Marquee signings could be solutions, problems for EPL powers
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — It was the obvious question, and a fairly unconvincing answer.
Just how was Arsene Wenger planning to fit newcomers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan into an Arsenal attack already containing previous club-record signings Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette?
“It’s always possible,” Wenger said on Friday, with a furrowed brow. “Will I do it? Maybe. I don’t know.”
Wenger is not the only Premier League manager facing a big dilemma following a record-breaking winter transfer window in English soccer.
At Manchester United, how will the arrival of Alexis Sanchez impact on other members of Jose Mourinho’s forward line — notably Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and, behind them, Paul Pogba? United’s display in the 2-0 loss at Tottenham on Wednesday hinted at potential teething problems.
At Manchester City, what does the club-record signing of French center back Aymeric Laporte mean for the future of John Stones and Vincent Kompany?
Squad depth has never been more important to the big teams in England, who are attempting to balance success in Europe with bids for silverware in the grueling Premier League as well as the two domestic cup competitions. Injuries, suspensions, and loss of form can strike at any time.
Still, the ripple effect of the high-profile signings of the January window might prove to be as fascinating as the transfers themselves.
Lacazette might be the big loser following a busy last few days of the transfer window at Arsenal.
The France international joined for 60 million euros ($68 million) in July and replaced Olivier Giroud as the first-choice striker. Nine goals in 28 games in all competitions has been a mediocre return, though, with only one coming in his last 12 games.
Wenger rarely starts with two players up front, so Lacazette’s place is in jeopardy following the arrival of Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for a club-record $80 million. Lacazette could play on the right of a three behind Aubameyang, also comprising Ozil and Mkhitaryan, but that wouldn’t be his best position.
Similarly, will assist kings Mkhitaryan and Ozil prove to be too alike, both being lightweight No. 10s?
Wenger said Mkhitaryan will make his first start for Arsenal in the home league match against Everton on Saturday, but Aubameyang has had a fever in recent days and may be only on the bench.
It remains to be seen if Wenger unleashes his version of the Fab Four the following week, in north London against Tottenham.
Martial and Lingard have been two of the success stories at United this season, scoring 23 goals between them and establishing themselves as regular starters in recent months.
The signing of Sanchez could change all that.
Sanchez started on the left wing — where Martial has been playing — on his league debut for United in the loss to Tottenham. Martial shifted to the right and Lingard kept his place between them.
All three players like to get their heads down and run with the ball, so maybe there is a lack of creativity in those attacking positions behind Romelu Lukaku. The less explosive Juan Mata offers just that, but who would he replace?
Meanwhile, where does this leave Marcus Rashford? The 20-year-old forward has mostly been rotating with Martial for starts on the left wing, having seen his chances of playing up front limited because of Lukaku.
Another player impacted is Pogba, who might have to settle for playing in a central-midfield two alongside Nemanja Matic. Doubts remain over whether he is disciplined enough to play there especially in the big games, with the France star preferring a more attacking role in midfield.
Pogba was taken off after 62 minutes against Tottenham, soon after receiving instructions from a stern-looking Mourinho.
United hosts Huddersfield on Saturday.
Laporte slotted in seamlessly to City’s defense for the 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday, making his debut a day after completing his move from Athletic Bilbao for a club-record $80 million.
He was drafted in quicker than expected because Stones was taken ill. It might be difficult for Stones to get his place back.
Laporte is the only left-footed center back of the four at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. Even though he is a long-term prospect, he appears good enough to play in the short term, too.
Nicolas Otamendi has been very reliable — Guardiola recently gave him the nickname “Superman” because of his influence — and looks to be the first-choice pick.
Kompany, the club captain and a City stalwart since 2008, appears to be fourth choice now and continues to be regularly hit be injuries.
Stones, an England international who cost 47.5 million pounds in 2016, has made errors leading to four goals since returning from injury at the start of January.
If Laporte keeps his place this weekend, he’ll receive an education in English soccer: City plays away on Saturday to Burnley, one of the Premier League’s more hard-running and physical opponents.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80