Well, there’s the first working week of January more or less done and dusted. If you work Monday – Friday. Which I don’t, and which many people don’t, so I don’t know why I’ve started with this antiquated throwback to the olden days. Whatever you do, or don’t do – whenever you do or don’t do it – I hope you’re doing ok right now.
Mikel Arteta has a press conference today ahead of our FA Cup clash with Nottingham Forest on Sunday. There’s obviously plenty to ask him about, and I suspect as someone who recently had to miss games and training because of Covid, he’ll have a decent outlook on this week’s events. With news that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has tested positive – for the second time as far as we’re aware – it’s more than possible that Arsenal could fall victim to an outbreak which might require us to seek postponement, but I’m curious what he has to say about the way these situations are handled.
There is variance between competitions, and there’s a complete lack of transparency – at least when it comes to what fans are allowed to know – and that adds to the frustration felt when games are called off. Especially when it happens late in the day.
Other things he might talk about: the decision to let Ainsley Maitland-Niles go to Roma on loan. Let’s be honest, his departure in itself isn’t really a great surprise, but the timing of it certainly is. With two central midfielders away at AFCON, we lack depth in that position with some important games coming up. Does he feel like he has the fabled ‘internal solutions’, or is there likely to be some transfer market activity to add something to the squad this month?
That deal hasn’t gone through yet, but Roma were playing last night and lost 3-1 to AC Milan (Olivier Giroud scored), so today would be the perfect day to announce a signing to distract grumpy fans who, let’s face it, have probably had enough of Jose Mourinho at this point. I have no evidence that this is the case, I haven’t trawled any Roma forums or fan accounts, but realistically, how much Mourinho can anyone take without it being enough? Personally speaking, it would as much as you could fit on the head of a pin, but then divide that by infinity, shrink it down like Rick Moranis shrank his kids, and then slice that in two repeatedly until you need the world’s largest electron microscope to see it. Even then that’s too much for me.
There will obviously be some chat about the FA Cup game and the potential for rotating the squad, but it’s an interesting thing right now – as we discussed on the new Arsecast today, the squad isn’t that deep as it stands, and there’s something of a gap between the first team and the next generation coming up from the Academy. The best player at that level by some distance is Folarin Balogun, and he can’t get in the squad – so is it a bit early to think that the likes of Charlie Patino, Omari Hutchinson and a couple of others are ready to step and start games now? I think it is. I’d very happily be proved wrong by this, but the suggestions we ‘play the kids’ in the Carabao Cup first leg to keep players fresh for the North London derby three days later don’t really stack up when you look at what we’ve got available.
As for transfers, I have no evidence to support this whatsoever, I’ve heard no whispers or rumours about incomings in January, but my gut tells me we’re going to do something. Who, what and when? Your guess is as good as mine, but you can see this is a squad which has room for improvement in a couple of key areas, and the fact we’re pushing hard for a top four place makes that much more of a priority. We have Lacazette, Nketiah, Chambers, Elneny and Kolasinac out of contract in the summer, and none of them look likely to stay as it stands, while the Aubameyang situation doesn’t appear to be one which is headed for a particularly happy ending. There is room.
Another consideration is that next season there’s a great big gap when the World Cup takes place, so if you can find the right player in January, some of the adaptation can take place before the interruptions and disruptions of that kick in. It might cost you a bit more now, but perhaps that will feel like a small price to pay if you get the right player and their goals can consolidate a top four finish. I can’t imagine this hasn’t occurred to the manager and the people running the club, so let’s see what happens. The only thing I’d say is that whatever we do this month, make sure it’s part of the same strategy as the summer. It doesn’t mean you can’t add some experience, but if you bring in a more senior player, a loan deal until the end of the season makes sense; handing them a four year contract does not. Anyway, let’s see.
Right, I’ll leave it there for now. There’s more in-depth discussion of these topics, and more, on today’s Arsecast which you can find below. Enjoy, and we’ll have all the press conference stories on Arseblog News this afternoon.