The month of riches and creativity has arrived. Not for you and me, I am talking about the Football media groups. Let's have more gossips of players leaving and joining other clubs, about players declining contract extensions and general discontent regarding lack of playing time. In between all of this, you will have a genuine need to strengthen your squad for the challenges that lie ahead.
English clubs will have an added challenge starting January (Emirates FA Cup). Some teams are in UEFA champions league and some in Europa league. The league cup will end in January with semifinals and finals to go. African Cup of nations will force some teams to add numbers to temporarily replace the outgoing players. Add to that, the injury concerns and sudden availability of top players will force clubs to delve into their rich coffers.
Arsenal, this season, have been relatively better that previous seasons in terms of injury concerns. Yes, we have lost Santi Cazorla for months at length but we have backups in Xhaka, Coquelin (injured), Elneny and Ramsey fighting for 2 positions at the center. More on central midfield later. Suffice it to say that different combinations were used and have been decent enough to replace Santi. Our defense is now better with top centreback combination of Koscienly and Mustafi, with Gabriel, Mertesacker and Holding as backups. Our strikers are doing good with Sanchez and Giroud having a strong and healthy competition for the lone strikers' role. With Perez and Welbeck returning from injury, our backup in that department is also strong. Number 10 role is owned by Ozil, and I have no complaints there. Iwobi can be used there too. Wingers are also doing reasonably good with Ox, Walcott and Iwobi utilized specifically for these roles and Sanchez and Perez providing healthy competition. Don't get me wrong, there is always scope to improve the squad. But this is January Transfer Window so we can't expect major changes from any of the top teams unless a world-class player suddenly becomes available.
Central midfield was finally considered to be the strongest in recent years so much so that we shipped off Wilshere on loan! Cazorla and Coquelin are our best midfield pair. However, both are now injured. Elneny is off to African Cup of nations. This leaves us with Xhaka (great and silly in equal measure) and Ramsey as last men standing. Ox can be used in central midfield too, but am not convinced if Wenger feels the same too. Another injury and we are looking at makeshift options! The situation is demanding enough to warrant for a dip in the market for options. Maybe a longterm replacement for Cazorla (No, Xhaka is not yet there). But, Wenger being Wenger, I won't be surprised if he goes for make-shift options or promotes someone from youth setup for a month till Coquelin returns.
Another place where I feel Arsenal need to invest is the full back positions. We have one of the best young right-back in Bellerin who appears to first choice right back for a long time to come. But we don't have a suitable backup to Bellerin. This season Gabriel was utilized when Bellerin was out injured. Although he did a decent job, he's still a makeshift option. Rob Holding is considerably young and inexperienced for this role. Debuchy will be sold or will leave on a bosman. Calum Chambers is doing good with Middlesbrough and may be suitable to compete for this position from next season. Maybe he will not. But that's future and is uncertain. What is certain is that we don't have a like-for-like backup to Bellerin.
Same is the case for left-back position. With Monreal and Gibbs, we have good depth but Monreal is not getting any younger and is bound to tone down his workrate sooner or later. Gibbs has been with Arsenal for quite a while but he hasn't cemented this position yet. Injuries have also taken its toll on Gibbs. Arsenal need to identify a player to replace Monreal when the time is ready and as on date, Gibbs doesn't seem to be that guy. On his part, Gibbs also should be looking for more playing time which means he may look for a transfer too. This is one more reason why we need to concentrate on this position in the near future. Also, Cohen Bramall, if we eventually sign him, is one for the future and definitely not a like-for-like backup.
January Transfer Window is not usually the time to identify long term solutions. It's pretty much quick fix. Arsenal have had exception to this rule and ironically, Monreal is one such example. I am not surprised that Wenger is not looking to be busy this time of the year. But he will do our team a world of good by looking to strengthen the fullback positions. We need genuine like-for-like backups and not a makeshift option. Fight for the title is still not over and we are in three different tournaments for the rest of the season. Addition to the squad will hardly do any harm.
Over to you, Professor.