As the dust settled on the derby win, a story about a big summer target emerged. Yesterday, news broke of Arsenal’s interest in Declan Rice, the kind of signing that would have been absolutely absurd to consider not too long ago. Now the idea of one of England’s two best Irishmen signing for the club isn’t beyond the pale by any means.
Two things occur to me. One is that after the way the Mykhaylo Mudryk thing played out, I suspect the club would much rather have kept this one under wraps. Like others, I was aware of our interest, but the profile of the player and the size of the potential deal has had tongues wagging, I guess. The second thing is that while I think he’d be an excellent addition, it is very much a summer thing. There’s simply no way a West Ham side fighting relegation can let him go now, so my interest in this one – while obviously piqued – is close to zero right now.
Talk to me about it in May. Or June. Or however long it drags on for until Chelsea pay £300m for him and give him a 13.87 year deal. I kid, but you know what I mean. Chelsea are possibly the worst club on the planet right now. What they have done to the transfer market under Roman Abramovich and what they’re doing now under Tad Ballache is genuinely a curse for pretty much every other club. If Chelsea found a cure for cancer, they’d make it unaffordable to everyone but themselves (even their own mums).
Anyway, the point is I’m glad to hear Arsenal have big plans for the summer, but the plans we had for this January have gone south. We wanted both Joao Felix and Mudryk, and both of them have signed for Chelsea. They are obviously convinced by the strategy of having about 40 first team players on massive wages, put together with a scatter-gun approach to recruitment, so that’s that.
It is now up to Arsenal to pivot and find other targets this month, because the need is almost as great as the opportunity we have ahead of us for the rest of the season. I thought James made a great point on the Arsecast Extra yesterday. We have shown an ability to be flexible and to react when a nominal first choice target doesn’t work out. Our interest in Lisandro Martinez ended when Man Utd signed him, so we turned instead to Oleksandr Zinchenko. Would anyone swap those two players now? I don’t think so.
Last January we were reportedly after Dusan Vlahovic, he chose Juventus so we waited and brought in Gabriel Jesus in the summer. That delay was painful for reasons we don’t need to go over again, but ultimately I think we have the player best suited to this team. It’s almost impossible to imagine the difference between what Jesus gives us, and playing with a big lump up front. Ugh.
Which is to say, missing out on players we want is never nice, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t other options out there. Players who, in time, may well turn out to be better suited to this group and what we’re trying to do. That again is the challenge for Edu and his team for what remains of this month. If there is a slight blessing, even with all the time and energy spent on Mudryk, is that there are basically two weeks remaining before the transfer window closes. We all know January is more difficult than the summer, but it’s still more than enough time to get business done.
Quite who the players they have on their list beyond the two who chose Chelsea for money is beyond me, but hopefully we find out soon enough – and not via rumour or scuttlebutt, but by action and intent. Because as is now plainly obvious to everyone, we have a great chance to win our first title since 2004. There is still a long way to go, but that in itself tells you how important January is. We’re still in the FA Cup, the Europa League returns soon, and there are 20 Premier League games to play. That’s a lot of football and right now there is too heavy a burden on some of the players, particularly at the attacking end of the pitch.
An injury or a suspension to one of our wide players leaves us in a difficult position. If Eddie Nketiah is out for any period of time, we don’t have another striker to call upon. And I’m sure I’m not alone in worrying a bit about central midfield and the manager’s faith in the options he has there. Thomas Partey’s injury towards the end of last season wasn’t the only reason we didn’t secure top four, but it was a significant contributory factor.
The other thing I think we need to consider is that the best young manager in the game has made it abundantly clear what he wants and needs. I understand his post-derby comments about his own squad, because they should focus on his own players after such a great performance and result, but in almost every press conference in the last 6 weeks he has, to some extent or another, asked for help from the club to achieve what he knows is possible this season.
Mikel Arteta has been solidly backed by the club, no two ways about it, but given where we are right now, he deserves more. As do the players who have worked so hard to get us top of the table with an eight point lead. We cannot have another dry January. I don’t think this is our only chance to win the title, this is a team and a club going very much in the right direction, and all going well we should be competitive in the years ahead. But very rarely to you get a chance to build on an opportunity like this, so bring me all the Rice you want in the summer, but make the most of this window first.
For some extra reading this morning, check out the new Tactics Column in which Lewis looks back on two North London derby wins this season.
Arsecast Extra below for those who haven’t had a chance to listen yet. Have a good one.