Arsenal made 6 signings in the summer of 2021 and a total fee of around £150 Million was paid to secure their services. Approaching the halfway point of the season, let us take a look at how the summer signings have fared for Arsenal. We have taken game involvement, transfer fee, other options available in the market, need for the transfer and on-field performances into consideration for the final rating. It is written in the worst-to-best order.
6. Nuno Tavares
- Reported Fee: £8 Million
- % Of Available Minutes Played: 45.95%
- Goals/Assists: 0/2
- Rating: 6/10
The Gunners signed Nuno Tavares from Portuguese club SL Benfica. The 21-year-old full-back was brought in as a deputy to first-choice Kieran Tierney. Tavares has more than fairly performed when he has been given the opportunity. The youngster offers electric pace and a lung-bursting work rate on the flank. He also has the third most successful dribbles in the squad.
Certain defensive aspects of the ex-Benfica man’s game need furnishing. His defensive awareness and positioning is often suspect, especially deep in the defensive half. His 1v1 ability also needs work. However, for the transfer fee, Tavares has proven to be an excellent signing and able backup option.
5. Albert Sambi Lokonga
- Reported Fee: £15.75 Million
- % Of Available Minutes Played: 46.86%
- Goals/Assists: 0/0
- Rating: 6.5/10
Albert Sambi Lokonga arrived from Anderlecht. Expectations were high as the midfielder was already captaining the Belgian club at the age of 21. Lokonga seems to be Arteta’s long-term replacement for Granit Xhaka. In the absence of the Swiss midfielder, the Belgian was deployed alongside Partey in the double pivot.
Lokonga’s composure and security on the ball have been evident. He has combined well with Smith Rowe and Tavares on the left-wing. However, the Belgian still seems to lack the big-game pedigree and looks a little uncomfortable under pressure. £15.75 million is a slight gamble for a relatively unproven youngster, especially since proven stars at their peak like Sabitzer were available for the same price range.
But as a long-term investment, Lokonga is an excellent description of what Arteta desires from his midfielders: to control the midfield and link-up play between the defensive and forward lines, or between the centre and the wings.
4. Martin Odegaard
- Reported Fee: £34 Million
- % Of Available Minutes Played: 60.55%
- Goals/Assists: 4/2
- Rating: 7/10
After a 6-month loan spell with the Gunners, Martin Odegaard was initially sent back to Real Madrid. Arsenal then decided to bring the Norwegian ace back into their ranks, in exchange for £34 million. Smith Rowe was Arsenal’s only other option as a natural playmaking midfielder until the 23-year-old came in.
The ex-Real Sociedad man has been very important for the Gunners, operating on the right half-space. His combinations with Tomiyasu, Martinelli and Saka have been delightful. Odegaard also offers the goalscoring threat from deeper areas of the field. This is something the Gunners sorely missed in previous seasons. He also has the second-best xG overperformance in the team.
However, Arsenal probably did overspend a little on the Norwegian midfielder. Options like Julian Brandt and Houssem Aouar, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Julian Draxler, etc were available on the market. A lot of these players have been performing at the top level for longer and would have cost relatively the same amount.
However, the transfer fee was completely out of Odegaard’s hands. And what was in his hands, he has made the most of. The attacking midfielder has more than justified Arsenal’s decision to make his transfer permanent in the summer.
3. Ben White
- Reported Fee: £50 Million
- % Of Available Minutes Played: 79.09%
- Goals/Assists: 0/0
- Rating: 8/10
Another important signing in an area where Arsenal desperately needed reinforcements. With David Luiz departing, the Gunners needed a similar profile, a centre-back comfortable on the ball and able to initiate attacks out of the back. With William Saliba failing to impress Arteta, Arsenal had to look for a player outside the club’s premises.
Ben White has been excellent in the role and has established himself as a mainstay in Arteta’s main XI. The Gunners often have fluidity in shape during the build-up. They can take up a 3-man back with Tomiyasu on the right side, or as a classic back-4. This requires White to cover ground in the middle and the wider areas too. White has been comfortable playing the ball out of the back, and even steps into the midfield to regain possession or provide an additional passing option.
