Why Arsenal must target a winger this summer
Background by: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
Arsenal risk finishing the season outside the top four after their weekend defeat at Molineux to Wolves. Virtually all hope for Champions League football next season now depends on winning the Europa League.
The Gunners held a commanding position to finish before back-to-back losses against Crystal Palace and Wolves dropped the North London side to fifth. A major factor in Arsenal's inconsistency is their lack of wide players. Going into the summer, their top priority in the transfer market should be a winger.
Unai Emery is creative. The Spaniard cobbled together various lineups in an attempt to compensate for his lack of effective wingers but his efforts have been exposed.
It is very clear the boss wants to stretch and spread opponents with pace and width. He simply doesn't have players suited to playing wingback. All season, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assumed those roles. Despite their pace and trickery, neither is suited to playing a dual role, supporting the defence as well as the attack. Against many teams, it hasn't mattered. The Gunners were simply too strong for foes to turn the tables. Wolves and Palace do not capitulate under pressure, however. Neither do City nor Liverpool. The teams atop the table dispatched Arsenal with ease.
Two roles are key to Emery's success at the club: natural wingers and a central midfielder who can run the length of the pitch, marking, distributing the ball and making key passes. Aaron Ramsey fills the latter role until season's end but there is no need to panic over a replacement for the Welshman.
Mesut Ozil can fill the role with the understanding that Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka shouldn't expect the same support they receive from Ramsey. If that isn't sufficient, Mkhitaryan or Iwobi might audition for the role. The Armenian had a career-defining season under Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund in 2015/16, racking up 23 goals and 32 assists while filling a central role.
On the other hand, Emery has no option on the wings. It's unclear that Arsenal is willing to spend for the players he needs. True wingbacks are a rare breed. Too many teams improvise as the Gunners have. Those with such players guard them like precious treasure.
A few names have been bandied about, Bournemouth's Ryan Fraser, for instance. The Scottish international has been a revelation this season. Combining with Callum Wilson, the diminutive winger produced twelve goals this season, a goal shy of the record between two players in the Premier League. Emery needs such a partnership far more than the one between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Wilfried Zaha is another mooted. The mercurial Palace star likely doesn't fit the Gunners budget. Nor is he anymore responsible on the defensive end than anyone currently on the Emirates roster, including Ozil.
Another choice is Villarreal's Samuel Chukwueze. The Nigerian has been a superb winger this season for the Yellow Submarines and can be had for decent value. If the club is prepared to do business, Unai Emery can build on the foundation he has set in 2018/19. If not, he'll simply be spinning his wheels in his second campaign.