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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New Year's Shopping List

"I think they should find some money somewhere and get some top players in and just go for it."

            This week, ex-Arsenal defender Sol Campbell advised his former club to spend money on players in the coming month’s transfer window. Normally, I do not bother too much with transfer speculation, as more often than not, it turns out to be hot air. However, I have to agree with Campbell that it is crucial that this January does not pass by without Arsenal strengthening their current team.

            Arsenal Football Club is possibly the most talked-about club in England at the moment. There has been heated debate over the manager, the board and the players. One of the few things that almost everyone agrees upon, however, is that Arsène Wenger must buy in the January transfer window.

            Mondaynight’s 5-2 victory over second-from-bottom Reading and Arsenal’s subsequent rise to a season-high (!) fifth place in the table has gone some way towards appeasing the fans, but last week’s League Cup defeat to Bradford and the current fifteen-point gap between Arsenal and Manchester United are proof that Arsenal have just not been good enough this season. There have been more than a few things lacking from recent performances, and although some are calling for changes to be made off the pitch, football is first and foremost about the players. The current Arsenal squad is one of the weakest during Wenger’s tenure, and with an apparent £20 million available for January spending, it is important that the club gets it right next month.

            As I have stressed before, Arsenal are currently a team with plenty of attacking talent, but without a proven goalscorer of the quality of Denis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry or he-who-I-mention-too-much-in-this-blog. The trio of summer signings: Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have scored twenty-two goals between them in all competitions this season, and they are constantly improving. Arsenal have only scored two less goals than Manchester City in the league, but twelve less than United (the same number that their new signing currently has to his name). Breaking the deadlock seems to be a key problem, with Arsenal’s failure to score in five out of seventeen games the joint most in the league. Therefore while the goalscoring situation is not quite as drastic as I predicted at the start of the season, a new striker would be far from surplus to requirements. Demba Ba and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar seem to have been singled out by the speculators as the front-runners. Both are proven goalscorers at a high level, and both could be available for around £7.5 million. Stephan El Shaaraway’s name has been thrown around of late but his £25 million price-tag could prove a stumbling block.

No, I am not going to suggest Thierry Henry.


            In my opinion though, Arsenal are as much in need of a defensive boost as they are of some clinical attacking. Despite a good start to the season, individual mistakes and injuries have caused a loss of confidence at the back. After keeping clean sheets in all of their first three games this season, Arsenal have only managed three more in the subsequent twenty-three matches. It is worth pointing out, however, that this total of six clean sheets is still the joint second most in the league. Arsenal’s defence has lacked composure and seems to switch off once the team has scored a couple of goals, as they did on Monday. Though they have conceded the fourth fewest goals in the league, Arsenal are also one of only four teams in the league to score three goals in a game and fail to win. FC Basel’s Aleksander Dragovic has been mentioned, and he would be a reasonably cheap option. However, it seems to me that what Arsenal need at the back more than anything is Premier League experience. Arsenal’s average team age has been higher in 2012 than in years gone by, but Kieran Gibbs only stepped up to first choice left-back last season. Per Mertesacker also has just the one Premier League season under his belt and rumour has it that our most experienced defender, Bacary Sagna may not remain at the club much longer (I very much hope that this is just hot air).

Fulham’s Brede Hangeland has been linked with Arsenal for a while but his manager expects him to sign a new contract soon. Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross has looked very impressive again this season, but the style of football he is accustomed to at Stoke is very different to Arsenal’s, as has caused Wenger much frustration when playing them over the years. It also seems unlikely that the club would be enthusiastic about signing the player who broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg. Wenger has also long been an admirer of Phil Jagielka at Everton, though with an asking price upwards of £16 million, and with Everton enjoying their best start to a season in years, this is also an ambitious option.

No, I am not going to suggest Sol Campbell.


In my eyes, the obvious choice is Joleon Lescott. With eight seasons spent playing at the top level as well as twenty-two England caps, Lescott is an experienced and confident professional. He was an important part of the title-winning Manchester City team last year, playing thirty-three games and chipping in with two goals. At the age of thirty, he can continue at the top level at least for the next couple of seasons, and having fallen down the ranks at City this year, would presumably be available at a much more reasonable price than the £24 million that took him away from Everton in 2010.

            Midfield has been Arsenal’s strongest position this season, the trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Cazorla has worked well together of late, and we will receive a further boost when Diaby returns from injury. The only reason that the club may need to strengthen this department would be if Theo Walcott were to leave. The Walcott situation is a tricky one. He is an important player for Arsenal, but he is not (yet, at least) seen in the same league as Cesc Fàbregas or even Samir Nasri at his Arsenal peak. If he were younger or perhaps older, had won something with the club, or expected to in the near future, he would probably take the money that Arsenal are putting on the table. As it is, he is a player approaching his best years of football. He has had his best start to a season to date, and as such feels he is worthy of a higher salary. If he leaves, it would most likely be to another English team. If he went to Liverpool, it would only be for the money, as they are likely to finish lower than Arsenal again this season. Though Manchester United are interested, I cannot see how such a move would be beneficial for either party. United have strong enough options in that position and would presumably not be willing to pay that much more than Arsenal would for a player who is still just falling short of his potential. Perhaps the most likely move would be to Chelsea, a club to whom an astronomical wage bill is of little concern. He would be unlikely to hold down a starting position there though, and (although I am biased) I honestly cannot see him doing better from a football perspective at any other club than Arsenal. Unfortunately history is against Arsenal, with an overwhelming number of the club’s top performers of late jumping ship to their rivals as soon as they hit their best form. The point is that if Walcott does go, Wenger needs to have a suitable replacement lined up straightaway.

           Maybe Pirès...

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