There is a pleasant understanding among Arsenal supporters this month. Well, sort of.
The club are in their best position to win a major piece of silverware since 2007-08, and yet by wonderful design, history looks to be repeating itself.
That season, Arsenal went into the New Year top of the table, having only lost one league game in December and possessing a squad that looked energised and inspired following the departure of Thierry Henry the summer prior.
Yet Arsene Wenger lost Robin van Persie to injury midway through the season and Eduardo was put on the sidelines in horrible fashion during a season-defining game at Birmingham in February.
The recent injury to Theo Walcott immediately sparked memories of the difficulties faced during the latter stages of that campaign. During that January, with the chance to solidify Arsenal’s hold on first place in the league, Wenger opted not to sign reinforcements. In hindsight, the task looks far more difficult than it appeared at the time. Did Wenger have the required funds available to him to adequately strengthen? Based on the conflicting stories from the club in recent years, there’s no definitive answer.
This time, however, Arsenal do have the means to strengthen. Even after the £42 million signing of Mesut Ozil, Arsenal are extremely well placed to go out and repeat that feat this month. The issue, obviously, is availability.
The argument from some quarters of the Arsenal support is that a club of Arsenal’s stature, wealth and resources in scouting should be able to uncover a player who is both available and good enough to come into the side. It’s an understandable point of view. We like to limit our knowledge to the big guns, either the major leagues or most obvious players. Diego Costa, Mario Mandzukic, Jackson Martinez. But there are far more options out there than just those three, and clubs like Arsenal should have strong profiles on each of those names who fly under the radar.
The counter argument is that Wenger does have a list of targets, targets who he believes are right for the club, both as individuals and players and who can prolong Arsenal’s stay among those challenging for silverware. The time to do those deals is in the summer. Teams simply don’t relinquish their hold on players of Mandzukic or Costa’s calibre midway through a season. It’s not unheard of, but the point is Wenger has his targets in mind and he famously doesn’t alter his decisions too often. Sections of the support understand that.
When compared to the team Wenger had in 2007-08, this current squad is deeper, notably in the midfield. There are ways for the club to handle Walcott’s injury internally, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back from injury but even more so Serge Gnabry impressing whenever offered an opportunity this season.
But even in the absence of Walcott as another option at centre-forward, Arsenal still have three strikers on the books, even if Lukas Podolski operates better from the left. Nicklas Bendtner, regardless of what is said about him, is a good and useful member of the squad at this time. He’s done very little wrong when called upon to relieve Olivier Giroud.
Wenger, rather than being stubborn, will prefer to hold with what he has, though a loan move for Alvaro Morata may be a deal that the Arsenal manager considers. The Real Madrid youngster will cause little disruption but will also help to take some of the pressure off Giroud, even if mainly used from the bench.
Arsenal are in a fantastic position to land the Premier League title. Long-term thinking, however, should precede reckless January spending on a player who is far from top of the manager’s wish list.