The start of Arsenal’s season has left much to dwell on for Arsene Wenger and his associates. Despite a convincing, and perhaps even impressive victory against Manchester City in the Community Shield, Arsenal have produced two less than acceptable performances against Crystal Palace and Besiktas – leaving many fans concerned that, with less than 10 days of the transfer window remaining, Arsenal may not quite get the players the need this summer – despite how fruitful this summer has already been for them.
The prospect of this has been worsened by injury to Mikel Arteta, who’s initial diagnosis doesn’t seem as bad as many expected, but then – with Arsenal’s injury record – few would be against it being longer than the cited two weeks out.
Coming into this transfer window, I (and most other fans) would’ve told you we have two main priorities – a holding midfielder and a striker, I would’ve also wanted a young fourth choice center back (enter Callum Chambers) and of course, replacements for outgoing players such as Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabianski and Thomas Vermaelen. So far then, and especially if Kostas Manolas is indeed having a medical (as has been widely reported), it has been a good summer.
However, the two main priorities at the start of the window are as yet unfilled and whilst valuable additions have been made all over the pitch, I cannot see Arsenal winning the league (or for that matter, coming close) without at the very bare minimum a genuine, world class defensive midfielder. I’ll come to the striking conundrum later – as that one’s a bit less transparent.
When Mikel Arteta arrived from Everton in 2011, taking a £25,000 a week pay cut to push the move through, he was a goal scoring number 10, a playmaker. Since then, Arsene Wenger has opted to use him as a holding midfielder almost without exception – with disastrous consequences last season especially. Arteta committed four defensive errors, the joint highest of any outfield player at Arsenal and significantly more than players such as Lars Bender, Sven Bender and Sami Khedira in the Bundesliga (reportedly some of Arsenal’s primary targets to fill this position). Furthermore, his lack of pace was brutally exposed by some of the bigger teams – with the Anfield 5-1 being a particular example where Arteta’s performance was simply not of an Arsenal standard, and he was more culpable than most in the team for the nature of the defeat.
Arsenal look like they may have missed out big time on new Manchester City acquisition Fernando, with City (despite probably not needing him with Fernandinho already doing a very good job in that position) having managed to pick him up for just £12 million. Time will tell if Fernando can force his way into the team (and stay there) but if his performances in pre season and against Newcastle are anything to go by (a small sample size, admittedly) he could have been just what Arsenal needed. That ship has sailed however, and Wenger must find another option fast or suffer another season of humiliating defeats at the hands of bitter rivals and ultimately, title failure.
For me there is simply no chance of Arsenal winning the league without a proper DM – maybe Callum Chambers can fill that role in the long-term, he certainly looks to have the attributes in terms of reading the game whilst also being comfortable in possession, but he is not the finished article yet and the signings of Debuchy and Sanchez seem to indicate Wenger is hungry for success now. With that in mind, there are 10 days left, including deadline day where (bizarrely) up to 25% of all transfer activity occurs – a lot can happen.
The striking issue is much less black and white. And that is because Arsenal arguably have two or three world class strikers in the team, who might not even be deployed there. Lukas Podolski’s finishing is up there with some of the best in the league, but his workrate and general inconsistency seems to let him down, meanwhile Theo Walcott impressed up front in the 2012-13 season but injuries have blighted his ability to become the club’s first choice striker. Yet, if either were to find a rich vein of form and work his way into the centre forward role – I believe both genuinely could be a short-term answer. Meanwhile, Arsenal have just signed Alexis Sanchez who impressed hugely playing up front during the World Cup. Wenger has even described Alexis as having ‘all the attributes of a modern striker’.
However, the spanner in the works is that Wenger has seemingly contradicted himself by not giving Sanchez a chance up front in the first three games, even when it made a lot of sense to. Against Besiktas, Olivier Giroud put in his worst performance in an Arsenal shirt for me. He was diabolical – missing three clear-cut chances and making several other errors including losing the ball, breaking down attacks and just generally letting his head drop and not really contributing much in terms of tracking back (especially in the second half). Yet, with 15 minutes to go – it was Sanchez who was taken off for Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, not Giroud. It seemed the ideal time for Sanchez (who had been lively up to that point, creating two chances and completing four take ons) to be given a chance up front, but he was withdrawn by Wenger and the game petered out into a 0-0 draw.
Now, I haven’t won four FA Cups and gone a season unbeaten so I completely respect Wenger’s judgement if he thinks that – for whatever reason – Sanchez would not be successful as a striker in the Premier League. However, if that is the case then Wenger has failed to address not one, but both of Arsenal’s main priorities this transfer window and if it costs us all the momentum and hope offered by the FA Cup victory then that is an issue.
I don’t want to get greedy, and there is still 10 days to go, and Sanchez may still get given a chance up front. But realistically, Arsenal’s current squad is not good enough to win the league. It may well be with an added defensive midfielder and a new striking option (whether that comes from within or externally). Whether Arsene plans to act on this, or fall into the all too familiar trap of trusting in players who just don’t quite make the grade remains to be seen, but it’ll be a huge missed opportunity if – with a reported £60-70m still in the bank after player sales and Arsenal making net gains on the wage bill this summer – it is the latter.