You can understand Arsene Wenger’s dislike, perhaps even disdain for the January transfer window. With it comes a mountain of expectation to spend, yet without any real concern for the quality being purchased.
Some have labelled it stubbornness to proceed with what he has, using those acquired during the summer window as his only buys of each particular season. But is it so stubborn, with considerations for the economic climate and the impeding rules set by UEFA, for Wenger to ignore over-priced yet under-skilled players for his Arsenal team?
Following Nicklas Bendtner’s goal in the 2-0 win over Hull last week, the immediate feeling within the club was that Wenger would persevere with what he had and properly strengthen in the summer. Problem? Well yes and no. The issue is that Arsenal, in a very good position to land a major piece of silverware this season, do need reinforcements. At least that’s the general consensus from those on the outside looking in. The second problem that clashes with the first is that January is hardly ever the time to buy top class players.
Luis Suarez may have been bought by Liverpool in the January window, but the Uruguayan is an exception to the rule. Further examples are that of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra going to Manchester United midway through a season. However, both were brought in with views to the long term. Evra hardly had the best of times in those initial months in English football.
It’s not to say it can’t be done, it’s more to say that it’s exceedingly difficult. Karim Benzema may have been a high-end striker on the market next month, but the Frenchman has returned to form at Real Madrid, who may just decide now to hang onto him until the summer. Robert Lewandowski, of whom there is no doubt about his quality, will not move in January. Dortmund had the chance to sell and pocket a profit on the Pole in the summer, but they were clear in their message that they would not succumb to pressure from either the player or Bayern Munich. Why, then, would they sell in January?
The thing is Arsenal’s “depth problem” has been blown massively out of proportion. This is a club who are perennially hit by the injury bug – or plague, as is more fitting. But those who wish to discredit Wenger’s side for their credentials in this season’s title race have done so without any mention of Lukas Podolski, an international forward who is capable of playing through the middle, and Theo Walcott, who has just returned from long-term injury and who had the most purple of purple patches in an Arsenal shirt at centre-forward last season. What does that amount to? Four strikers at Wenger’s disposal. The issue is of quality, not of quantity.
Wenger will no doubt feel the heat from certain sections of the Arsenal support if he chooses not to buy in January – and I’m speaking specifically of a centre-forward. At Schalke, Julian Draxler may be the next high-profile signing for Arsenal. The German club have just secured Sidney Sam from Bayer Leverkusen, though with the transfer taking place in the summer, so further logs have been thrown onto that particular transfer fire. But it would be understandable if Wenger didn’t bring in the marquee striker so many are calling out for. Of course, the solution was to buy one last summer, whether it was shelling out an extra £10 million on Gonzalo Higuain or closing the deal on Stevan Jovetic. But importantly, Arsenal are not, at present, in crucial need of another striker in January.
The other issue is the World Cup in the summer. Not only will players not want to disrupt their preparations ahead of such an important tournament, but also think of the number of players who will become available during the summer window. First there are the players who rise to fame during the tournament in Brazil, but also those who they may be replacing at other clubs around Europe. The time to strengthen properly and with a player who is deemed a first-choice target is the summer, not in January, when few of required skill are available. Remember when Arsenal were linked with Mohamed Diame last January? In January, instead of getting a Karim Benzema, you get a Bafe Gomis; next summer, players like Mario Mandzukic will be available.
So what can Wenger do in January? The problem may not be numbers, but the team are likely to need a boost of confidence to get them over the line. A loan signing is an option. It’s hugely unlikely that Chelsea will buckle next month and loan Demba Ba to Arsenal after declining on that very deal in the summer. What about a younger, unknown player from one of the “lesser” leagues around Europe? The difficulty, though, is in finding a player who fits that description but who is also able to make a contribution this season. Finally, there’s the “Henrik Larsson move.” Manchester United brought in the Swedish veteran to aid in their title bid in 2007. It was a short-term, low-cost move that paid off. Arsenal could pursue something similar next month to help get them through to the summer.
With Podolski on his way back and Walcott and Bendtner offering alternatives, there are options in house for Wenger. But despite the boost that the team and fans will get with a new face in January, I wouldn’t begrudge or bemoan Wenger’s decision to stick with what he has.
It’s not stubbornness. Considering the pressures of modern football, you have to praise the manager who chooses to avoid the costly, quick-fix option just to appease others.