Neal Thurman

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Stunning Transfer Summer

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Despite the fact that some of the biggest players in the Premier League haven't really gotten started on their summer work, it has already been a fascinating summer.  In Arsenal, Fulham, West Ham, and Wolves the Premier League has seen clubs that haven't typically fit the profile of dynnamic players in the transfer market playing exactly that part.  

 

Arsenal

For years our senses have been dulled by Arsene Wenger telling us that targets that represented an improvement for Arsenal at positions of need - specifically, Center Back and Holding Midfielder (and more recently Goalkeeper) - either weren't available, weren't interested in Arsenal, or weren't affordable.  Low and behold, Wenger's strangle hold on all aspects of operations at the Emirates has been loosened for all of about 15 seconds and Arsenal have new, and promising, answers at all of those positions and more for the aggregate price of one Manchester City attacking midfielder.  

This isn't meant to imply that all of Bernd Leno, Stephen Lichsteiner, Sokratis, and Lucas Torreira will be huge stars or push the Gunners into the title race.  What it is meant to say is that each gives the club something it has lacked at a key position.  Leno is 26-years-old and highly rated.  I've seen analysis that says his xG (that's Expected Goals Conceded) isn't fantastic but he's still young for a goalkeeper and Petr Cech from the late 2000s certainly isn't walking through that door so at least the Gunners are getting a proven goakeeper with some potential upside if not a star of the DDG/Courtois variety. 

Stephen Lichsteiner is also not going to be a star for the Gunners.  Unlike the goalkeeper position where we have an experienced head who was having too much asked of him, the reverse was true at right back.  A high potential youngster, Hector Bellerin, didn't have anyone to push him and show him how to turn his potential into results at a championship winning level.  Lichsteiner can bring what he learned at Juventus to Bellerin and a young group of center backs while being a spot starter.

Similarly, Sokratis will be arriving for his attitude and experience as much as his ability on the pitch.  He's not quite the oldster that Lichsteiner is but he has been around the block a few times in leadership roles at the back.  With Laurent Koscielny out injured and Shkodran Mustafi having struggled mightily last season, Arsenal badly needed a leader at the back and the former Dortmund man has the profile to serve as that leader for the next season or two while the younger players - Chambers, Holding, and Mavropanos - are learning on the job. 

The theoretical jewel of the summer so far is Lucas Torreira.  The Uruguayan was highly rated before the World Cup and those opinions were largely confirmed with a strong World Cup tournament.  I am dubious of players who flash during a short tournament which includes dubious competition as the World Cup does but Torreira was already a rising star so it isn't like any excitement generated was based entirely on his work in Russia.  If Torreira can be the cover that the Arsenal back line has so desperately needed for over a decade then all of the other summer arrivals will look that much better for facing fewer difficult situations.

Finally, the icing on the cake at the Emirates is the arrival of at least one and maybe more young prospects.  The hallmark of Sven Mislintat's success at Borussia Dortmund wasn't buying veteran players or even stars approaching their primes for big money.  His success was based in unearthing high quality players that Jurgen Klopp and his successors could build into stars to either feature for the first team or sell off to fund other transfer activity.  While we may have to wait a few years for this part of the plan to come to fruition, a pipeline of players like Sokratis, Aubameyang, Pulisic, and Mkhitaran purchased at the later stages of their youth development is what Arsenal supporters are excited for. 

Of the players already in, Mavropanos will have a hard time avoiding being labeled the "Next Sokratis" given that they share a nationality and position.  Matteo Guendouzi is highly rated and has already featured for Lorient after coming up through the PSG system as a box-to-box midfielder who tends to be more defensvie than attacking.  A little further down the pipeline is rumored arrival Sam Greenwood of Sunderland's academy and the England U18s.  It may be that none of these players make a significant impact but this is what Mislintat was brought in for and he has the track record to give us confidence that more than not will hit.

For Arsenal supporters who have suffered through years of frustration with Arsene Wenger's transfer dealings, this summer has been a revelation.  The big issues in the squad have been addressed and addressed early in the window.  The Gunners have almost zero chance of winning the title this season despite a strong summer but after years of going in the wrong direction, this summer feels like the first step on the road back to at least being in the conversation (and maybe Champions League spot contention). 

 

Fulham

The Cottagers have long been the quaint reminder of football's past.  Everyone's second favorite team, Craven Cottage was a beautiful place to watch a match at once conveniently located in London, affordable, and with tickets generally available. There were occasional competitive highlights like the Europa League (or whatever it was called then) Final but generally they were just there.  And then they weren't.  As the Cottagers return to the Premier League our mental image of them is still probably rooted in what they were when they were last in the top flight.  The reality seems to be shaking out rather differently.  

Now, the attacking anchor of the team that saw them promoted is not the product of some massive spending spree.  Ryan Sessegnon is a Fulham youth product who has been with the club since he was eight.  The surprises at the Cottage come in the form of both the fact that they have kept him as long as they have and the spending of the past 24 hours.

