Where do Arsenal need to strengthen to maintain their Premier League title push?
As January draws to a close, Arsenal are no longer top of the Premier League, but remain in good shape, nonetheless.
However, if the Gunners are serious about ending their well-publicised transfer drought, they’ll need to be active in the remaining hours of the transfer window, and with injuries beginning to mount, it may be more than just one body that’s needed.
A striker has been required at the club for well over 12 months now. The general consensus seems to be that Olivier Giroud is good, but not in the same bracket as the talent boasted at rival Premier League clubs such as Sergio Agüero, Robin van Persie or Luis Suárez. It’s also widely accepted that there aren’t too many forwards available in this window that would be an upgrade on Giroud. Diego Costa has been heavily linked at times, but, frankly, why would Atlético, very much on an upward curve, sell their star man, and likewise, why would Costa leave?
Perhaps the most efficient strategy would then be to bring in some short-term cover to act as a stop-gap until the summer, when the club can really flex its financial muscle and compete for someone of higher quality. The latest name emerging on the wire in that department is Mirko Vučinić. Whilst I’ll admit to not having followed his career with particular attention to detail in the past, I do know that he’s a good player who’s suffered since falling behind the likes of Carlos Tévez and Fernando Llorente in the pecking order at Juventus. A move is clearly what he needs and his experience could be invaluable to Arsenal’s title charge.
Much like Giroud, the Montenegrin has never been extraordinarily prolific in front of goal, but is an intelligent striker who works hard for the team, and therefore would be a good option for Arsenal to rotate with the Frenchman they’ve become so reliant on. Reports suggest that Vučinić could be brought in on loan, with Southampton’s controversial record signing Dani Osvaldo replacing him in Turin.
Long-term target Julian Draxler is also very much on the club’s radar by all accounts. Arsenal apparently sent a ‘delegation’ to Germany on Wednesday to try and broker a deal for the highly-rated youngster. Many seem convinced that the 20-year-old will be an Arsenal player eventually, it’s just a question of whether it happens now or in the summer.
After Theo Walcott was ruled out for the season, Arsène Wenger’s desire for Draxler increased. The German is normally deployed on the left and has caught the eye with his skillful dribbling, although it appears he can play in any attacking midfield role. In fact, the tabloids have even suggested that he could undergo a Van Persie-esque transformation into a centre-forward in the future.
However, arguably the most pressing issue for Arsenal at the minute is one which seemed unfathomable a matter of weeks ago. The Gunners have a number of top quality midfielders in their ranks, but suddenly, their personnel seem to be unavailable. Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are all out injured for varying periods, and Mathieu Flamini is suspended for three games having picked up a needless red card in the draw at Southampton.
Even when available, the deep midfield partnership of Flamini and Mikel Arteta doesn’t appear to be incisive enough. With defensive duties being the primary concern for each of them, there is far too big a gap in the middle of the park between the pair and the Gunners’ creative midfielders such as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil who operate far higher up the pitch.
Arsenal need a ball-carrier; a box-to-box player who can turn defence into attack in a quick, smooth transition. That was the role Ramsey had perfected prior to his injury, and Wilshere was also beginning to hit some consistent form in that position. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has played well from the middle before but is still very raw. Abou Diaby is one of the best in the business playing that role when available, although of course that appears to be the case merely once in a blue moon.
With Yohan Cabaye moving from Newcastle to PSG this week, Blaise Matuidi, someone Arsenal have followed for a long time, since his days at Saint-Étienne, has been outlined as someone who could tick that box. With his contract apparently up in the summer, Matuidi could be available at a knock-down price, and his ability to break up play and instigate attacks means he’d be a fine asset to the side.
Of course, with just two starting berths in their preferred system available, Arsenal will struggle to accommodate him, Ramsey, Wilshere, Flamini, Arteta, Diaby and Oxlade-Chamberlain, when all fit, but with the Gunners’ track record, you have to question how likely that scenario will be. But in the extended absence of Ramsey, in particular, Arsenal are desperately craving a box-to-box player and surely it’s better to have too many players than not enough?
Despite their new-found financial firepower, I struggle to see Wenger bringing in three new players before the window closes. Personally, as exciting a prospect Draxler is, I think he’s something of a luxury and a deal can surely wait until the summer. But reinforcements in other areas do need to be made, and it could well be the difference between Arsenal fading away in the title race, or making a real fist of it.