And that was that. The January transfer window of 2013 closed at the toll of the 11 o’clock GMT hour to signal to all clubs that they could not buy or sell any more players until the season finished. There were surprises, disappointments and a few odd turns – like the Sad Saga of Peter Odemwingie. But in the end, the window closed all the same.
If you remember my January 1st piece on potential transfer targets, I named a few potential targets that Arsenal could go after if they were looking to strengthen. I also said that it was unlikely that any of the targets named would end up at Arsenal. That proved to be the case as the only purchase done during this transfer window was for Malaga LB Ignacio “Nacho” Monreal. However, that doesn’t mean others were not reading my blog piece as apparently Alan Pardew took that list to be the one he should use. I mean, I mention Yanga-Mbiwa, Sissoko and others and they end up at St. James’ Park? Coincidence?
You have to consider the January Transfer Window as a chance to patch up the holes in your squad and to refresh your team if they are beginning to look haphazard or lost. If that is its purpose, then I don’t know which of the teams that are battling for the last two Champions League spots with Arsenal did that. Purchases done this window seemed as much to be about solving an injury issue or patching up a hole in the squad, rather than being the opportunity to strengthen.
OK, let’s do a quick recap of what happened to the teams involved in the Champions League spots race. I’ll make three quick assumptions. One, that the first two spots are going to the two Manchester teams. It’d be a bigger story if either City or United were pipped given the lead they’ve built. Second, I’m including the teams from 3rd place to 9th as it’s historically proven that any one of those teams can go on a run and leap past the teams ahead – look at Arsenal last year or Liverpool in 2009. Finally, I’m only counting sales and loans of first team members and not all the business done in the window. Youth loans or sales won’t be in here since they won’t affect the first team. You’ll see the team, their current position on the table and the number of points amassed.
3. Chelsea (46) – In: F Demba Ba. Out: F Daniel Sturridge
4. Tottenham (42) – In: M Lewis Holtby. Out: M Jermaine Jenas, G Gomes, G Carlo Cudicini
5. Everton (41) – In: None, Out: None
6. Arsenal (38) – In: D Nacho Monreal. Out: F Marouane Chamakh (L), M Emmanuel Frimpong (L), D Johan Djourou (L)
7. Liverpool (35) – In: Daniel Sturridge, M Philippe Coutinho. Out: M Joe Cole, G Doni
8. Swansea (34) – In: M Roland Lamah. Out: F Danny Graham, F Leroy Lita (L), M Ashley Richards (L)
9. West Brom (34) – In: None. Out: F Chris Wood, M Sam Mantom, D Gonzalo Jara (L)
At a quick glance, you see very few purchases and only a few sales or loans. Two teams, Everton and West Brom, either decided or were unable to make any purchases this window; meaning they’re willing to go into the last part of the season with the teams they’ve built. For the rest, it was a case of either one in, one out or replacing an injured player. Chelsea buys Ba but sells Sturridge to Liverpool, who also buy Coutinho, but let go of Joe Cole. Tottenham lose Sandro and they decide to pay a little to spring their Lewis Holtby deal forward to this window. Arsenal lose Kieran Gibbs and are forced to go buy Nacho Monreal, but they also allow three players to go out on loan.
I do get the sense that the bigger story is the deals that were not made. David Villa to Arsenal. Leandro Damiao to Tottenham. Alvaro Negredo and Leroy Fer to Everton. Tom Ince to Liverpool. And just as important were the sales that didn’t take place: Frank Lampard out of Chelsea or Marouane Fellaini out of Everton. Any one or two of them could have potentially tipped the balance towards that team in the latter stages of the season.
What we saw, therefore, is a bunch of teams that are comfortable with the squads they have and are willing to battle it out till May with them, whatever the outcome. If that sounds somewhat disconcerting to their fanbases, that’s only because all of these teams have shown a great quality for inconsistency. Chelsea can look great against Arsenal one weekend and draw against Southampton the next. Arsenal can thrash Southampton, lose to Swansea and then beat Tottenham. Tottenham can hold their own against Manchester United and then drop point against West Brom. And so on and so forth.
Because if history has shown us anything, it’s that some team will put it all together and go on a strong run of wins and scoop up points like beads during Mardi Gras. Last year, that was Arsenal and that was Wigan – one who leapt past Tottenham and the other one climbed out of the relegation cellar. On the basis of talent, you would say that should be Chelsea this year. They have talent everywhere. They have experience in both the players and in the manager. And with no Champions League football, they have time to rest up and focus on the league – they’ve one foot out the door in the FA Cup and I can’t think they’ll put any value in winning the Europa League. Problem is that they are as inconsistent as the rest.
As it pertains to Arsenal though, they have 14 games remaining in their Premier League season – along with a FA Cup fifth round tie against Blackburn and a Champions League date with Bayern Munich. Those fourteen games include seven home stands against Stoke, Aston Villa, Everton, Reading, Norwich, Manchester United and Wigan while the seven away trips include visits to Sunderland, Tottenham, Swansea, West Brom, Fulham, QPR and Newcastle. Of these 14 dates, the most crucial will be the trip to Spurs and Newcastle and the home games against Manchester United and Everton. But there I go again, expecting the season to fall into form.
The simple fact is that the squad, while needing reinforcements, isn’t a horrible one. Perhaps this is what Arsene Wenger sees and we do not because of the results. The issues here are those pertaining to an inability to put together consistent runs between games – sometimes between halves of games. Our world-class defenders make too many dumb individual errors. Our midfielders fail to provide the right ammunition to our forwards, who often fail to make the best of their chances.
So the issue for Arsenal isn’t one of lack of talent. There’s talent in the team. It’s putting that talent together into one cohesive whole that seems to be the issue. It’s a problem of motivation, of tactical awareness and, dare I say it, mental strength. That’s something that buying three or four players won’t necessarily fix. Bringing in Mats Hummel won’t make Thomas Vermaelen stop having his defensive brainfarts. Putting David Villa at the top of the formation isn’t going to make Olivier Giroud stop missing so many chances. Bringing in Etienne Capoue won’t solve Aaron Ramsey’s consistency issues.
Would I have bought all three of those players? Absolutely. Because I think the squad needs depth. It needs the ability to turn to another player and say “We know you can provide a spark now that we need it” and now that it would be coming. And, as we’ve seen before, injuries happen during this time. Had Kieran Gibbs’ injury happened tomorrow rather than Wednesday, we’d have been left with no one but Andre Santos for the key matches in February. Scary thought.
I think, in a sense, both Arsene and the fans are wrong and they’re both right. There is talent in this Arsenal team. They’re capable of ending up in their usual 3rd/4th place spot this season. But they’re also capable of picking up injuries and, with a squad that isn’t as deep as before, they’re also capable of missing out entirely on Champions League football. So both the best outcome and the worst outcome possible are entirely at play this year. And, in both instances, the man in the grey suit and the poofy coat will be the one who will bear all the responsibility. For good or ill, Arsene Wenger is throwing his marker down on this bet. If he succeeds, he can bask and say “I told you so” to us all. If he fails…well, let’s hope he doesn’t fail.