The home stretch for the Premier League season is upon us. The last international break before the end of Europe’s top leagues traditionally marks the final sprint for players and coaches. Alongside the lead up to the final game, clubs and fans start to look towards players that could come and go over the course of the transfer window. Arsenal have quite a few players who will be out of contract this summer, and one such player who only recently signed with Arsenal last summer is up for grabs, Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Lichtsteiner joined Arsenal on a free transfer following his long and successful spell with Juventus. Unfortunately for Lichtsteiner, his tenure with Arsenal has not gone the way he may have predicted. Lichtsteiner has only played in twelve Premier League games this season, and would have most likely played less had Hector Bellerin not suffered a ruptured ACL. Of those twelve games, only seven times did he play in his natural right back position. Since Bellerin’s injury, Unai Emery has generally favored Ainsley Maitland-Niles due to the Enlighsman’s ability to fit into a pressing wing back role.
On many occasions throughout his appearances, Lichtsteiner would find himself struggling to keep up with the pace of the Premier League. His natural decline in pace made him a liability against the multitude of quick wingers. Emery’s desire to pressure the ball forces all ten players to exert a great deal of energy while being able to quickly create threatening situations in the attack. This Swiss right back is simply no longer able to handle this level of intensity on a weekly basis. Certainly some of Lichtsteiner’s struggles could be attributed to his acclimatization to a new league, but at the age of 35 it is unreasonable to expect him to adapt in the twilight of his career.
Stephan Lictsteiner was not only brought in to be an influence on the pitch, however. His incredible experience with playing among top talents in demanding situations was a welcomed addition to a squad that lacked such players with the exception of a few. Whether or not Lichtsteiner has been able to contribute to the squad in a leadership role is uncertain, but considering that Arsenal are still in a battle for the top four fails to indicate a negative impact.
Lichtsteiner was recently quoted as saying, “Arsenal is a big club, I feel very happy. But I want to play regularly with regard to the European Championships.”
Seeing as Emery has not routinely relied on Lichtsteiner goes to show that it might be best if both parties move on. The time that Lichtsteiner has spent at Arsenal should not be concluded as a failure by any stretch, but Arsenal need to recruit depth at right back with players that fit seamlessly into Emery’s style of play. Even if Emery does not employ a three back formation, a right back that plays similar to if not better than Bellerin is needed to fulfill the responsibilities required.
Arsenal would not relish the need to have to find another right back over the summer. Emery and the Arsenal coaches would also prefer to see Maitland-Niles play in his more natural position. If Lichtsteiner determines that he is okay with not receiving consistent first team soccer, Arsenal should consider signing him on to another year. However, when one takes into account Lichtsteiner’s recent comments, it suggests on the surface that Arsenal should prepare to look elsewhere.