COMMENT By Matt Farr
Football Insider gazes into its crystal ball and predicts the Arsenal team for the opening day of the 2017/18 campaign.
After seeing yet another Premier League title challenge fall hopelessly short, Arsenal are expected to make a host of changes to their side in the summer.
Back-to-back defeats to Watford and Chelsea last week not only left their title ambitions in tatters, but have also threatened to derail their bid for a top-four finish.
The Gunners are now just clinging on to fourth spot, with both Liverpool and Manchester United closing in fast.
Arsenal did a decent job strengthening their problem areas back in the summer, adding Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez to their ranks; but the performances of the team in recent weeks suggests there is plenty work still to be done.
Therefore, the north London club will be left with little option but to raid the summer transfer market once again, to really make sure they can mount a genuine title challenge next season.
However, with Arsene Wenger out of contract at the end of the season, there may be a new man at the helm regardless of their end of season finish.
That man could be Juventus chief Massimiliano Allegri. The Italian looks set to leave Juventus at the end of the season after falling out-of-favour with the club, and is reportedly on the shortlist to replace Wenger.
If appointed, he will be looking to make quick work of the club’s summer recruitment, and bring in a host of quality names that can make the difference in the Arsenal camp.
This could see as many as four new marquee signings in the Arsenal starting line-up, transforming the side into a formidable Premier League force once again.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ricardo Rodriguez, Marco Reus and Paulo Dybala would represent an astonishing financial outlay by the club, but would be a huge statement of intent in their desire to re-establish themselves as one of Europe’s elite.
Rodriguez, Dybala and Reus have all been reported targets for Arsenal in the past, while Donnarumma is a target for Allegri’s current club Juventus.
Should Allegri move to the Emirates in the summer, the ongoing debate over the future of No.1 Petr Cech could see Allegri turn to the 17-year-old as his primary target.
The likes of Joe Hart and Jan Oblak have also emerged as targets, but it ultimately depends on who will be in charge of the club next season. If it is Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, for example, Oblak would be the more likely addition.
Donnarumma would though, be a massive coup; but if anyone can tempt him into a move to the Emirates it will be an Italian boss like Allegri.
Arsenal would also be keen to make another change to their defence, with concerns over the ability of Nacho Monreal as a top-class full-back. Current backup Kieran Gibbs is a possibility, but Wolfsburg’s Rodriguez would be the ideal addition.
The 23-year-old would match Arsenal’s desire for attacking full-backs, and would feature in a back-four of Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin.
In midfield, meanwhile, Allegri will no doubt consider another central midfield addition. The Gunners have been hit by injuries this term, and several of their current midfielders have lacked consistency this season.
However, Arsenal are likely to begin the campaign with Santi Cazorla and Granit Xhaka in the midfield, a partnership that threatened to blossom earlier this season prior to Cazorla’s injury setback.
In attack, the most notable absence is Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal are faced with the genuine prospect of losing the Chile international in the summer, and that could become reality if they fail to finish in the top-four this term.
It would be a disaster if he joins a Premier League rival like Chelsea or Manchester City, but there is also interest from the likes of Paris Saint-Germain.
Mesut Ozil is in a similar predicament, but is likely to still be an Arsenal player next season. In the absence of Sanchez, however, Arsenal will need a world-class attacker, and the signs point to Dortmund’s Reus.
The club are long-term admirers of the 27-year-old, and according to WhoScored.com and reliable journalist Emanuele Giulianelli, Arsenal are preparing a £51million offer for his services.
Theo Walcott may complete the attacking trio for Arsenal, although there will be other options in Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who are not likely to leave due to the need to satisfy the home-grown quota.
A fresh face to lead the line, meanwhile, could be another long-term Arsenal target, Argentina goalscorer Dybala. The Juventus striker was linked with a move to Arsenal prior to his switch to Allegri’s side, and could be brought to the Emirates by the Italian boss.
If they lose Sanchez, Allegri will not be satisfied with Olivier Giroud as the best striker option, and will make amends in the market. With Dybala arriving, Giroud is likely to take up arms on the bench.
Many of their title rivals all have a top-class, reliable goalscorer leading the line, and at the moment, the Gunners struggle to compete. Dybala is someone that could turn the tide back in their favour.
In other Arsenal transfer news, Carl Jenkinson has responded to accusations he didn’t leave Arsenal last month because he is greedy.