Again, the focus comes down to the transfer fee. The fee seems understandable for an English player, bought from a fellow PL Club. Arsenal could have taken the gamble to sign a slightly less proven player for a lesser amount. But White has done well in his first 6 months under Arteta. At the age of just 24, he could form the crux of Arsenal’s back-line for many years to come.
2. Aaron Ramsdale
- Reported Fee: £24 Million
- % Of Available Minutes Played: 72.72%
- Clean Sheets: 9
- Saves: 52
- Rating: 9/10
Bernd Leno had a solid 2020-21 season by all means. He had a psxG+/- of 0.12, which bettered fellow German keepers like Manuel Neuer and Marc Andre Ter Stegen. Leno had, in fact, been above average for the last 3 seasons. His ability with the ball at his feet was satisfactory too.
Therefore, it seemed a little surprising that the Gunners splashed £24 Million on Aaron Ramsdale from a relegated Sheffield United, as competition for Leno. Ramsdale has completely outperformed even the highest expectations that were held, however. The Englishman has completely consolidated himself as Arteta’s number 1 option to guard the net.
Ramsdale’s acrobatic efforts and ability to step out of his line to nullify danger has been world-class. His distribution has added a new dimension to Arsenal’s build-up. Ramsdale is composed under pressure to pick out short passing options, but equally adept at taking the aerial route to directly find a centre-forward. Given his form and young age, Ramsdale has been one of the best summer signings in many years for Arsenal, especially coming at a bargain price of £24 million.
1. Takehiro Tomiyasu
- Reported Fee: £19.8 Million
- % Of Available Minutes Played: 65.30%
- Goals/ Assists: 0/1
- Rating: 9.5/10
Arsenal have needed an upgrade in the right-back position for a long time. With Hector Bellerin’s poor form and Cedric failing to establish himself, Arteta had experimented with options like Maitland-Niles in the position. The signing of Tomiyasu wasn’t made until the deadline day.
The Japanese full-back, in fact, had been strongly linked to rivals Tottenham Hotspur. However, Spurs made a move for Barcelona right-back Emerson Royal. This opened the doors for Arsenal to acquire the services of Tomiyasu and also allowed Bellerin to sign for Real Betis.
It isn’t just the circumstances that make this transfer special. What is even more astounding is how Arsenal were able to sign a player tailor-made for Arteta’s side for under £20 million, when other clubs were scarcely aware of Tomiyasu’s exploits at Bologna.
Arteta has attempted the asymmetrical back 4 in the past too. Last season, Tierney was often played in a restricted role and Bellerin was given the license to attack. Pepe would have to compensate for the width on the left flank when this happened. Arteta showed traces of attempting this against Brentford too. Chambers at right-back played relatively deep while Tierney bombed forward. Such an asymmetrical set-up gives Arsenal a few benefits:
- Superiority in Numbers: A full-back tucking in allows the Gunners to create 3v2 situations in the first phase of build-up.
- Variety in Attack: The full-back does have the option to attack if a defensive midfielder drops deep. We saw these rotations in Arsenal’s game against Newcastle United.
- Single Lines of Width: Allows the team to keep just one player wide on each flank, creating superiorities in the midfield regions. In comparison, Arsenal often had 2 lines of width in the past, with Tierney, Bellerin, Aubameyang, Willian/Pepe all holding wide positions. This caused inferiority in the midfield.
- Easier Defensive Transitions: Having the security of a 3-man back helps to reduce the risk of counter-attacks upon losing possession.
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Tomiyasu had played as a full-back and centre-back in the past. Arteta has used him as a mixture of both. In the first phase of build-up, he maintains a deeper position. As the ball progresses, Tomiyasu can occupy the space vacated on the flank. Complimentary movements from Saka, Odegaard and Partey facilitate this movement without a change in formation.
The ex-Bologna man has been an absolute rock while defending. While his attacking game still requires work, Tomiyasu has been crucial in offering width and depth to Arsenal in possession and which is why he is rated the best amongst summer signings this season.
£150 million in transfers was criticised early in the season. However, the Gunners have proven that these payments were actually well thought out investments. After the first few months, this season’s summer signings have shown plenty of positive signs at Arsenal. Now the challenge is to make good performances a norm and maintain consistency.