From 3-0 up, at home, with less than a half of football left to play against Anderlecht – Arsenal’s shambolic collapse on Tuesday night has managed to scupper any hopes of topping their Champions League group even if they do achieve a win over Dortmund in two weeks time.
Whilst the utter debacle that occurred against the Belgian champions might not have actually changed that much in the grand scheme of things – a win over Dortmund was by no means guaranteed with their flailing league form not being carried through into the Champions League it seems – the nature of the draw on Tuesday has (yet again) brought Arsenal’s defensive frailties into focus and such a result is bound to have a huge impact on both the team’s confidence and momentum.
It almost seems like the gods of fate are just toying with Wenger at this point. Last season Arsenal had, by many measures, the best defensive record in the league and the partnership developed between Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny gave false hope that Arsenal’s Achilles heel ever since the Invincibles, the defence, might finally be conquered – it was Arsenal’s lack of world class striker, and perhaps also goal scoring attackers in general – the absence of Theo Walcott for all but 13 games of last season being particularly costly – which led to their inevitable dropping out of the title race by March/April.
Wenger, to his credit, combatted this by signing Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez, two players who have hit the ground running and have made Arsenal’s attack look formidable once again – the latter especially looks like he may be an Arsenal legend in the making if his early standards are anything to go by. Alas, it is just his luck that last season’s defensive solidity was a fluke it seems, or at least – very, very dependent on Koscielny whose absence has hit Arsenal particularly hard in the last few weeks.
Just as Wenger sorts his attack out, the defence turns to pot, how much would anyone bet against the attack being a problem once again by the time Arsenal once again have a formidable, consistent back four.
But, if Wenger were to look at the defence sooner rather than later and make good use of the January window he may finally be able to break this self sustaining cycle – accommodated by how slow he is to react to/replace departures of top players like Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and going back as far as Patrick Vieira. Here are three players he could consider in the January market to solve Arsenal’s current defensive woes, and prevent events like those on Tuesday night happening again:
1. Sami Khedira
This is the obvious one, and a favourite of many Arsenal fans. The German, archetypal holding midfielder with European experience and a strong friendship with Mesut Özil seems almost an all too perfect fit at Arsenal. Even Wenger himself has acknowledged the need to strengthen in this area, admitting that he was in need of a ‘Patrick Vieira-type character’ to bolster the midfield.
There is no point even trying to justify the need for a DM, it is just common sense – one only needs to look at the performances of Matheui Flamini this season and the injury record/age of Mikel Arteta to realise that Arsenal barely have this position covered to a mid-table level, let alone a club with delusions of winning the league.
With Khedira there is very little risk element at all, it would be a huge shock if given his experience and credentials he was unable to outperform the other two makeshift DMs already at Arsenal, in fact the only sticking point on this transfer may be Khedira’s wage demands with him demanding a reported £200k a week, but as far as we know this is pure press speculation and Khedira would be more than willing to join Arsenal’s German contingent. His stagnation over signing a new contract at Real Madrid certainly makes it seem worth enquiring.
Value for money: (given he is out of contract shortly) 8/10
2. Mats Hummels
I may lose a few friends here, as Per Mertesacker is one of the most loved players at the club – and rightly so. His passion, work ethic and general behaviours in and around the club make him a fantastic role model for the young players and a fans’ favourite if ever there was one.
However, this season his performances have been shocking. It probably doesn’t help that Laurent Koscielny is out, and this is the man whom Mertesacker has built an understanding and a partnership by which both play off one another, Koscielny helps isolate Mertesacker’s lack of pace whilst Per’s reading of the game helps prevent Koscielny going into rash challenges – a known weakness.
That said, Arsenal cannot think to build a title challenge in the next couple of years on a centre back who is utterly dependent on the other one being there to perform. Possibly seeking a way out from a Dortmund side sitting second from bottom in the Bundesliga is Mats Hummels.
Now I have to confess, I have not watched Dortmund enough times this season to make a reasonable judgement on who/what is causing their despicable loss of form. What I do know is that Hummels is German (always a plus), a World Cup winner and a centre back with years ahead of him who has proved himself on the big stage time and time again.
Whilst Dortmund may well drive a hard bargain, the last thing they need is to be losing more top players in January as they urgently attempt to turn their fortunes around, we all know Arsenal have the cash at their disposal and given the two clubs’ current predicament, it is very easy to see Hummels having his head turned by the Gunners.
Value for money: (Dortmund will need a difficult to refuse offer if they are to let him go) 6/10
3. William Carvalho
This is probably the riskiest one Wenger could pursue, but the one which may reap the biggest rewards. William Carvalho is playing in the Portuguese league and has lit no fires with his displays in the Champions League, however he is nonetheless a man receiving lots of attention for his immense maturity in reading the game, as well as his attacking contributions – Patrick Vieira-esque then…
This one is really a job for the scouts, as no YouTube compilation or isolated Champions League game can give Wenger a true indication of how he would fit in the Premier League. That said, were Wenger to take a gamble and it paid off… Arsenal could have this position filled for the next ten years.
Value for money: (Sporting know how in demand he is, and will surely make Arsenal overpay) 3/10