Saturday, September 23, 2023

Window shopping

With Arsenal fixtures arriving at neat seven day intervals throughout January, and with gaps still to fill in a lopsided Arsenal squad, the January transfer window is likely to dominate discussion even more than it usually does. Whilst I think the window has taken on an overly phantasmagorical appearance in recent years, it’s reasonably obvious that Arsenal’s squad requires some surgery and I think it’s reasonably obvious which areas could do with a nip and a tuck.

With Podolski’s departure, Arsenal are left with 22 players submitted to the Premier League as their squad allocation. Without further departures, Arsenal have room for three non “home-grown” players. The wisdom of Podolski’s sale has been questioned, rather splenetically by some, with Arsene Wenger admitting that Yaya Sanogo is likely to go out on loan too. But I still do not expect Arsenal to scout any recruits in this area. Even with Walcott and Giroud (and Özil, who has played on the left) suffering long term injuries, Podolski managed 99 minutes in the Premier League in the first half of the season.

With Walcott, Özil and Giroud returning it’s unlikely that he’d have found minutes any easier to come by. Yaya Sanogo has only featured in 3 league fixtures this season, one of those outings a stoppage time substitute appearance in the defeat to Swansea. Maybe Arsenal should always anticipate the doomsday scenario of a huge injury crisis given recent history, but the manager seems content with Joel Campbell and Chuba Akpom as the tinned goods in the cupboard should Armageddon strike.

I think it’s more likely that the forward line will be revisited in the summer. Walcott and Joel Campbell will both have a year to run on their deals at that point and Podolski will almost certainly leave for good. Long term reparations will be sought you would imagine. I don’t think there is any need to address the goalkeeping situation in January either. Szczesny has come under fire after juggling with grenades at Southampton (and apparently commiserating the resulting flesh wounds with a crafty bert in the showers), but it’s difficult to think of too many other glaring errors from him this season.

He is still a very good goalkeeper (he did actually make a couple of good saves at Southampton despite his pair of errors for the Saints’ goals), even if, in truth, I was expecting him to be edging closer to ‘great goalkeeper’ status by now. As @yankeegunner pointed out on twitter, Szczesny has played 36 fewer top level games than de Gea and 11 fewer than Courtois, so he is hardly a lost cause and definitely not the one man calamity many would have you believe. The aforementioned keepers also developed and made their errors away from our eyes at Atletico Madrid.

At the back, Arsenal clearly need another body. They are screaming for a centre half so obviously, that they may as well field a back four of Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’, Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream, Wes Craven, the director of ‘Scream’ and a vinyl copy of Janet and Michael Jackson’s 1995 hit ‘Scream.’ I think we probably need somebody in the more bombastic Koscielny mould. Chambers is a little more ‘Per shaped’ in his defensive style. So far, Monreal has produced a passable facsimile of Koscielny at centre half, aided and abetted by his preference for the left side of the defence.

However, Monreal is still very much in competition with Gibbs for the left back role and I don’t think there is a unanimous verdict from the jury that says Monreal is doomed to lose that battle indefinitely. Personally, I would like to see a really strong purchase here to challenge the Mertescielny hegemony. But what you want and what is available on the market are separate matters, not least in the notoriously difficult January hinterland. This summer, Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona and, arguably, Chelsea needed a centre half.

United unsuccessfully bid for Thomas Vermaelen, who instead transferred to a GP in Barcelona. Chelsea decided to stick with Kurt Zouma as their 4th choice centre half. Given Mourinho’s track record with blooding young players, I think we can safely assume that Zouma was a reluctant choice. Liverpool spent £20m on Dejan Lovren. The market for centre halves is unlikely to be much more inviting this time around, which leaves Arsene Wenger with something of a quandary.

I’m to be convinced that Wenger overwhelmingly coveted Danny Welbeck, but he recognised that he needed some centre forward Polyfilla and that Welbeck would be able to do him a 7 out of 10 job at a reasonable price. The question is whether Wenger repeats this make do and mend approach when he shops for a centre half. Does he continue to wait for a truly top class option to become available? Or does he reason that needs must and grab at an obvious understudy that could go a bit Squilvestre? Eht’s a tightroap Spud, eht’s a fookin’ tightroap.

As for the midfield, now if only there was some kind of shorthand abbreviation for the exact type of midfielder that Arsenal require … I happen to think that Mikel Arteta has been a big miss for Arsenal this season. The DM™ lust that has infiltrated the fan base has caused his talents to be underplayed. That said, approaching his 33rd birthday, Arteta clearly needs replacing and you could argue we should consider upgrading on him in any case. His understudy, Mathieu Flamini, is also north of his 30th birthday and, let’s face it, hardly in the foremost bracket of defensive midfielders himself. Coquelin has acquitted himself well, but his touch is a little loose and we really ought to be thinking bigger.

Like it or not, Arsenal are a passing team. Arteta is incredibly good at encouraging Arsenal to establish and impose that style. The Gunners would require a player of a high technical level. Having a midfielder that cannot pass the ball would present a big problem for a Wenger side- as it would most top class teams in this day and age. The position has evolved rapidly over the last ten years or so, to the point that I think that you could argue that even past guardians of the role such as Gilberto Silva and Claude Makelele would be too limited to execute it at the top level now.

Whilst Arteta commits more tackles (and fouls) than you probably realise, I don’t think it’s remiss of me to suggest that the team could do with a more assertive physical presence here. (I too, dear reader, am biting my lip to try and prevent myself from screaming Nemanja Matic’s name). Given how harshly tackling is governed now, the battering ram many lust after is probably no longer viable. Patrick Vieira received 72 yellow cards and 8 red cards during his Gunners’ career and I think you would come close to doubling both totals in today’s more delicate, technical game.

Even so, Arsenal’s biggest enemy this season has been a lack of consistency in selection. It’s meant they have struggled for rhythm. The team needs to get better at finding a way to win games when the stars are not aligned for them and a more prominent physical base may go some way to achieving this. In an ideal world, Arsene would be able to procure a player capable of changing the pace of Arsenal’s play and switching the emphasis. Effectively, somebody that brings Chamberlain’s qualities, but from a deeper role.

Even on the rare occasions that they are given the opportunity, Arsenal don’t break very quickly anymore. A new defensive midfielder could go some way to amending this. Of course finding this kind of player is a different matter. When Javi Martinez’s cruciate ligament collapsed in August, Bayern Munich needed a similar sort of player and could only find 33 year old Xabi Alonso, which again, suggests that the market is hardly saturated with plump, juicy DM’s ripe for picking.

Whatever your impressions of Arsene’s ‘dithering’ on transfers, there are market based reasons for his inaction on most occasions. He doesn’t do it just to piss you off, as tempting as it is to believe that sometimes. That said, it’s difficult to see inaction this January being tolerated, whatever the reasons. In defence, there is a very pressing need for reinforcement. In defensive midfield, the situation is less critical I think in that we at least have options, even if the options we have are not strictly top shelf. How Wenger balances squad needs with an unforgiving market will be an intriguing narrative to follow. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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