Arsene Wenger has passed safely through the summer transfer window having strengthened his Arsenal side in the prime positions required, and fans are generally satisfied with business at the Emirates.
Panic had gripped the Gunners faithful when Takuma Asano and Rob Holding were the sole signings that followed Granit Xhaka’s arrival in May, but Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez have since arrived, throwing Arsenal firmly into contention for the title.
The question is, how does their transfer activity this summer measure up to their rivals for that precious trophy?
Who did they need?
Where to begin with the Gunners? Despite finishing second in 2015-16, Arsene Wenger’s outfit were crying out for players in various positions.
Matthieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta had departed leaving Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny as the sole players to protect the defence.
Per Mertesacker, the usual partner for Laurent Koscielny at the back, was injury-prone, and Gabriel had not yet settled into the Premier League as seamlessly as initially hoped.
Elsewhere, Olivier Giroud’s inability to maintain a long-term consistency to his game had Gunners fans crying out for a partner for the Frenchman in the forward department, whilst Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided lacklustre options on the right flank.
Wenger had previously hinted that Alexis Sanchez could lead the line, which worried Arsenal fans as that left them with no creative spark on the left wing, where Sanchez is much more effective.
Who did they sign?
Granit Xhaka was the first to arrive from Borussia Monchengladbach for £34 million.
Like United’s signing of Bailly, supporters had expected the Swiss international’s arrival to be a benchmark for the rest of the summer and an example of the calibre of player the club were looking for in the market.
Then Takuma Asano arrived.
Naturally, Gunners fans were sent into disarray. After a month of being linked with the likes of Mauro Icardi, Alexandre Lacazette, Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Morata, here came an unknown Japanese forward from Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Rob Holding’s £2 million transfer from Bolton took weeks to process and even upon announcement, there was still outrage. Where was the players needed to mount another attempt to win the Premier League? Or was there any ambition at all from the club?
Fingers were pointed and threats were issued as fans accused Arsenal of only being interested in financial profit.
Eventually, rumours associating the London outfit with Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi appeared to have some substance to them.
In typical Arsenal fashion, even when Sky reported that terms had been agreed the transfer collapsed over a difference in opinion over Mustafi’s valuation.
The £35 million transfer did take place after some time, alongside the £17.1 million capture of Deportivo’s versatile attacker Lucas Perez.
At the start of the summer, fans would have been rioting outside the Emirates if they knew that Lucas Perez would be the their only signing in the forward department, but after a stressful summer it’s likely there will not be many complaining.
There were a number who believed that Theo Walcott should have been sold instead of the talented Serge Gnabry, who departed for a mere €5 million to Bundesliga side Werder Bremen with no sell-on clause attached.
Riyad Mahrez was also not convinced by Arsenal’s attempts to prove that they were a better club for the Algerian than Leicester, and despite his poor season start the wide man would have strengthened the Gunners to no end on the right flank.
Perhaps a new forward is still needed, but Arsenal leave the transfer window feeling quite satisfied.
Transfer window rating: 8/10
Arsene Wenger is still unable to lure world class players to Arsenal for the most part, but he has made moves in positions that his team desperately needed, and has been willing to break the bank to do so.
A solid window, but a title challenge does seem like a big ask.
What did they need?
Jose Mourinho and United merged as one at the start of July, and it was a perfect match. The club were still suffering from the Moyes era – van Gaal certainly could not restore parity to the team to the effect that Guus Hiddink had done for Chelsea – and Mourinho’s pride had been severely damaged following a disastrous season with the Blues.
For a club that has vast financial resources, one would imagine that being its manager is an easy task. Throw money to quicken a transfer entanglement and the player is yours, and fits automatically into the starting eleven, correct?
The same logic is used for simple-minded fans who believe that they could have revolutionised Barcelona in a similar fashion to Pep Guardiola. Nonsense. Having an enormous financial vessel to wield is all well and good, but there are so many factors to consider before making acquisitions.
