The January Papers: Analysis of a remarkable month at Arsenal

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Right, well that’s that. The transfer window closed last night at 11pm, bringing to an end a month which I can only describe as mental. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

In the space of two weeks, Arsenal shipped out their three leading goalscorers from last season, did a swap deal with Jose Mourinho’s Man Utd for one of their star players, and broke the club transfer record for a striker having done exactly the same last summer.

It’s unprecedented, I certainly didn’t expect anything like this at the start of the month – especially from a manager who routinely calls for the January window to be closed because of the destabilising effect it has, and it’s kind of hard to get your head around it all, so let’s go at it bit by bit and see what kind of sense we can of.

First up, the cold hard facts.

OUTS

Francis Coquelin (Valencia) – £12m. Theo Walcott (Everton) – £20m. Alexis Sanchez (Man Utd) – swap. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) – £18.5m. Mathieu Debuchy (Saint-Etienne) – free. Marcus McGuane (Barcelona B) – free.

Ben Sheaf (Stevenage) – loan. Julio Pleguezuelo (Gimnastic de Tarragona) – loan. Chuba Akpom (STVV) – loan. Jeff Reine-Adelaide (Angers) – loan. Krystian Bielik (Walsall) – loan.

Total: £50.5m

INS

Konstantinos Mavropanos (PAS Giannina) – £2m. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man Utd) – swap. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund) – £55.5

Total: £57.5m

WAGES

Although it’s hard to know exactly how much players are paid, we estimated that the departures (of senior players alone) took around £400,000 a week from the wage bill. We then have to take into account salaries for Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and the increased wages for Mesut Ozil who signed a very welcome contract extension with the club yesterday.

That £400,000 a week, and possibly more, is likely to have gone to cover those three players salaries.

ANALYSIS

So, for a total outlay of around £7m, Arsenal have brought in Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang to refresh our attack, and moved on Giroud, Sanchez and Walcott – three key components of last season’s team with around 60 goals between them. However, we have to look at their departures in the context of this season. Giroud had one Premier League start, Walcott none, Sanchez … well, there are different opinions about his final season, but I think we could all agree he was, at least, unsettled.

So, with regards this season we’ve sold two players the manager no longer rated highly enough to play them in the Premier League, and one who desperately wanted out. For some, it will be evidence that Arsenal don’t spend enough money, and on the last two transfer windows we remain in profit to the tune of around £20m. For others, it will be seen as good business in getting two quality players in for that kind of outlay. Depends on how full or empty your glass is, I guess.

In letting Sanchez leave though, it was important we did something to ensure that the reputation of the club and the team wasn’t too tarnished, and I think we did that with the signing of:

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

He’s a superb striker, no question. He’s a player highly coveted by some of the biggest teams in Europe over the last few seasons, and with 141 goals in 212 games for Dortmund, he knows where the goal is. He’s lightning quick, his movement is great, and he’s so far removed from the kind of striker we’ve been used to playing with for the last few years that his presence cannot do anything but change the way we play.

It’s a signing that sends a statement too. Ok, we lost Sanchez, but we’re not going to sit and weep about it, we’re going to move on and bring in another big name, but also another top player. I think the brouhaha over his behaviour has been somewhat overplayed, so I’m not even slightly worried about that. When players want a move they often do things they wouldn’t normally do, and at 28 he knew this was his last big transfer.

The question is: how do we get him the service he needs to thrive? He’s primarily a penalty box player, and a quick look at where he scores his goals from tells you we’re going to have to adapt and quickly.

It’s worth having a read of Lewis’s profile of him, if you haven’t already, because he deals with his strengths and weaknesses, and what kind of player we’re getting. Check it out here.

Not only was it important for the club to replace Sanchez in terms of goals, but also in terms of profile, and I don’t think without the arrival of Aubameyang we’d have got …

Mesut Ozil’s new contract

The German has put pen to paper on a new three and half year deal, and a significant salary increase. It’s hard to state how important this is for Arsenal Football Club. Not simply because of what he gives us on the pitch, but because it would have been an absolute disaster for our reputation if we’d lost both Sanchez and Ozil because we’d been unable to tie then down to new contracts.

You can deal with losing one, and in the circumstances I think we did the best we could with the Chilean this month, but to lose both would have reflected so badly on the management – and by that I mean Arsene Wenger and the board/owner. Ozil’s new deal, like the signing of Aubameyang, sends a message.

It shows Arsenal can keep their top talent. It shows we can pay the top wages, because he’s on a fantastic new salary. It tells the other players at the club that this is a place they should want to be, and it shows potential recruits that we’re an attractive proposition. Come play with Ozil is, with all due respect, a much bigger draw than come play with Granit Xhaka.

If you want to really delve deep into what it means, I have a suspicion that Ozil would not have committed to this football club simply for money, and players aren’t stupid either. They can see what’s going on with this team and its performances. If you were a world class player, would you sign up for more of the same just for the cash? Some would, but I don’t get the sense that Ozil is that kind, and he would have had plenty of more lucrative offers if he’d decided to go on a Bosman in the summer.

