The first signing of Unai Emery’s tenure at Arsenal has come in the somewhat surprising form of a 34-year-old right-back.
It doesn’t exactly scream out new era but Arsene Wenger’s successor is reportedly a huge fan of Stephan Lichtsteiner and his track record at the top of the European game is tough to dispute.
So, have Arsenal paid good money for old rope or could the Switzerland international become a crucial component in changing the mindset at the Emirates Stadium, restoring the Gunners to their former glories? Football FanCast take a look at the potential consequences – some positive and some negative – of Arsenal signing the Juventus star in a bosman deal…
Certainly over the last 18 months, Hector Bellerin’s form just hasn’t matched the levels of his first few seasons in Arsenal’s senior squad, when he kept Mathieu Debuchy out of the team and was tipped for a mega-money return to Barcelona as Dani Alves’ natural successor. He’s by no means the only young Gunner who failed to show clear signs of progression during Wenger’s final few seasons in charge, but perhaps this instance isn’t a consequence of such institutional problems.
Last season particularly, Bellerin was one of the first names on the team sheet simply due to a lack of competition at right-back. Calum Chambers represented an emergency option at best, lacking Bellerin’s pace and creativity, and Debuchy was shipped off to Ligue 1 in January. In short, the 23-year-old has been far too comfortable for far too long, but signing such a proven and dependable alternative in Lichtsteiner should put the Spaniard back on his toes – making the kind of consistent impact a dynamic and technical player of his talent should be capable of.
In terms of improving his game too, especially defensively, there’s plenty Bellerin can learn from the Switzerland hero. Juventus’ iconic defence know all the dark arts of the trade, but Bellerin often seems to lack that cute shrewdness.
Perhaps the biggest motivation for signing Lichtsteiner is the leadership and responsibility he’ll bring to a defence that often seems to lack it, even when star centre-back Laurent Koscielny is on the pitch. And that only rings truer with Per Mertesacker leaving the Gunners this summer; the German World Cup winner may have been far from his best during his final few seasons at the Emirates Stadium, but he brought a lot to the team in terms of his captaincy and his vast experience.
Lichtsteiner’s of a similar mould; he’s just lifted a seventh Serie A title with Juventus and that winning mentality could make a massive difference to a squad that seemed only too content with mediocrity at times last season, especially away from home where they picked up just four Premier League wins. Likewise, if there’s any doubts over Lichtsteiner’s experience, he’ll likely surpass 100 caps for Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia this summer, currently on 98.
While Lichtsteiner may initially represent something of a bargain swoop because he’s able to move on a free transfer, that will likely only have inflated any wage demands the veteran full-back made. Lichtsteiner’s reported salary at Juventus wasn’t the largest with Totalsportek claiming he picked up £1.75million (€2million) a season. But that figure could well have jumped up to facilitate the Arsenal move, especially as it will very likely be the last contract of Lichtsteiner’s career and he’s (at least on the surface) saving the club a small fortune in transfer fees.
Arsenal showed a willingness to break their wage structure when they handed Mesut Ozil a new contract earlier this year, but this isn’t a superstar of the first team we’re talking about. Lichtsteiner will be a squad player at best, rotating with Bellerin and playing in the cup competitions, so it becomes a question of how much Arsenal really think that kind of service is worth.
After all, it will affect their capacity to meet the wage demands of other targets they may have in mind this summer and perhaps more worryingly, it could raise the monetary expectations of the rest of the squad too. With Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere’s contracts expiring either this summer or the next, if it becomes apparent he’s on a big deal that could seriously hamper those negotiations.
The Welshman has already been offered a substantial improvement on his current terms but The Telegraph suggest it’s still on the modest side compared to the rest of the market. Should it emerge Lichsteiner is on handsome money, Ramsey will inevitably start to feel like he’s being short-changed.