Arsene Wenger’s never been particularly fond of the January transfer window. He’s spent, on average, just £3.6million per window since it’s incarnation eleven years ago – with Jose Antonio Reyes and Andrei Arshavin constituting his only noteworthy winter signings as Arsenal boss – and has even discussed the notion of eradicating it completely on rare occasions.
So Wenger’s hints of new faces arriving in the New Year must be music to the ears of Arsenal fans. In the decade since they last won the Premier League title, countless campaigns have gone to waste when many felt the right mid-season addition could propel the Gunners closer towards the English crown.
Take last term for example – the Gunners held pole position in January and that momentum opened them up to a new area of the transfer market, but the only addition came in the uninspiring form of Kim Kallstrom, who made just three substitute appearances in north London before returning back to Spartak Moscow, almost unnoticed.
This January, Wenger’s first and likely only port of call will be to add to his defence, which is clearly a few bodies short right now. In the almost eternal absence of Laurent Koscielney, Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy, two full-backs who measure in at just 5 foot 10, have both been called upon to fill in at the heart of defence for extended periods. Incredibly, the former – by all means, a left-back famed more for his attacking qualities – has made four times the amount of Premier League appearances at centre-back this season, 8, than at No.3.
Many will argue that compared to the Arsenal gaffer’s usual stubbornness on such issues, this is a cause for some mild celebration, especially amid the festive period. There’s only one, rather simple, problem however; failing to identify the need for another defender during the summer has already cost Arsenal their shot at the Premier League title for at least another season.
Why Wenger allowed Arsenal to enter the season with one defender last year is, quite frankly, beyond me. It’s a simple numbers game; Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson going out, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, two signings that hardly improve upon what the north Londoners had before, coming in.
The Gunners’ defensive depth was tested on enough occasions last season to suggest another centre-half wouldn’t go amiss, and although Arsenal have been plagued with injury crises this year, in part a consequence of the summer’s World Cup, that’s a situation Wenger should have anticipated – this is hardly the first Arsenal campaign riddled with injuries.
It’s not as if there weren’t options out there this summer. Take Toby Alderweireld for example, who made it publicly known as early as January 2014 that he would seek a move away from Atletico Madrid in the summer. Versatile and experienced at Champions League and international level, the Belgian centre-back would have been an ideal signing for the Gunners. Instead, he’s on loan at Southampton this term, who currently boast the healthiest goals against column in the Premier League.
Then there’s the clan of contract rebel centre-backs Arsenal have been linked with ahead of the January window, namely Winston Reid, Fabian Schar and Ron Vlaar. It’s all well and good waiting six months until their respective clubs have little option but to sell, yet the absence of a back-up centre-half has already cost the Gunners so dearly this term. Conceding sloppy goals, often from winning positions, is a responsibility the whole team must share together, but one can only ponder the positive influence the presence of a natural centre-half could have made this term – particularly amid defeats to Swansea City and Stoke City, in addition to disappointing draws against Liverpool and Hull.
Of course, there will always be other seasons and playing the short game in the transfer market rarely breeds long term success, either on the pitch or financially. Having spent the last decade as the Premier League title race’s nearly men however, Arsenal fans are tired of waiting for ‘next year’. It also makes that £83million spent in the summer, constituting the most expensive transfer window in Arsenal’s history – not to mention the the £35million signing of Alexis Sanchez, rather pointless – considering none of that money was spent on addressing Arsenal’s most immediate problems. That money should have awoken Arsenal from their dormant state in the title race.
So now another defender will arrive in January, but for once, rather ironically, Wenger may as well wait until the summer. Arsenal’s title bid is already over – Chelsea are already 15 points ahead of them – and the chances are that better options will become available at the end of the season. Almost as if it was somehow intentional, Wenger’s created the perfect excuse not to buy.