It’s very easy to see what Arsenal’s strategy is for the first time in a while. The Gunners have a distinct style of play on the field that has been strengthened by some astute summer signings.
Up forward, Gabriel Jesus has proven to be a significant improvement over Alexandre Lacazette, while Oleksandr Zinchenko has demonstrated his ability to fulfill the special tactical demands Mikel Arteta places on his club. The majority of opposing sides have found it challenging to stop the Gunners’ 4-3-3 thus far, and as we approach the penultimate round of games before the international break, they are leading the Premier League.
But this is no accident. Despite all the talk about having a distinct identity on the field, Arsenal’s recent success also has a degree of debt to what has been occurring off it.
Technical director Edu indicated that the club is in the midst of a long-term initiative aimed at getting them back to fighting for the top honors both domestically and in Europe during an interview with football.london earlier this year. In its initial phase, it centered primarily on significantly lowering the squad’s age distribution.
When Mikel Arteta arrived Arsenal’s dressing room was filled with players over the age of 26 on big contracts as a result of a short-term strategy that had been in to place under Unai Emery focussed on getting them back into the Champions League as soon as possible. This has however quickly changed over the last two summer transfer windows, as players under the age of 25 have been added, and the team is now concentrating on younger talents like Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale, to name a few.
The next step is to put the Gunners in a position where they can sell players now that that portion of the project is largely finished. Historically Arsenal have struggled with this aspect of the transfer market, and over the summer just gone, they yet again struggled to recoup too many significant fees for players deemed surplus to requirements. This is something Edu wants to change, however.
Edu said to football.london, “Part of the plan is when you start to sell the players, that’s the challenging one. “You already require a prepared person. [If we can then] sell, [and if] we are able to do that and then, ‘chapeau’. It’s incredibly difficult.
“For illustration, let’s discuss a future season or another. If we sell, I don’t know, Bukayo Saka – that’s not going to happen but it’s just an example. If we’re going to sell Bukayo Saka, we as a club have to prepare his replacement straight away. So someone has to be in the squad or we have to manage the market well so if we sell we have him, we have someone straight away to replace him in our model.”
Despite having only given the example of Saka anecdotally, it appears that Edu has already began to put his plan into action when it comes to the right wing position. As things stand, the 21-year-old is yet to sign a new contract with Arsenal. Both he and Mikel Arteta have stated that they are confident of getting a deal sorted, but there has still been a delay over an agreement being confirmed.
While it does not appear likely that Saka is set to move any time soon – despite reported interest from Manchester City and Liverpool – Arsenal have already begun preparing for his departure with one of their summer signings. Marquinhos went slightly under the radar following his arrival from Sao Paolo in the summer, but he has surprised many with how quickly he has taken to life in north London.
The 19-year-old began quickly with the under-21s, scoring three times and grabbing an assist in the space of two games which was enough to convince Arteta to decide to keep him around the first team squad rather than sending him on loan. The Brazilian was then rewarded with a first senior start for Arsenal in the Europa League against FC Zurich on Thursday where he again impressed, scoring once and grabbing a match winning assist for Eddie Nketiah.
While it’s early days to suggest that Marquinhos will go on to be a success at Arsenal, the fact that they have already got another winger on the conveyor belt if Saka were to leave deserves praise. It is similar to how Liverpool sought to replace Sadio Mane before the Senegalese winger left to join Bayern Munich over the summer by signing Luis Diaz, a move which Edu himself described as “a very nice plan.”
Again, while there has been no suggestion that Saka will be on his way any time soon, the fact that the next stage of their plan already seems to be in process is exciting as Edu seeks to keep the Gunners in the first placed position they currently find themselves in.