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FC’s Paul Mariner sifts through all the latest rumours surrounding Paul Pogba, Luka Modric, Ousmane Dembele and many more in Rumour Rater.
Former Arsenal player Paul Mariner assesses the various reactions to the news of Stan Kroenke’s possible takeover of Arsenal’s ownership.

There could have been more symbolic ways of marking the end of Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign at Arsenal. Burning the coat with the faulty zipper, for instance, or banning broccoli from the Emirates Stadium. Maybe signing Andy Carroll or inviting Tony Pulis to become their next manager. But in the absence of such extreme measures, Wenger’s successor, Unai Emery — along with head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, and head of football relations, Raul Sanllehi — nevertheless managed to signal a definitive break with the past.

Arsenal’s summer business is notable for the addition of four major defensive-minded players, plus the young French midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, but nobody notable in attack.

The club of George Graham’s famous back four can be defined by quartets. Now Emery has a new four, a group to sum up the new Arsenal: goalkeeper Bernd Leno, right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos and defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira.

Lichtsteiner will probably understudy Hector Bellerin. There is a possibility Leno will begin on the bench, too, though there is little doubt he is recruited to replace Petr Cech. Papastathopoulos is an unashamedly pragmatic signing, a stopper bought at 30 years old rather than a futuristic punt like Rob Holding or Calum Chambers.

Most symbolically, Torreira is the first proper defensive midfielder to arrive as an immediate first-team option since Mathieu Flamini rejoined the club in 2013, and the first to command a fee since Lassana Diarra in 2007. (Granit Xhaka, who described himself as a “fake 10,” and the deep-lying playmaker, Mikel Arteta, represented more constructive players than the destructive Uruguay international.)

If the immediate intent was to remedy weaknesses, it also highlighted a radical shift in policy. Over those 22 years, Wenger never made four major defensive signings in a single summer. On the few occasions there were three they tended to include a youngster, such as Carl Jenkinson in 2011 or Chambers three years later. Sometimes there was the sense that Wenger rewarded himself for the dull duties of acquiring defenders by bringing in someone more exciting: Alexis Sanchez came along with Chambers in 2014 and Gervinho with Jenkinson three years earlier.

Emery’s approach has been altogether more austere. Arsenal have indulged themselves to get attackers in recent windows but this year’s shift in tack has both reflected the shortcomings in the side and an unsentimental rationalism. If there were times Wenger could seem obstinately illogical when refusing to sign a goalkeeper, centre-back or defensive midfielder, Emery has acquired all before playing a single competitive game.

The prices are altogether lower but the policy may have been borrowed from Sunday’s opponents. Pep Guardiola’s influence could be rubbing off. Manchester City bought a goalkeeper and three full-backs last summer followed by a centre-back, Aymeric Laporte, in January. Defence proved the best way of attacking a season.

Arsenal's new look is part of a club-wide shift to move away from Arsene Wenger both on and off the pitch.
Arsenal’s new look is part of a club-wide shift to move away from Arsene Wenger both on and off the pitch.

It used to be an Arsenal tradition. Wenger rebranded a team known for unflashy solidity. Yet it is notable that even Graham, the architect of perhaps the most enduring and obdurate defence of the past few decades, didn’t import his famous rearguard in job lot or assemble them immediately in a decisive piece of recruitment. Tony Adams was already at the club when Graham was appointed in 1986. Nigel Winterburn arrived the following year, a left-footed player who spent much of his debut campaign at right-back. Lee Dixon and Steve Bould joined in 1988, David Seaman in 1990.

Now the positions of pivotal additions are different. If the move for Torreira shows the way defensive midfielders have assumed a greater importance when it comes to stopping goals going in, desperate times have called for a more drastic approach. Signings couldn’t be postponed.

The numbers showed the need for a revolution at the club encompassing structure, personnel and attitude. Arsenal conceded 51 league goals last season, their most since 1983-84. Yet the more pertinent comparisons are with their peers, not their past. That was only five fewer than relegated Swansea and only four more than the Manchester clubs let in between them.

Every element of Arsenal’s record has to improve. They let in at least three goals in eight league games; the two Manchester clubs did so only twice between them. Only three clubs conceded three in at least four different home league matches: West Ham, Huddersfield and Arsenal.

Their paltry total of four away clean sheets was fewer than Brighton and Southampton mustered and the same number as bottom club West Bromwich Albion. They let in 15 goals during the final half-hour of away games alone. If there used to be the notion that Arsenal were fallible at set-pieces, the more remarkable reality is that they were breached 36 times — or 14 more than Brighton — in open play.

Collective problems were compounded by individual mistakes. According to the division’s official statistics, Cech made the most errors leading to a Premier League goal last season: a ludicrous six. Xhaka was the joint leader for outfield players, with three, while Shkodran Mustafi was among a group bunched together on two.

It underlined the case for a new goalkeeper, defensive midfielder and centre-back. Emery has them now. It might not have happened under Wenger but it is both a neat and necessary way of showing that this is not Wenger’s Arsenal anymore.



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