For the first time in years, our annual Jim White Day was, sadly, muted. No last minute deals for overpriced strikers. No interviews out of the windows of cars. Not even the spectacle of children and men making fools of themselves and of the poor reporters sent out to be amongst them like live bait for hungry sharks. No. This year everyone was to act right, eat their veggies, count their pennies and forget the foolishness of previous years. It was so bad that the ultimate wheeler dealer, Harry Redknapp, up and quit his job at Queens Park Rangers when he failed to bring Emmanuel Adebayor in like he and Tottenham wanted him to.
Instead, the specter of Financial Fair Play along with a dearth of options led to one of the quietest winter windows in some time. By comparison of what’s gone before, the moves done this time seemed positively demure. Man City bringing Wilfried Bony from Swansea for 28M pounds was not exorbitant. Chelsea brought in 23M-pounds Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina, but did so by selling Andre Schurrle to Wolfsburg for 24M pounds and loaning Mohamed Salah to the Viola. Arsenal bought Gabriel from Villarreal for a now-considered-bargain of 11.3M pounds and allowed the Yellow Submarine to borrow Joel Campbell for the rest of the season.
Where was Fernando Torres going for 50M? (He actually moved back to Atletico on a free). Where’s the Daniel Sturridge move from Chelsea to Liverpool? (The moves between top clubs in England have faded). Where was the massive overhaul, like when Newcastle raided Ligue 1 for Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Sissoko, Gouffran, Haidara and Mbabu? (In fact, no team engaged in a massive spending spree). By comparison to past windows, all this seemed tame and sane.
Tame and sane isn’t sexy. It doesn’t sell papers. it doesn’t get eyeballs glued to the TVs. But it’s what clubs really needed.
Obviously Financial Fair Play seems to be striking at clubs. But it’s more than just that. For the first time, it seemed as if clubs began to treat the January transfer window as less a chance to overhaul and more a chance to triage their issues. Having defensive issues? Buy a centerback; not a whole new defense. Need a spark? How about adding a few loaned assets as opposed to buying them? Or better yet, loan out players not working and open up room for your squad players. When even the richest of the rich are having to sell players to buy, you know everyone is working from a different playbook.
Does that mean I expect it to last? Not really. If clubs are being choosy right now, it’s partially because they’re saving their powder for the summer, when players like Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Morgan Schneiderlin, Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani, Hugo Lloris, Sami Khedira, Asier Illaramendi and Petr Cech will all be available for clubs to gawk at and lust over. In short, expect normal service to resume when the summer window opens and clubs, flush with European competition and League titles cash begin buying talent like drunken sailors buy shots. It’s how they do.
A few words about Arsenal then….
On the surface, the two transfers in seem the bare minimum effort needed to finally bring the squad up to full strength. Kristian Bielyk is a purchase for the future. He could end being the new Patrick Vieira – as some have intimated – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He’ll play lots of Reserves games and train with the first team in order to develop. We won’t know what his true worth is for another season or two at least. Meanwhile Gabriel Armando de Abreu AKA Gabriel Paulista AKA Gabriel comes into the #5 shirt to backup and challenge Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in central defense. This was the big hole that wasn’t filled in the summer and I am sure glad he’s in. He’ll see action soon. So we’ll know with certainty his talents and see how he adapts to the Premier League.
The bigger surprise this window has been the players who’ve come good recently. Francis Coquelin has been nothing short of a revelation ever since desperation forced the club to recall him from a loan in Charlton. He’s made the DM position his own in a way that allowed Arsene Wenger to consider moving for Bielyk as opposed to splashing the cash for a Schneiderlin or a Khedira. Will it last? No chance to know. But he’s going to be given every opportunity. With Arteta signing an extension and Bielyk in, it does seem to indicate the end of the line for Mathieu Flamini come summertime.
Meanwhile Hector Bellerin has taken the hole left by Mathieu Debuchy’s injury against Stoke and ensconced himself in the right back position. He works at a speed that terrifies opponents and functions tremendously with whoever is ahead of him – whether Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez. Is he still prone of making the odd youthful mistake? Absolutely. But his form indicates someone who’s taking his chance and is not letting go. I do think we’ll see Calum Chambers make appearances there, but until Debuchy returns, it’s young Hector in that spot.
From a squad standpoint, we’re rounding into shape. We have a solid competition everywhere. David Ospina hasn’t put a foot wrong and is keeping Wojciech Szczesny on the bench. If the young Pole wants in, he’ll have to work on his mistakes. At the back, we’ve Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs with Monreal, Chambers and Gabriel able to fill across the various spots. In midfield, we’re now spoiled for options: Coquelin, Flamini, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Ozil and Cazorla all available and with Jack Wilshere and hopefully Mikel Arteta coming back soon. And upfront, we’ve Alexis, Walcott, Giroud, the newly-signed Chuba Akpom and the returning Danny Welbeck.
Look at that, a team capable of dealing with any opponent in a myriad of ways. A team capable of making a run in any of the competitions it is in. Who knows how far they can go?