January 2022 is going to go down as something of a red letter month for Arsenal. Having got ourselves into a position where a somewhat unexpected top four pursuit is very much on, there was a general feeling that in order to maintain that, we needed to add something to our forward line. In the end, we didn’t, we failed to make any kind of substantial signing, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was given a free transfer to Barcelona.
Let’s look at the window as a whole though. Six players have gone, and the only signing was 23 year old Colorado Rapids centre-half Auston Trusty, who will stay there on loan until the summer, then go on another loan to a European club and if he ever plays for us I will eat my hat. Arsenal read the room and didn’t even announce it on social media, it’s just a news item on the official website.
In general, I don’t really think the departures are that much of a big deal to our top four chances when you look at them closely, although there are still things we can improve when it comes to doing outgoing deals.
Sead Kolasinac > Marseille (free, contract terminated): He made 1 Premier League start this season, and that was back in August. He had 1 minute as a sub in October. Failed to make the squad on 17 occasions.
Calum Chambers > Aston Villa (undisclosed fee): He made 2 Premier League starts, the last one was back in August. Failed to make the squad on 17 occasions.
Pablo Mari > Udinese (loan): He made 2 Premier League starts, last seen on August 22nd when he got roasted by Romelu Lukaku. Failed to make the squad on 14 occasions.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles > Roma (loan): Made 2 Premier League starts, and 6 substitute appearances. Made the squad frequently, and he’s the one loan departure I would have delayed, or perhaps even kept, but played just 263 minutes in the league this season.
Flo Balogun > Middlesbrough (loan): Made 1 Premier League start, 1 sub appearance for a total of 70 minutes playing time. It’s widely accepted that he needed a loan to play more regularly to aid his development. No issue with this for me.
Then we get to the Aubameyang thing, and this is where it starts to get messy. He was in Barcelona yesterday, there was talk he’d just turned up without anyone from either club knowing about it, but given what happened next there had to be something a bit more concrete to the situation (at least from the Barcelona side). There was a story the deal was off, but then it was back on. It was a loan, and then it was a free transfer and that looks like what will be confirmed sooner rather than later.
Once again, Arsenal are terminating the contract of a player so he can move somewhere else for free. While I think it’s a good thing on balance that we’ve extricated ourselves from the burden of his wages for the next 18 months – not least because it’s been clear that his Arsenal race was run – I can’t get excited by the Wages Saved narrative around this. We didn’t get any kind of transfer fee for a player who cost us the guts of £60m four years ago. I realise that when you sign a 29 year old you’re not doing so with the expectation that resale value is going to be high, but Arsenal have a very, very bad habit of letting players leave for free and it needs to stop.
Some of that is contract management – making better decisions when players still have some market value – and poor recruitment, but when you look at the list over the last few years it’s verging on pathetic that talented, high profile players like Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck and others have brought nothing in when they’ve departed. When you spend a combined total of £50m+ for Mustafi and Sokratis and you pay them to go away. When you let Henrikh Mkhitaryan go to Roma for £1m months after turning down £10m from the same club. Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette and Mohamed Elneny can go for free this summer. It’s just not good enough.
And it’s not simply a legacy issue either, with this football executive committee trying to clean up the mess others have made. They gave Aubameyang his contract, they signed Willian on massive money then had to pay him to go away too (and I don’t buy the PR guff about how much he gave up, like we’re supposed to be impressed he didn’t just hang around and pick up two more years of wages. He got a nice goodbye package, don’t worry about that).
If you had one or two situations like that, you could probably live with that as part of the vagaries of football and, to be fair, a changing contractual landscape over the last couple of years. However, this is habitual now. This is what players at Arsenal are allowed to do, and it’s high time it stopped. You can’t continue to be so publicly hapless when it comes to selling players, because it becomes a self-perpetuating thing.
Then there’s the big issue: we needed a forward during this window and we didn’t get one. Our centre-forward options are two players who will leave this summer, and while I don’t doubt their commitment and professionalism, I absolutely doubt their ability to score Premier League goals with the kind of frequency we need. Lacazette has 3 all season, Nketiah 0.
We know that Arsenal tried hard for Dusan Vlahovic, a commendably ambitious attempt to sort this situation out and tacit acknowledgement that it is indeed a major problem. We can all understand the difficulties of the January market, and as I’ve said frequently, I did not want us to compromise when it came to spending for such a key position. Arsenal have to source a striker who ticks all the boxes, who can develop and grow with this team, and that investment is likely to be significant, so we have to get it right.
However, the targets for this window should have been 1: that striker, then 2: if we can’t get him, someone who gives us more than Eddie Nketiah. And this is where the frustration is for me, because I can’t believe that our stat-scouts and the entire recruitment department couldn’t come up with a single player to take on loan between now and May to give us a bit more depth in such a key position. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s surely better than nothing. At worst you have a guy who doesn’t do a great deal for a few months but might chip in a goal or two which could be important.
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of an explanation and I’m doing my best to stop the word ‘incompetence’ rattling around in there, because the summer business demonstrated that we’re more capable than people might think in the market. I don’t discount it completely, obviously, but we’ve all been generally pretty pleased with the players we brought in during the last window.
The only thing I can think of is that they think they have an internal solution in the shape of Gabriel Martinelli, and that with Emile Smith Rowe heading back towards full fitness, this is an opportunity for the young Brazilian. On paper, a forward line of Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Saka and Martinelli is quite tasty, and perhaps they’ve decided that he’s the player who should get those minutes up front.
As I said, our pursuit of Vlahovic, and some late, unsuccessful contacts for other players, makes it abundantly clear Arsenal know they have to get someone in for that position. So, who else is there? What is the other internal solution? I fully accept this might be me grasping at anything to try and make sense of what appears to be a nonsense window, but I’m not sure what else there is in the squad that could justify not making a signing.
Update: I should point out the return of Nicolas Pepe gives us some depth in wide areas which makes Martinelli’s deployment up front more feasible.
The final thing to say is that I’m sure the manager and the Technical Director and everyone else know fine well that every poor performance, every dropped point, every chance missed, is now going to be seen through the prism of this January window. They let a big striker – albeit a fading force – go for free and didn’t bring anyone else in. That’s not going to convince anyone you’re really serious.
The only thing that will change the mood is what happens on the pitch. Results, performances, points and goals, and maybe this window is a show of confidence in the young attacking talent we have and provides them a chance to flourish. I still think it’s a big gamble, I worry about the burden we’re placing on 20 year olds to get us to where we want to go, and I’m more than a little frustrated at our inability to strengthen this month.
It remains to be seen if this January will be seen as folly. What we can say is that on and off the pitch it’s been a pretty tortuous month to be an Arsenal fan, and things need to improve rapidly when football starts again.
For more transfer window discussion, join us on Patreon later when we’ll have a breakdown of what we did and didn’t do this month – you can sign up here for just €5 a month for instant access to that and all the other content.
We’ll have any breaking news on Arseblog News, and I’ll be back here tomorrow with more. Until then, take it easy.