After securing Sessegnon's promise to stay at least one additional season if the club were promoted, the Cottagers took the opportunity to invest in making sure that season was a good one.  Today comes word that they have landed Jean-Micheel Seri and Maxime La Marchand from Nice.  La Marchand profiles as a solid addition who can play both centrally in defense and on the left.  The prize, though, is Seri who you'll recall from being linked with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and just about every other big club.  More importantly, these links weren't something that happened years ago before reality caught up to reputation.  It was expected in both January and over this summer that Seri would sign with a big club.  That Fulham have secured his services to be the core of their attempt to consolidate their Premier League status beyond this season is a big statement of intent.  

There is still work to be done but to have landed a player of that magnitude at this stage of the transfer window will surely pave the way for another move or two that will help keep Fulham from dropping back down at the first time of asking.  Oh, and don't look now but based on the proposal to purchase Wembley Stadium from the FA, the Cottagers don't seem like they're going to be content with life as London's quietest and least assuming resident.  Rest assured there is a plan that has both of Shad Kahn's professional teams - Fulham and the (for now) Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL - playing in a stadium in London on a permanent basis.  If that happens, the Cottagers may not quite have Manchester City money to spend but they would certainly start having Spurs-level money to spend on building another Premier League contender. 

 

West Ham United

Speaking of clubs in London that once occupied nostalgic stadiums and operated as ssomething of a throwback to a different age of English football, hey, there's West Ham.  The Hammers are a few years ahead of the Cottagers in moving from their antiquated but quaint stadium to a bigger (read, higher revenue producing) model in the London Stadium.  The owners aren't as excessively wealthy as Shad Kahn so the pace of change hasn't been as quick and a heavy dose of old school (read, not very sophisticated) management seems to have made the transition from the old stadium to the new.  Still, this summer seems to carry the promise of bigger things for the Hammers.  It has certainly seen bigger spending. 

Already through the door are former Arsenal teammates Lucasz Fabianski and Jack Wilshere along with Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop, and Andriy Yarmalenko.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about that group is that it appears that West Ham management, whomever it might have been leading the transfer dealings, looked dispassionately at the current squad and reasonably evaluated their needs.  Fredericks will replace the calcifying Pablo Zabaleta while Diop will step into what was already a hole that the Hammers attempted (poorly) to fill with James Collins and others last season.  Neither may be world beaters but both should be upgrades.  The same can be said for Fabianski who was both an economical purchase and an improvement over Joe Hart/Adrian.

The real impact of the summer, though, will be determined by the effectiveness of the Hammers' two reclamation projects.  Make no mistake, Jack Wilshere is no longer at Arsenal because they gave up on him in spite of his talent.  If the Hammers can keep him healthy and harnass that talent then they could have a huge bargain and a fulcrum for their midfield.  Likewise, Yarmalenko, who was a star in the Russian top flight, failed to produce in his first attempt at the big time at Dortmund last season.  After eighteen appearances, Dortmund decided to cash in.  There are certainly cases of players moving up a level in competition who take some time to adjust.  At 28-years-old though, Yarmalenko isn't some rising starlet who should have to adjust physically.  Both of these moves have definite upside but could also end with Wilshere injured again and Yarmalenko being loaned back to Russia with only a fraction of his transfer fee recouped. 

Stay tuned to see if the Hammers add to this story by signing Filipe Anderson of Lazio which would send their spending through the roof by their standards.

  

Wolves

The story of transformation at Wolves has been in progress for a year already. In the spirit of linking all of the clubs in this feature together, there is an element of West Ham when they purchased Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano but on a bigger scale going on at the Molineux. The purchase by a Chinese investor group and the murky relationship with Jorge Mendes has seen things that would previously been unthinkable happening at a provincal club of modest means.  The arrival of Mendes client Nuno Espirito Santo was followed by an infusion of high profile Portugese players both last summer and now this summer. The notion that Wolves are signing players from Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Porto and Benfica rather than Norwich and Bristol is a definite and significant change.

Wolves dominated the Championship last season and, via all of their foreign imports, look highly likely to be closer to a mid-table side than struggle with relegation as most newly promoted clubs do.  Exactly what Jorge Mendes is getting from pushing clients to the Molineux that he wouldn't get by pushing them elsewhere isn't clear so it is hard to comment on whether it is underhanded or just an innovative approach to talent acquisition from an ownership group not rooted in the preconceived notions of how a football club "should" be run.  It is easy to see this experiment ending in a bunch of ways from top half finish and Europa League participation next season to relegation and points deduction for breaking a number of FA/FIFA/UEFA rules or anywhere in-between.  Regardless, unlike previous seasons where the stories of the newly promoted clubs were all about plucky clubs trying to compete on a shoestring budget while playing a very conservative brand of football.

 

It is fantastic news for all fans of the Premier League and Premier League-based fantasy games that we are this early in the summer and there are already four stories outside of last season's Champions League places that are this interesting.  Imagine how fasciating drafts (and the actual watching of matches) will be once Chelsea get their managerial situation sorted out and start adjusting their squad accordingly.  Likewise, when the two Manchester clubs start making whatever moves they are going to make to consolidate their power at the top of the Premier League. 



Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.
Email :Neal Thurman





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