Arsenal did well to overcome a reportedly reduced £45-million transfer budget this summer in recruiting a host of players to the Emirates, but with none of those players coming from within the Premier League, it can be hard to gauge exactly what the Gunners got.
Amid incessant links to Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney and the hopeful addition of a central defender, Arsenal secured the services of a quartet of first-team players. Here’s a look at what Arsenal fans can expect from each of the four, and how immediate their respective impacts will be.
- Age: 24
- Fee: £72M (reported)
- Position: Right winger
The Gunners splashed a club-record £72 million on a player who was a pipe dream when initially linked with two sides that offer Champions League football, Liverpool and Napoli. Excuse any Arsenal supporter who is subsequently sloshed on hysteria, because in Nicolas Pepe, Unai Emery’s squad adds two things it’s been desperate for: width and dribbling.
Likely to sit on the right side of a tantalizing attack alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Pepe’s 33 combined goals and assists were the fourth most in Europe’s top leagues last season. The 61 chances he created in Ligue 1 were second only to Memphis Depay (72). A Robben-esque cut-and-run routine and the ability to strike from range are notable strengths – as is his top-tier off-ball movement, something that slick passers Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos are certain to exploit.
It might take Pepe a few weeks to acclimate following a protracted AFCON-inspired summer sojourn. Hand brakes off once he does.
Immediate impact: 💥💥💥💥💥 (out of five)
- Age: 22
- Fee: Loan
- Position: Central midfield
It was always going to be difficult to replace Juventus newcomer Aaron Ramsey and the attributes of a top-class box-to-box midfielder. While the Welshman and Ceballos fit different profiles, the Spaniard’s year-long loan to the Emirates provides a significant boost in the middle of the park. Ceballos will also be motivated to make Spain’s Euro 2020 team.
A hybrid of a No. 8 and No. 10, Ceballos thrives when able to control the tempo, either by playing near a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or in a more advanced position in a 4-3-3. There’s a basis for the lofty comparisons to Andres Iniesta and Santi Cazorla, and in a small sample size, Ceballos impressed as a substitute in the preseason versus Lyon courtesy of an exquisite ability to carry the ball into attacking positions
Emery said Ceballos will play “40 games or more” this season, and his addition will challenge the likes of Ozil, Granit Xhaka, and Matteo Guendouzi.
Immediate impact: 💥💥💥💥
- Age: 18
- Fee: £27M (reported)
- Position: Center-back
Some inspiring signs suggest that Arsenal have an eye on developing a young squad fit to compete with the league’s best. Freddie Ljungberg’s promotion from Under-23 czar to Emery’s assistant is one of those indications, as is signing William Saliba, who will benefit from playing a full campaign at Saint-Etienne alongside veteran linchpin Loic Perrin.
Saliba only became a regular in Les Verts’ first team from March onward, but in that short time, the Bondy-born center-back looked polished in possession despite his towering 6-foot-4 frame. Nearly half of Saint-Etienne’s victories last season (nine of 19) came in the 13 matches Saliba started, and the Ligue 1 side conceded an average of only 0.77 goals per match versus 1.24 without him. His long strides and composure in possession have attracted comparisons to Raphael Varane.
Though fans will have to wait a year, Saliba and Rob Holding could be Arsenal’s central defensive pairing for the next decade.
Immediate impact: N/A
- Age: 18
- Fee: £6M (reported)
- Position: Left winger
Former Arsenal midfielder Edu’s switch from director of football with Brazil’s national team to a similar role in north London produced immediate returns with Gabriel Martinelli’s under-the-radar move from Sao Paulo side Ituano. As with Saliba, Martinelli’s signing is about the future and not the present, but some Arsenal fans are calling for his inclusion in the first team after a stellar preseason.
Two-footed Martinelli’s debut received rave reviews, as he combined purposeful runs with buoyant energy and an outstanding work rate in the Stan Kroenke derby versus the Colorado Rapids. Like Guendouzi a summer before, Martinelli has the looks of a prodigious youngster acquired for a tiny fee, and with the club’s emphasis on youth progression, he may get his chance to grow at Arsenal.
“We are going to work with him on this progress, giving him chances and if he deserves more minutes he will get them,” Emery said, hinting at first-team opportunities for Martinelli.
Immediate impact: 💥