Last Thursday the transfer window didn’t so much slam shut, as is tabloid tradition, but more close with something of a whimper. Teams surely had one eye on the imminent Financial Fair Play regulations after a quiet deadline day, and January in general. Fans of clubs were left somewhat underwhelmed, but surely none more so than those at Arsenal.
Throughout the month of January, manager Arsene Wenger had outlined the need for additions to a squad that it would be fair to say hasn’t delivered so far this season. There have been glimpses of excellence in emphatic victories over Tottenham, Reading, Southampton, Newcastle and West Ham, but often the Gunners have flattered to deceive. The front four of Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are finally beginning to click but beyond that, there is little to lift the overwhelming sense of gloom.
Arsenal were strongly linked with Barcelona striker David Villa but a deal failed to materialise. Naturally, this was a prospect that whet the ever starving-appetites of the fans, but the majority were not necessarily asking for a marquee signing, as refreshing and potentially inspiring as that would have been. The lack of backup in the forward department was blatant, and frankly, any striker remotely worth his salt would have done. Take Demba Ba for instance; a proven Premier League goalscorer available at a very reasonable price. Why did Arsenal not pull out all the stops to bring in someone like him? He’s not world class by any stretch of the imagination but is undoubtedly a good player and would have added a lot to the squad. It would have allowed the manager to rotate and use both him and Giroud equally depending on the opposition, perhaps.
By failing to bring in another striker, the Gunners are now especially reliant on Giroud; a player who, as much as he has come on in recent weeks, still has his flaws and has only been at the club since July. Putting such immense pressure on a player still adapting to a new league and a new country does nobody any favours. Arsenal are still competing on three fronts and will probably need the Frenchman in all of them, and thus run the serious risk of overplaying him. What happens when he inevitably gets injured? The options the club have in reserve range from slim to non-existent. Podolski, Gervinho and Walcott can play through the middle but when they have done so, have all struggled against packed, deep-lying defences; there is no effective alternative to Giroud and what he brings to the team.
Arsenal did bring in Spanish full-back Nacho Monreal from Malaga on deadline day, 24 hours after first-choice left-back Kieran Gibbs got injured against Liverpool. This clearly shows that the club are able to do deals quickly, so why did they not demonstrate the same level of urgency to bring in a striker? The lack of action in the window is already threatening to come back to haunt them in other areas following Laurent Koscienly’s injury picked up on international duty. With Thomas Vermaelen also struggling for fitness, Sebastien Squillaci, who has been banished to near-anonymity in the last 18 months, may be set for a recall to partner Per Mertesacker at the heart of the defence. Lest we forget, the Gunners had Johan Djourou on their books at the start of the month as well, but bizarrely decided to loan him out to German side Hannover. The mind boggles when trying to comprehend how the club can justify actually weakening a squad that so desperately needed strengthening.
The first-choice XI Arsenal have at their disposal is actually very good, perhaps better than given credit for. But anyone who thinks they can rely on the same eleven players in every game is, frankly, deluded. The lack of depth means the aforementioned likes of Giroud and Jack Wilshere, who should surely be under strict care having only recently returned from a lengthy absence, will be overplayed and therefore run the risk of picking up injuries. It’s a horrifically vicious circle but, infuriatingly, one that could have been avoided with better business in January. Two or three players that would have added strength to the squad could well prove to be the difference between Arsenal winning the FA Cup and having to sacrifice it as they so often do because of a hectic fixture schedule. Likewise, it may be the difference between finishing 4th and 5th.
Arsenal can and probably will finish in the top four once again, but only because Tottenham look equally thin and are somewhat notorious for fading towards the end of the season. But how long can the club gamble on Spurs being inferior? If changes are not implemented sooner rather than later, they will be overtaken and there’s no reason why they won’t follow a similar demise to that of Liverpool.