With the closing of the transfer window looming ever-nearer former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn believes any hopes the Gunners have of attaining a Champions League spot this season depends on them securing a top quality centre-back.
“My worry is that if you look over the last couple of seasons the away form has been poor and the goals conceded has been 51 against both times in the league alone. That tells you that something isn’t working.
“The problem they have now is that Holding, Chambers, Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi and Konstantinos are all centre-halves and that is making it difficult to bring in another one because the squad is top heavy with them.
"This makes it especially frustrating that we can’t find a partnership consistent enough to least propel us towards a top four position.
What makes matters significantly worse of course is that the club’s captain and leader Laurent Koscielny is presently training with the kids after refusing to accompany the squad on a recent tour of the US.
Having skippered Arsenal many times over during his thirteen years at Highbury, Winterburn is both appalled and bemused at the stand-off that has only further complicated an already complicated summer for Unai Emery.
“I had a couple of run-ins with George Graham during his time there but I never, ever refused to play a game of football or refused to travel.
"He should have sought out a chat with the manager while they were away on tour and got that message back to the board as to why he was so unhappy with the situation.
“I think we’re all guessing why he was so upset. He may have thought there was a deal on the table and with the injuries he’s had maybe he feels like he’s put his body on the line for the club.
"Was there a free transfer in the offering? At the end of it all though you make yourself available to travel. You make yourself available to play. It’s such a shame that it looks like ending on a sour note for Koscielny and it really shouldn’t be like that.”
If the French stopper has dominated the headlines in recent weeks the story that everyone has been really talking about is Arsenal’s reported transfer budget of just £45m and this in a summer where Unai Emery was expected to rebuild the team to his own liking following Arsene Wenger’s long tenure.
With the club’s enviable financial resources and the Emirates Stadium built and paid for it was a restriction that immensely angered Gooners to the point of protest.
It came a somewhat of a surprise then when the news broke that Arsenal are closing in on a £72m deal for Lille’s lightning-quick winger Nicolas Pepe, with not only the price-tag raising eyebrows but the type of player they have decided to break the bank for. Winterburn however takes all this in his stride.
“We talk about limited transfer funds but we have to push that to the side because to then go out and spend £70m suggests there is no limited fund. I’m quite excited about the Pepe signing and I hope it goes through. It would be a disaster for the club if it didn’t.
"At the end of last season I was adamant that we needed a new centre-half; potentially a new midfield player and also a wide player as well with plenty of pace and ability to attack in the wide areas. We had a problem there and clearly Unai Emery believes that as well.
“He’s very direct, got good skill and seems difficult to knock off the ball. He seems willing to work back as well.
"I thought Arsenal’s approach work was too slow last season, particularly without Ramsey in the team, and he’s somebody who can move distances with the ball and be an exciting link-up with Lacazette and Aubameyang. I think that will be quite exciting for supporters.”
Pepe’s willingness to put in a defensive shift brings us naturally to a creative player who has regularly been criticised for not doing so, a failing that directly or otherwise led to a breakdown in trust between Mesut Ozil and his coach last term.
Can we expect a similar narrative to develop this time too or does Winterburn suspect the talented German may change his ways? The answer, the 55-year-old insists, lies in another new recruit.
“I love watching Ozil play when he’s at his very best but last season he wasn’t influential in the team and I’m not sure what was really going on.
"Was his mind not right? Was it the demands being put on him? Was it the new training regime? Did he not fit in to Unai Emery’s style?
“This season we will find out very quickly because Ceballos has come in who is a similar kind of player. So we will find out everything we need to know about Emery’s thinking within the first ten Premier League games.
"Whether Ozil can elevate this team to the next level or if Emery is not happy with his contribution. “
With the ink dry on Ceballos’ signature and Pepe expected to join very soon the final piece of business from the North London giants this window could well be the purchasing of Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and it would be remiss not to ask one of the finest exponents of left-backing his take on the potential signing.
Clearly, the two-time league champion would approve of any deal made.
“I think most full-backs now are strong on the ball and good athletes and are used to get forward. They’re used differently to when I played. Now they’re high and wide and in attacking areas earlier. Tierney fits that bill.”
This leaves us only with the coach himself who, after a year in the capital, remains something of an enigmatic quantity. Winterburn believes all will become apparent in the not-too-distant future.
"That’s because he inherited a large group of players and it’s fine to have a process in mind and put that in action but if you then realise you don’t have the right players to play that way you have to adapt.
“That’s why this season will be very, very interesting – and particularly if we can sign a couple more players – because then we’ll get to see how Unai Emery wants to play and then make a proper judgement.”
Newcastle vs Arsenal Prediction?
1-2 to Arsenal.
First Goal Scorer?
Who Wins The Premier League?
Who Wins The Champions League?
Manchester City though it slightly worries me how much they’ll miss Vincent Kompany.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*