There were several problem areas for the team upon Mourinho’s arrival. To begin with, Wayne Rooney’s deployment as a deep-lying midfielder just was not working, and it was set straight immediately.
It was evident competition for places was needed at centre-back so defensive reinforcements were a must, whilst the spine of the team was weak in midfield.
In addition, a supreme quality forward was desperately craved despite the promising performances of young Marcus Rashford.
Who did they sign?
Eric Bailly was the first to arrive in early July from Villareal, and the Ivory Coast international become the instigator for a whole host of incredible transfers for the Red Devils.
In a job completed skilfully and efficiently, Mourinho identified four main targets who would add considerable strength and flair to his new look Manchester United side.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival had been one of the summer’s most talked about moves prior to his signing in one of three deals that included drawn-out and exhausting negotiations.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan eventually followed in what was a bargain £26.3 million deal for the Armenian attacker, before the summer’s most pain-stakingly long move in living memory occurred.
Paul Pogba finally left the Juventus Stadium, seemingly dragging his heels as he did so such was the nature of the deal, and became a Manchester United player for the second time.
The Turin giants may have made a £89 million profit, but Pogba is without a doubt of one of the world’s most promising talents with astronomical ability.
United were amongst the biggest spenders in the Premier League, but they had a terrific window.
There was very few issues with United’s transfer activity, but what Mourinho will be irritated with is a number of failed exits from the club.
Bastian Schweinsteiger has continued his stubborn will to train with reserves and watch the first-team from the stands following an emotional goodbye to the German national team last night.
Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones have also failed to find new clubs despite links to Valencia and Stoke respectively.
It it not viewed as a negative for Mourinho, quite the opposite, but fans may feel that a large number of promising youngsters have effectively been kicked out without a moment’s hesitation.
True, it seems that the manager has long-term plans for Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Andreas Pereira, but the sale of Tyler Blackett and Will Keane, as well as the loan of James Wilson, has hinted that there is no place for young prodigies in Mourinho’s set-up.
Transfer window rating: 9/10
United look like a team fully equipped to be title challengers, with strength in depth on display throughout the team and a rediscovered hunger and spirit evident within.
Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini look like different players under Mourinho, which is a sign of the healthy mentality at the club.
Who did they need?
Manuel Pellegrini’s last season at the Etihad was torpedoed by the January announcement that Pep Guardiola would replace the Chilean, as well the distracting nature of a run in the Champions League which crippled the Citizens’ league form.
The excitement usually associated with the club’s attacking display was rapidly declining, and the performances of Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure were dull and uninspiring.
Reinvigoration was needed across the board, with Joe Hart facing no immediate threat in terms of competition.|
Vincent Kompany’s constant injury issues alongside the diabolical performances of unreliable pair Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis clearly indicated that a new centre-back was an essential requirement.
Sterling and Toure’s showings meant that midfielders and wide men that would progress rather than regress the club were also demanded by supporters.
Who did they sign?
City were far and away the biggest spenders in the Premier League despite their rivals’ splurge on Pogba. A total of £189 million was handed to various clubs as ordered by Pep Guardiola in exchange for various stars, chief among them, in transfer fee anyhow, John Stones from Everton.
£47.5 million entered the Toffees’ bank account in order to acquire the Englishman, leaving many shaking their heads in disbelief, but Stones is the quintessential ‘Pep player’.
The ex-Barnsley defender is someone who loves to play with the ball at his feet, and whilst this has gotten him into more trouble than some believe it’s worth, Guardiola can transform the player into one of Europe’s finest players with the right application.
Ilkay Gündogan, Borussia Dortmund’s much-loved but injury-prone midfielder, has also joined for £21 million, as well as the highly sought-after Palmeiras star Gabriel Jesus for £27 million.
