After signing Nicolas Pépé, Kieran Tierney and Dani Ceballos, the Gunners swooped for Chelsea outcast David Luiz in an £8million deal. It was seen as the cherry on top; an experienced Brazil international, serial winner and Premier League champion at a knockdown price. Paul Merson even called for him to be made captain.
But the 32-year-old has been an unmitigated disaster. So much so, Arsenal are prepared to cut their losses by signing another central defender this month, even though they have £27million William Saliba parked on loan at Saint-Étienne until the summer.
The Bayern Munich defender has endured a trying couple of years. Everyone remembers him being humiliated by Lionel Messi in the 2015 Champions League clash between Bayern and Barcelona. In fact, it’s arguable Boateng’s reputation has never quite recovered.
You might also recall the way he, along with Bayern team-mates Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels, was unceremoniously dumped from German national team duty by coach Joachim Löw in March last year, five years after winning the World Cup together.
It was a PR disaster of epic proportions for Löw, but none of the trio have exactly thrived since. Hummels left Die Roten in the summer to return to Borussia Dortmund while there were widespread reports Müller would also exit. Boateng has only stuck around because of the defensive crisis at the Allianz Arena.
But, according to Sky in Germany, Bayern are happy to let Boateng leave for as little at £12.8million this January. The 31-year-old, who previously played in England with Manchester City, is keen to leave Bavaria having made just eight league starts this term.
The Gunners had been heavily linked with another centre-back plying his trade in the Bundesliga: RB Leipzig‘s Dayot Upamecano. At 21, the Frenchman would be a far better long-term investment. But Arsenal simply cannot meet RB’s £70million asking price for the commanding defender.
So a cheap stop-gap option it is. And if that’s the market new Gunners manager Mikel Arteta is being forced to shop in, he could do a lot worse than Boateng. As well as boasting a plethora of top-level experience with Bayern and Germany – the kind this rudderless, spineless Arsenal side is crying out for – he is a cool, calm and composed customer.
A tough tackler who reads the game well, Boateng is good on the ball and has an impressive passing range, making him the ideal centre-back to play out from the back and start attacks for the North Londoners.
Despite making just 20 Bundesliga appearances last season, Boateng ranked third among centre-backs in Germany’s top-flight for passes attempted (84.74 per 90) and completed (75.38 per 90). He sat top of the standings for long passes attempted (12.06) and fifth for forward passes (31), underlining his range of distribution.
Even this term, when he has featured sparingly, Boateng is still among the Bundesliga’s best ball-playing defenders, completing 75.4 passes per 90 (5th) and attempting 85.39 (4th). Of those, 26.87 go forward (12th) and 10.9 (5th) are deemed long passes.
Signing Boateng would not be without its risks, though. The perception is that injuries have hampered him in recent years and, while he has suffered, the former Hamburg stopper was never ruled out for more than four days last term, per Transfermarkt data.
There have been questions, too, about Boateng’s lifestyle and off-field interests. Something of a philanthropist, with interests in music, fashion and charity as well, Boateng is regularly seen rubbing shoulders with stars from other spheres and is often abroad.
That would be fine if his performance levels remained unaffected. But that hasn’t always been the case. In 2016, following an error-stricken display for Bayern against FC Rostov in the Champions League, Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was critical of the defender, saying: “It would be in the interests of him and the club if he came back down to earth a little.”
Boateng responded by telling BILD: “The criticism of my performance is justified. I did not play well. This is partially because of my injury from the Euros and that I’m not yet fully 100 per cent.
“The reason for this is not PR or anything from my lifestyle. Who knows me knows that I always do everything to be in top form.”
If Arsenal can get Boateng fully fit and back to top form, he could be exactly the player they hoped they were getting when they signed Luiz. Better late than never.