In a matter of days, Arsenal have gone from being in the throes of a serious, almost existential, depression to the creeping cautious excitement of the beginnings of a rebirth.
If, indeed, green shoots are on their way, it won’t happen overnight, but if they are to take root in a barren January of a season which at times has felt like it should have been written off long ago.
The sale of Alexis Sanchez, as was foretold for the last year and a half, never actually came to fruition. The Chilean star wasn’t sold, but simply swapped for a player who is, frankly, much more useful to Arsenal than £20m would have been. Perhaps even more useful than the £60 they might have been able to get off Manchester City in the summer, though perhaps getting that kind of cash this month instead of Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been considered a better deal.
Either way, if the Gunners do replace their lost duo of Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott with the Armenian and his former Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, that will have been decent business.
Two years ago, everyone would have agreed that Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were Arsenal’s only two world class players. At the same time, you would also have pointed to Dortmund’s pair of Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang and said that they were two world class players, too.
If Arsenal can bring both of the former Dortmund teammates into the club this month, then it doesn’t matter if they lose both of their top talents – though they may yet keep Ozil – they’ll still have replaced them almost like for like. Perhaps even better.
All of that is positive, but in reality it actually means very little.
Arsenal’s problem has never been their attacking prowess, it’s been their solidity in the midfield and defence. Like Liverpool – at times – and Manchester City, that can perhaps be overcome by pressing high up the pitch, not giving the opposition space to breathe let alone launch a precise attack. With the arrival of new attacking talent, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any better in that department.
Perhaps what they really need, still, is a holding midfielder and a centre-back.
But Sven Mislintat, Arsene Wenger, or whoever is now calling the shots should be judged on that in the summer. This window was a case of needs must. A good deal to let Alexis Sanchez go, and a useful player in exchange has been achieved, and a signing in the form of Aubameyang would announce that the Gunners are a serious force not just in English football but in the worldwide transfer market.
So the big question: is this a good window for Arsenal so far?
The answer has to be no. This isn’t a good window, in fact it’s a bad one: getting into this position in the first place smacks of bad planning. It is the inevitable putrid fruit borne from years of neglect and decline. But given that we’re here, this is probably the best they could have done. Not an unmitigated success, but certainly a qualified one as they’ve come out of it with their heads held high, even if they haven’t made their squad much stronger overall. It just looks good in comparison with some recent terrible ones.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for optimism. Despite being unable to call this a good transfer window, the Gunners have still had one of their best in years. And whilst that might say more about the low ebb they’re coming from, at least it does spell progress.
Currently, Arsenal are only stronger in the sense that they’ve got rid of a disruptive player and managed to give off a good, fresh vibe for the first time in a while. But we’ll have to wait for the summer before they can actually strengthen as opposed to replacing what they’ve lost. And anyone who’s watched Arsenal over the last few years knows optimism can easily be called far too early.