As departures go, it couldn’t have been more pronounced.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is everything that an Arsenal player hasn’t been for the past decade: proven, experienced and with his best years behind him.
When news broke of his arrival, the Gunners’ famously-fickle fans lived up to their image.
“An awful signing,” railed one account on social media.
“Finished,” said another.
The hot takes couldn’t have been more wrong. Lichsteiner is an excellent signing for several reasons.
Firstly, for the sheer wealth of winning experience he has accrued.
A key part of a revitalised Lazio side in the mid-2000s, he made the move to Juventus in 2011, remaining a key part of the team under Antonio Conte and Max Allegri.
Capable in both the wing-back and full-back positions, the 34-year-old showed all the tenacity and stamina one would expect in a top-level competitor.
He might not have always been a starter, but his performances were rivetingly consistent as the club set about winning the Serie A year after year.
Already, he has won more league titles than most of the Arsenal squad. Having competed in several winning teams, he knows more than anyone else at London Colney what it takes to garner success and sustain it.
Competition at right back
At 34, of course, it’s unlikely that Lichtsteiner will be a regular starter. What he will offer, however, is a studious alternative to Hector Bellerin.
The Spaniard lost form regularly in the last campaign, but his place in the lineup was barely threatened in a squad that lacked a true rival.
The Swiss will force Bellerin to up his game, but it will also give the club a more reliable option in defence.
This will be particularly crucial in games against elite opponents. On more than one occasion, Bellerin’s lack of positional awareness left his teammates criminally exposed (see Diego Costa’s goal in the Europa League semi-final for proof).
A political move
Lichtsteiner’s capture is astutely political.
Unai Emery knows full well the scale of the task waiting for him, following on from Arsene Wenger’s legend in North London. This move signifies his willingness to depart from the familiar, to place a marker down.
On the one hand, you could say that he is simply being pragmatic, addressing one of the team’s most obvious weaknesses.
On the other, however, you could say that he is making a statement. The age of unproven and inconsistent talents, where sell-on value was as important a factor as any immediate sporting benefit, appears finally to be over.
“Happy and honoured to be a Gunner,” Lichtsteiner announced on Twitter on Tuesday. “Will work hard and passionately day in and day out to achieve our sporting objectives and to win trophies with this great club.”
Time will tell whether his wish comes to fruition. Those fans who are lambasting his arrival would do well to hold their tongues. This could be the start of brave new era in North London.
Do you think Stephan Lichtsteiner will be a success? Let us know by commenting below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?