Alex Iwobi, Mohamed Elneny giving Arsene Wenger pause for thought
The expectation among Arsenal fans is that manager Arsene Wenger will still make some major additions in the current transfer window. However, the performances of Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny in the Community Shield on Sunday -- and, in fact, through the entire preseason -- have given the Gunners' boss plenty to consider before making his next swoop.
Thus far, Arsenal have acquired only Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac, and although the former cost a club-record fee, it's believed the Gunners still have plenty left in the budget. The transfer market is relatively quiet on the eve of the Premier League season but is expected to burst into life in the final few weeks of the window in August. Having kept some powder dry, Wenger has the potential to be part of the forthcoming frenzy.
A deep-lying midfield player and a creative force are the two positions seemingly on his agenda, and the Ligue 1 pair of Jean Seri and Thomas Lemar have been the names most commonly linked with those berths. However, Elneny and Iwobi have both performed so well throughout the summer that Wenger must be wondering if he needs those signings after all.
The case of Elneny is an interesting one. Prior to the clash with Chelsea at Wembley, he spent most of the season as an emergency centre-half. Wenger has admitted he does not see Elneny's long-term future in central defence. Perhaps, besides simply making up the numbers, the idea was to try to toughen the Egyptian up. While defensively diligent, he has previously lacked aerial ability and aggression in the challenge. Both those attributes seemed markedly improved against Chelsea in the season's Community Shield curtain raiser, which Arsenal won on penalty kicks.
Elneny was everywhere, his tireless running a neat complement to Granit Xhaka's more measured approach. Elneny is the very definition of a box-to-box midfielder -- he regularly covers more ground than any other Arsenal player. It's also telling that, perhaps as a consequence of their respective time with Basel, Elneny and Xhaka seem to have struck up a good relationship both on and off the pitch.
If Arsenal were able to persuade Monaco to sell Lemar -- and this summer's activity suggests the principality club will sell pretty much anyone for the right price -- he presumably would find himself in direct competition with Iwobi. Some have suggested that Wenger could look to convert Lemar into a box-to-box midfielder, but that process would take time and holds few guarantees. For the time being, he is a wide creative player who can occasionally be repurposed in the centre. That's exactly the same slot Iwobi fills in the Arsenal squad.
The pursuit of Lemar seems to be a nod to the fact that Arsenal could lose two of their creators-in-chief, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, in just 12 months' time. Signing Lemar now would afford him a year to adapt before taking up the reigns as Arsenal's primary playmaker for 2018-19.
However, it's possible that a new signing -- especially one with such a big price tag -- could stunt Iwobi's progress. Both players are the same age, and Iwobi's preseason performances suggest he could be on the verge of a major breakthrough.
There is so much to admire about the way he plays the game. His touch is immaculate, and his vision remarkable for one so young. The greatest compliment to Iwobi is the frequency with which the likes of Ozil and Alexis trust him with the ball. Arsenal's best players recognise the youngster's quality.
Right now, Arsenal simply have too many players to contemplate bringing anyone else in. Only once the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Lucas Perez and Carl Jenkinson have been shipped out will there be room for additions.
When Arsenal have completed the requisite sales, Wenger's mind will once again turn to recruitment. Before plunging into the market, he must consider the cases Elneny and Iwobi have mounted for first-team involvement. Are they destined to remain "nearly men" or could this be the year they step up and become key men at the Emirates Stadium?
Arsenal fans would doubtless like to see the squad strengthened, but knowing Wenger, and his preference for "international solutions," it's possible he may soon be declaring the chequebook closed for good.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.