Nolito attracted the attention of City after a fine European Championship campaign with Spain, being captured from Celta Vigo for £13.8 million, whilst Claudio Bravo’s departure from Barcelona to continue his football under Guardiola signalled the end of Joe Hart’s time with the club.
Marlos Moreno, Aaron Mooy and Oleksandr Zinchenko were low profile squad additions, but the signing of precocious Schalke star Leroy Sane has delighted supporters.
Guardiola has also wasted no time in removing players who he feels will not benefit the team, with a quintet of stars temporarily leaving the Etihad on transfer deadline day.
Along with Hart’s move to Torino, Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala departed for La Liga and Wilfred Bony moved to Stoke.
Bruno Zuculini has also joined Rayo Vallecano in what should be a beneficial season-long loan.
Despite the overwhelming number of quality additions and the recruitment of a world class goalkeeper in Claudio Bravo, fans have a bone to pick with Guardiola over his treatment of Hart.
It is especially felt if Hart had been alerted about the fact that he did not feature in his new manager’s plans for the upcoming campaign sooner, he would have been able to engineer himself a move to a more esteemed club than Torino, with no disrespect intended to the Serie A side.
Yaya Toure also remains, but should be rectified in a number of months.
Transfer window rating: 9/10.
A fine summer for City under the guidance of a boss who was determined to put his own unique stamp on the team. One of the biggest positives to come from the early weeks of the season is the fine performances of Raheem Sterling, who Guardiola adores.
Similar to his bitter rival Jose Mourinho, Guardiola knows how the get the best out of his players, which is an enormously key attribute to title winning teams.
Who did they need?
Guus Hiddink had been drafted in for a second time by Roman Abrahimovich to steady the ship so to speak at Stamford Bridge after Mourinho’s quite frankly horrific tenure in charge last season.
Gary Cahill and John Terry were an ageing centre-back pairing and Kurt Zouma’s long-term injury meant that Antonio Conte had no qualms about what position his new outfit needed reinforcements in.
Elsewhere, Nemanja Matic looked suspect at times throughout 2015/16 so the acquisition of a player that would provide a shield for Chelsea’s defenders was also integral.
The signing of a forward was not so important, though if Diego Costa exited the club in favour of a return to Atletico Madrid, that would certainly have changed.
Conte trusted Eden Hazard to come back firing on all cylinders after a disastrous season for the Belgian, and the club’s many, many options further in midfield compensated for a lack of signings in that department.
Who did they sign?
Chelsea saved their most surprising deals for deadline day, wrapping up moves for Fiorentina’s Marcos Alonso and Paris Saint Germain’s David Luiz, but have absolutely strengthened in the right areas.
Michy Batshuayi become the first signing of the Antonio Conte era and has looked wonderful so far, on and off the pitch (the Belgian’s social media game is among the very best).
N’Golo Kante was also a crucial newcomer, with an incredible ability to cut out multiple attacks and distribute the ball with alarmingly accuracy.
Eduardo also provides suitable cover for Thibaut Courtois after the Blues swooped to sign the 33-year-old Euro 2016 winner from Dinamo Zagreb.
The recruitment of Alonso will also allow Cesar Azpilicueta to operate at right-back once more, pushing the unpopular Branislav Ivanovic out of the side.
It’s very difficult to think of more than a few, and even then they are small issues.
Conte probably could have found a better alternative to David Luiz but the Brazilian can be sensational when he wants to be.
In addition, the club have just sent their 38th player out on loan, with a small army of youth players not being handed any opportunities to play in the first-team.
Transfer window rating: 8.5/10.
Chelsea did very little wrong during this window, but they simply have not the means to have as formidable a squad as the likes of the two superpowers in Manchester just yet.
It’s going to be an all-out battle between the two Manchester clubs for the title, with Arsenal and Chelsea vying for a place in third.
And with the Manchester derby awaiting us following the international break, it should set the tone for what will be an incredible race.
Callum Connolly, Pundit Arena.
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