Five January reinforcements to ensure Arsenal qualify for Europe

After a rather lukewarm start to the 2014/15 Premier League campaign, Arsenal find themselves back in the chase for the title, having bagged three points against Burnley last weekend.

But in the English top flight, nothing is certain, and along with traditional top four battlers Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Spurs, the Gunners are up against dark horses West Ham and Southampton, currently in second and fifth place respectively.

Protecting Arsenal’s Champions League status for 17 straight seasons has been one of Arsene Wenger’s greatest achievements as Emirates boss, but with gaps in the Gunners roster clear for all to see, it could take a couple of January signings to get the north Londoners over the line this year.

Thus, here’s a list of FIVE January reinforcements that will ensure Arsenal qualify for Europe…

[ffc-gallery]CLICK ON WENGER TO REVEAL

Arsene Wenger[/ffc-gallery]

BENEDIKT HOWEDES

Howedes
Arsenal’s first-choice back four is as strong as any in the Premier League, but by the end of September, the Gunners had already maximised their defensive depth.

Indeed, 5 foot 10 full-back Nacho Monreal filled in as an emergency centre-half for the fifth time yesterday evening – undoubtedly an influence on the north Londoners squandering a three-goal lead to draw with Anderlecht in the Champions League.

Adding bodies at the back has to be Arsene Wenger’s first port of call in January. In a bid to kill several proverbial birds with one stone, he should be targeting highly versatile Schalke skipper Benedikt Howedes, who was linked with an Emirates move during the summer:

The 26 year-old has always come highly-rated, but proved his ability to play at an even higher level during the summer as Germany’s World Cup-winning left-back – no easy feat at international level when you measure in at a whopping 6 foot 3. Here’s his highlights from Brazil 2014:

Indeed, Howedes can feature at No.2, No.3 or centrally, and that positional flexibility in addition to the defender’s leadership qualities makes him a huge asset for any squad. The Miners captain has been enjoying good form this season too:

Howedes form

The German international teased his suitors during the summer, suggesting he would be interested – at some point – in a move abroad:

He’s been valued at around £14million by Goal.com, but under contract at the Veltins Arena until 2017, that seems like a rather optimistic estimate. Manchester United are also interested:

FABIAN SCHAR

Fabian Schar
One predominant issue with Benedikt Howedes, however, is that Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are already a strong partnership, one that Arsene Wenger clearly trusts. Another problem is the fact that the Gunners boss hates the January window and probably won’t spend to level fans expect in the new year.

Thus, a significantly cheaper defensive option that would furthermore slot into the natural hierarchy of the squad comes in the form of FC Basel prodigy Fabian Schar, also alleged to be on Arsenal’s radar in recent times:

Statistically speaking, the 22 year-old was the best defender in the Champions League last year:

schar cl

And he’s followed that up with a Man of the Match performance against Liverpool this season in Group B:

Schar vs Liverpool

The Swiss international comes with a glamorous, exciting, front-footed style, reminiscent of Jan Vertonghen or former Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen:

Indeed, he’s bagged nine goals in 54 league appearances for Bebbi and three-in-eight for the Swiss national team. Then there’s the small matter of this wonder-goal during his FC Wil days:

With his contract at Basel entering its final months, the £10million-rated defender looks set to become one of the January window’s best value-for-money bargains.

But a host of top European sides have been linked with the 6 foot 1 centre-back over the last few years, ranging from Barcelona to Inter Milan.

FABIAN DELPH

Aston Villa v Manchester City - Barclays Premier League
From one bosman-bound Fabian to another, the North Londoners have also been linked with Aston Villa star Fabian Delph over the last few weeks:

The Gunners need more mettle in midfield and the 24-year-old could be the man to provide it. He’s a fantastically hard worker – just look at his heat-map against Manchester City from last September:

Much more than simply legs, however, Delph’s dynamic, energetic box-to-box style, perhaps epitomised best by this stunning goal against Chelsea:

…has seen his stock soar over the last eighteen months. Indeed, Delph claimed the 2014 Supporters’ Player of the Year award at Villa Park and earned his first call-up to the England squad in August, since claiming three caps.

Most appealingly, the midfielder’s contract is up at the end of the season and despite a four-year offer reportedly on the table, he’s yet to sign a new deal.

That could force the Villains to sell for next to nothing in January, but a shoulder injury, which will see Delph sidelined until the new year, could put off Arsenal and his other suitors.

MORGAN SCHNEIDERLIN

Schneiderlin
A more jugular option, considering Arsene Wenger has admitted Arsenal’s desperate need for a ‘physical presence like Vieira or Petit‘ in midfield, comes in the form of Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin.

The Saints were strongly opposed to parting with the France international during the summer and will likely put up similar resistance in January – especially as they lay just four points off Premier League leaders Chelsea.

But industrious, athletic and consistent on the ball, Schneiderlin would be the ideal anchor for the Gunners’ offensive-orientated midfield.

Before the start of the current campaign, no player had made more tackles, 259, or more interceptions, 207, in the Premier League since Southampton’s top flight ascension in summer 2012, and the 24 year-old has continued in a similar vein this season:

Schneiderlin form

In fact, Schneiderlin’s added to his game this term by proving his ability to contribute going forward, netting this stunner against Newcastle back in August:

Southampton reportedly rate Schneiderlin at around £27million, but still in his early twenties, Arsenal can get good-value-for-money by tying the Frenchman down for his best years.

Here’s another look at the tough-tackling midfielder in action:

PACO ALCACER

Sevilla v Valencia - UEFA Europa League Semi Final First Leg
Arsenal improved their striking depth in the summer with a deadline day move for Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck, but in comparison to the forward casts at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and even Liverpool, the England international, along with the injured Olivier Grioud, are rather underwhelming.

Representing the opportunity to add quality and youth to Arsenal’s strike force at incredibly cheap cost is Valencia starlet Paco Alcacer.

The 21-year-old has been nothing short of potent over the last 18 months, as detailed below:

Alcacer

And that impressive output in the final third has seen Alcacer rise to the forefront of Vincente del Bosque’s plans for the Spanish national team – he has claimed four caps since his debut in August, netting thrice in the process. Here’s a look at the 5 foot 11 forward in action:

Fernando Torres-esque dare I say? The Spain international possesses no particular defining strength but an impressive all-round game.

Furthermore, his current contract includes a release clause of just £14.5million, leading one Spanish publication to dub him ‘the bargain of Europe‘.

He’s surely a better back-up option than the much-maligned Yaya Sanogo, and has interestingly enough declared himself in ‘no hurry‘ to pen new terms at the Mestalla. But Arsenal face strong competition for his signature from Premier League leaders Chelsea:

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