamer”, but when it comes to football transfers, nothing could be further from the truth. Realism is preferable, some might say cynical even, but one should only focus on the most reliable transfer sources that link teams with players. This brings us back to both the initial question: how can Wenger solve this conundrum? A feasible solution that would help both Wenger and Arsenal’s hunt for glory would be the signing of key players that perfectly address these needs.

Wenger made his name from finding gems in the French league and polishing them into world beaters. With Ligue 1 currently glistening with talent, now might be the best time to go back to basics; while Monaco snatched the league though, it’s and the Lyon where Wenger could really strengthen.

Lyon play with the dynamism of Arsenal teams of old, and Arsène could do far worse than signing the side’s two stars, Corentin ‘Coco’ Tolisso and Alexandre Lacazette.

Corentin Tolisso

Corentin Tolisso, a product of Rhône, France, is a versatile central midfielder who has been linked with Arsenal in recent weeks. Tolisso was first heavily linked with Juventus, and a summer move seemed imminent, but Italian sources reported that Juventus pulled out of the race, effectively clearing the path to sign the midfielder. A Lyon graduate with now more than 100 games to his name at just the tender age of 22, Tolisso is more than just a prospect, he has quite some experience in a top league. He currently has only one cap to his name, but you can expect this to change soon enough with the international friendlies coming up soon and Deschamps not oblivious to Tolisso’s performances this season. Tolisso was also named in the UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season.

“Coco” has shown he can both attack and defend, having 21 goals and assists to his name and often putting in a lot of defensive work during a game. In the Europa League he was flawless, with his highlights being a complete and controlled performance vs Ajax in the semi-final, dropping deep to defend and intercept plays, progressing play and playing the right pass to transition from the first phase into the second phase of offense. Tolisso is also effective in the final third, combining beautifully with Alexandre Lacazette in the final third to score a peach of a goal against Serie A giants AS Roma. Speaking of the devil…

Alexandre Lacazette

Alexandre Lacazette, Tolisso’s teammate at Olympique Lyon and close friend, is largely considered to be Les Gones’ star player. Having bagged at least 20 league goals for three consecutive years and reaching an impressive tally of 100 league goals in roughly 200 appearances Lacazette should feel confident about being among the top strikers in the world right now. French fans, having witnessed recent great strikers like Arsenal’s own Thierry Henry and Juventus legend David Trezeguet, will be hoping that they can place their trust in current strikers like Lacazette to fire them to international glory after a disappointing Euro 2016 final loss against Portugal on home soil last year.

A quintessential striker, pacy with good end product who can help in the buildup, it’s no surprise that Lacazette has been part of transfer speculation for quite some time now, with the Lyon star looking quite likely to move this summer. After being heavily linked with West Ham last season, he is now linked with their London neighbors Arsenal. Quite extraordinarily, Wenger’s off to a flying start to this transfer window with the shrewd signing of FC Schalke 04’s Sead Kolasinac, who earned himself a spot in the Bundesliga team of the season with his performances. Furthermore, he has put in an astonishingly uncharacteristic €100 million bid for football’s hottest talent, Kylian Mbappé. Some say the Gunners are in a decent position to sign Mbappé, some reports in France indicate Mbappé is set to stay for another season. Leonardo Jardim’s recent contract extension with AS Monaco makes it even likelier that Mbappé would stay for another season. For this reason, it is imperative Wenger does not lose sight of a need for a striker to be able to challenge for the title next season, with Lacazette being the most ideal option while also being quite feasible.

Both Tolisso and Lacazette’s values are constantly rising and Lyon’s president Jean-Michel Aulas is no fool to this trend. Aulas is currently asking around €60 million for each, which is a steep price, even in this market. But in this day and age, the price will often never be right, and you need to reach your transfer targets in order to compete at the highest level.

Take world football’s most influential coach Pep Guardiola for example, who’s been given roughly £200 million to spend this summer. Considering he spent a reported £40 million on Bernardo Silva, €60 million for either French prospect wouldn’t be too crazy for Wenger. More importantly, it could finally give Arsenal the right central midfield pair, and emulate the midfield combination of Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira using quite different players.

More than ten years later with a whole different group of players, Wenger can and should aim to win one last Premier League title before he leaves. And in my opinion, signing Corentin Tolisso and Alexandre Lacazette would be a step in the right direction. I’m calling for Wenger’s own version of Napoleon’s French revolution with these signings, and Arsène Wenger is certainly is no stranger to signing French talents to fight battles with.

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