Is it a sign that further change is coming this summer? Not just in the transfer market, but higher up. Ozil has huge respect and admiration for Arsene Wenger, he’s been on record with that more than once, but he can see as well as anyone that the manager is struggling and we’re a team currently sitting in sixth, eight points off the Champions League places, having just lost 3-1 to Swansea.

I believe his renewal tells us something about what’s going to happen this summer. Anyway, that brings us to …

Olivier Giroud

He’s a player I’ve always liked, and while he had his limitations he was reliable, consistent goalscorer for us, and a hugely popular figure around the club. When Arsenal release players, the statements are often perfunctory, so it was telling to see how much love there was for him when they announced his departure yesterday.

I genuinely think that if we’d had any choice we’d have kept him, but to get Aubameyang done we had to make him part of that process. Sometimes you have tough choices to make, and if we were committed to rebuilding we were over a barrel with this. You could ask if a more timely deal for Aubameyang might have given Dortmund more time to source a replacement, but they had to move quickly, they knew Batshuayi was available, and for it to happen Chelsea wanted Giroud.

Personally, it’s the destination that stings more than the departure itself. Had Giroud gone to Dortmund as part of the deal to bring Aubameyang in, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult to deal with because, of course, nobody likes Chelsea, but I also think we are now in an era when players will more regularly move between the top clubs in England.

I always remember being amazed when we got Serie A in the 90s on Channel 4 at how regularly the big players went between Juventus, Milan, Inter etc, because it didn’t really happen in England to any great extent. That’s no longer the case and it’s a fact of football life now, regardless of how unpalatable it can be at times.

I wish Giroud well (more or less), and as we don’t face Chelsea again this season we won’t have to deal with seeing him in that shirt up close and personal. Maybe he can score a goal or two that could help us, and I hope he has a great World Cup with France.

CONCLUSION

As I said at the start, this has been a remarkable month in terms of what we’ve done to our squad and our team. When things went wrong last season, Arsene Wenger’s last throw of the dice was to change formation to a back three. It refocused his team, we finished quite strongly in the league (results-wise) and went on to win the FA Cup.

He had nothing like that at his disposal this season, and thus his only course of action was to do something in the transfer market. I thought we might get a signing or two, but I didn’t think for a second we’d see this kind of change in such a short period of time. Wenger insists this window is destabilising, and yet we’ve basically ripped up our attacking blueprint to start all over again.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, by the way. There’s actually a lot to be said for just clearing the decks a bit and trying to find another way, rather than being reliant on the same old faces. We’ve lost players, but we’ve also added quality, experience and personality, and now it’s down to the manager to find a way to make it work.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that nothing was done to address our midfield issues or the problems we have at the back. I harbour serious concerns over both those areas, and midfield in particular is somewhere I think we have a genuine problem, with players who either don’t appear to be good enough, or don’t fit well enough together.

Perhaps the plan is an internal solution, using Ainsley Maitland-Niles in there wouldn’t be a surprise at this point, but we have to do something to change the dynamic in there because on the evidence of this season it badly needs it (Tim from 7amkickoff has done a good piece on our error prone ways on the road this season which really tells a story).

It means while there’s encouragement about how our attack has been shaken up, and excitement about seeing these new players fit in and work with Ozil etc, it’s hard not to be worried about how what’s behind them might make their lives much more difficult. Is that the next part of the puzzle, a plan that can be implemented in the summer?

Let’s hope so, because it needs it. I don’t just mean the recruitment, but an actual plan, because we should be under no illusions about what just happened this month. Arsenal decided to do stuff without it being part of any kind of strategy. I think we’ve come out of it pretty well, all things considered, but you can’t do it off the cuff like that with any frequency, you need to know what you want for it be really effective.

A final thought, this is our squad as it stands between now and the end of the season:

It’s pretty small, and you can see up front there’s a lack of depth that can only be provided by youngsters from the academy ranks. It may not be a bad thing. I think our two squad system this season hasn’t done us any favours, and Wenger has always preferred to work with a smaller group of players. It gives him less to think about when it comes to team selections/rotation etc.

It also allows those players to build momentum and cohesion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a fairly easy to predict starting XI emerge over the next few weeks, for all our games – domestic and in the Europa League. It’s not a squad that looks like it can cope with any significant injuries though, so let’s see keep fingers crossed there.

It’s going to take something remarkable to make anything about this season successful. We’d need an incredible run of wins to make the top four, but there’s some hope that a team so proficient in cup competitions could end with a European trophy. Still, it’s been a remarkable month, and while I have worries, I’m excited to see where the hell we go from here.

Over to you, Arsenal.

Finally for today, James and I will have an Arsecast Extra. If you have questions/topics, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra and we’ll do our best to get to them as we try and make sense of it all. That’ll be out around lunchtime.

Until then.