Arsenal completed a deal for Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner on Tuesday afternoon. The 34-year-old will join on a free transfer when his contract at Juve comes to an end later this month.
The Gunners finally have credible back-up to Hector Bellerin next season, but is anybody fooled into thinking he’ll be challenging for a place in the starting lineup?
Unai Emery’s comments on the Juventus defender may have revealed a lot about his role for next season. He said: “Stephan brings huge experience and leadership to our squad. He’s a player with great quality with a very positive and determined attitude. Stephan will improve us on and off the pitch.”
It’s clear the Swiss international’s experience and maturity are what Arsenal have been lacking at the back. He’ll be an influence from the sidelines rather than by playing alongside them. Hector Bellerin is expected to be first-choice at right-back next season, but he could benefit from competition to keep him on his toes, as well as having an old head mentoring him.
After being named in the 2016 PFA Team of the Year, the Spaniard has struggled to maintain such high levels of performances. A lack of cover in defence saw the 23-year-old rack up 47 appearances in all competitions last season, but Lichtsteiner should chip away at that total in 2018/19.
Arsenal have long been criticised for not having enough leaders in the team, so Lichtsteiner’s arrival will be important. He’s the captain for Switzerland and has won more trophies than most of the squad combined and won’t accept below-par efforts from his new teammates.
While a talented player who has won seven Serie A titles and four Coppa Italias with the Old Lady, Lichtsteiner isn’t getting any younger. He regards himself as: “A right back who likes to attack, but I also know when it’s time to attack and when you need to stay behind. I have to put a balance between defence and attack.”
But a 34-year-old playing right-back in the Premier League could get run ragged if his fitness levels aren’t up to scratch. Lichtsteiner is a quintessential wing-back who likes to get forward and is seldom caught high up the pitch, but he had to be managed by Juventus last season to avoid burnout.
The defender didn’t play in the Champions League until the knockout round and was left on the bench in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg and final. In the Serie A last season, Lichtsteiner was substituted on and substituted off in 20 of his 27 appearances.
He was left on the bench on seven occasions, with new-boy Mattia De Sciglio getting the nod at right-back and may have to be managed in a similar fashion by Emery if he’s to last the season at Arsenal. Lichtsteiner will be brilliant back-up to Bellerin and could feature in cup competitions and Europe to afford Bellerin a rest, but it could be a gamble giving him too much gametime.