Firstly, apologies for the long gap between episodes one and two. They should be arriving much more frequently after this.
Before dealing with transfer incomings, I had to assess what I already had to work with. What are the areas of the squad that need work, and who are players who might be disposable? While I have my own ideas about what Arsenal need to be doing in real life, the football manager database can mean the need the different solutions. For example, while Petr Cech has just come off a poor season in the real world, in my squad he remains a more than competent enough goalkeeper. Similarly, in the save Laurent Koscielny’s achilles is still in one working piece, and he is a standout centre back in the Premier League. Both these make my job considerably easier. Acquiring a new goalkeeper can be put off for a year, and I have a senior CB I can rely on for the next 12 months. It feels somewhat like cheating when such a scenario seems so far from reality right now, but I don’t exactly feel like hamstringing myself from this position either.
In another case of something feeling much easier than it should’ve been, I managed to extend Wilshere and Ramsey at little financial cost and with minimal hassle. Wilshere’s renewal was at his current weekly wage of £90k, and Ramsey’s was at a small rise to £135k. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to use both of them, but figured it was the sensible move to tie them down and decide their futures later.
With even Mustafi looking serviceable, I opted to sell Chambers for £17m to West Ham. It was a straight shootout between he, Mustafi and Holding, and the other two looked better. This would create enough space for at least one CB.
Given I’m planning on using a two striker system, one person I thought could have use would be Lucas Perez. His stats suggest he could be a better option than Welbeck if one of the two main strikers are out. Another interesting one is Santi Cazorla. On this save his contract runs till 2019 for some reason – I think it’s probably because of my start date being so late, but it didn’t do the same thing for Wilshere – and if he can be useful in any way that would be a bonus.
When it comes to transfers in, I wanted to primarily target players under 26. With the likes of Özill, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Koscielny, Ramsey and Monreal, there are plenty of players in the squad who are 27 are older. As alluded to in the previous episode, I wanted to use the transfer window to help reduce the average age of the squad.
I managed to make a couple of early teenage signings. Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, a versatile and technical central midfielder, and Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt, a ball playing centre back. While de Ligt would slot straight into the startling XI, Aouar would more likely be a rotation option at first. Both have the potential to be quality starting XI players in the future, however.
As I mentioned last time, on the attacking front I wanted to focus on wide players. While Mkhitaryan and Iwobi could play in wide roles, both are more playmakers than direct, fast wingers, so I wanted to focus on players who were quick, could dribble and had good off ball movement. My preferences were Watford’s Richarlison or Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey, but both proved to be too expensive. I had a budget, pre-sales, of around £75m and I was unable to negotiate either player to under £60m. Instead I went back to Lyon and went for one of my personal favourites, Memphis Depay, for a reasonably modest fee of £20m.
I wanted to try and make a star central midfield signing, but like with the wide forwards, attaining my top targets proved difficult given our budget and and the club’s current position. I had a bid for Matteo Kovacic accepted, but he refused to even enter contract negotiations because we weren’t in the Champions League. Others such as Piotr Zielinski and Marcelo Brozovic simply proved too expensive. Instead of making a big signing in the position, I instead opted to compliment the earlier signing of Aouar with Leander Dendoncker, a powerful destroyer who offers something completely different to the rest of my squad. He can also fill in at CB which is useful.
Instead my next big signing turned out to be another wide forward, with the Mexican Hirving Lozano coming in from PSV, ironically Memphis’ old stomping ground. He looks to already be starting quality, with plenty of time to grow into a superstar.
While I’m reasonably happy with my business, the squad has become quite bloated. Not unusually for me, I struggled to offload players. I looked to see if there was interest for Elneny, Wilshere, Ramsey and Welbeck, but found worthwhile bids hard to come by. In the end I bottled selling Elneny for £14m to a Chinese Super League club. While he could be useful the reality is there’s at least one midfielder too many at the moment.
I’ll be honest, I tend to find pre-seasons quite tedious. They can be quite appealing in theory. The idea of testing tactics and giving new and younger players opportunities is exciting on the face of it. But in reality, it’s hard to draw many meaningful conclusions from friendly games. The stakes aren’t there, the opposition is often lower standard, the player’s fitness is usually poor and the lineups picked are often scrambled together depending on who needs to gain match fitness.
Nonetheless, in the first season of a save, playing pre-season matches is extra important in order to build familiarity with your tactics of choice for the new season. I’m always taken aback by how unfamiliar teams often are initially with a lot of the instructions I give, especially given I usually try to maintain the philosophies and tactics of the clubs I’m managing to some extent. In this case Arsenal are apparently uncomfortable with a shorter passing style and find concepts such as retaining possession somewhat alien to them at this stage of the season. It’s odd to me, but there you go.
I played eight pre-season games in total. I don’t think giving summaries of them is that useful or interesting, but you can see the results and player stats for the games, sorted by minutes played, below.
The start of the Premier League season is just around the corner. Like in 17/18, the season begins at the Emirates on a Friday night, with West Ham coming to visit. After that Arsenal have a tough trip to Stamford Bridge, followed by a home match against Everton before the international break. We’ll see how we get on in episode three.