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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Reasons why the next month is crucial

In my last two posts, I have stressed the importance of the coming month in terms of which players (if any) may be moving in and out of Arsenal during the transfer window. Five days in, and Arsenal have not been the most inactive of clubs so far. Whilst fans are yet to see real progress being made on any players coming in (despite plenty of gossip), the club has already seen two of its... ahem... less valuable members being farmed out on loan for the rest of the season (Marouane Chamakh to West Ham and Johan Djourou to Hannover 96). This has already created a slight anti-climax, in that many supporters feel that the club should be looking for more permanent deals for its underachievers. Wenger has so far suggested that the moves are to help the players get some playing time, implying that he is still not convinced, as most others are, that he should cut his losses with them. Well, you didn't expect him to admit he was wrong did you?

It has also been reported that the club is seeking moves away for Sebastien Squillaci and Andrei Arshavin, though these high-earners may well linger on until summer, unwilling to forfeit their generous wage packets. In respects to players coming in, Arsenal have so far been unsuccessful in their negotiations, with two players Wenger was interested in, Lewis Holtby and Demba Ba, recently signing contracts with Tottenham and Chelsea respectively. I will continue to stand by my belief that a new defender is a must this window, especially as Arsenal now have only one covering centre-back to call upon. If there is a ray of hope amidst the mostly frustrating Arsenal news of late, it is that the most recent reports have suggested that Theo Walcott is moving closer towards signing a new contract. Talk of a new striker continues to rumble on alongside this.

However, transfer window aside, January is a crucial month for Arsenal more than most this season. Assuming only surplus players are to leave, and at least one or two decent replacements are to come in to replenish the admittedly poor squad depth, Arsenal do not actually have a bad-looking squad going into the new year. For a side who are constantly said to be 'rebuilding', glancing down the current team-sheet provides more optimism than in previous Januarys. This is the first year without an established 'star' in the squad at this point and Arsenal's league position does betray that fact. Nonetheless, I remain optimistic. Our injury list (touch wood) is not as long as it often is at the midway point. Arsenal's current starting eleven usually contains three players who have only been with the club since the summer in Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud, and a further two who arrived the summer before that: Arteta and Mertesacker. Wilshere has also recently returned to this this new-look side, having been out for over a year. Five or six out of eleven counts as a new team: new teams need time to gel.

Something I noticed watching Everton beat Newcastle at the weekend was how well the team had gelled. The core of the Everton team has been playing together for several seasons now, with only a couple of (albeit important) recent signings slotting in to the starting lineup. The players I watched beat a dogged Newcastle side were disciplined and confident, seeming to understand each other's playing styles and being able to anticipate each other's runs and moves with ease. This contrasted sharply with the Arsenal performance against Southampton, where a misplaced pass from Podolski arguably cost them two points. This looks to me to be the reason why Everton have sat above Arsenal in the table for most of the recent months.

Now that Arsenal's 'new' team has been playing a few months together, I would expect results like that against Southampton and Norwich to decrease, and this is a crucial month. All five games over January are against decent opposition who have punished Arsenal before. Not only a victory but a good performance in their FA Cup tie against Swansea, who have already out-played Arsenal once this season, would be a huge boost. It goes without saying that the following games against Manchester City and Chelsea are massive, and four points from those two would at this stage be a great achievement. To go the month unbeaten could turn the season around. Good results though are dependent on seeing a rapid increase in the consistency of Arsenal performances.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), this intriguing month in football coincides with this student's exam season. Therefore this will be my first and last post for the month as, however much I will undoubtedly want to comment on whatever occurs in the Arsenal circus in the coming weeks, I need to compensate for the lack of Uni work done over the past months that I have spent with one or both eyes glued to events in the footballing world.

It will be interesting to look back on this post in February with hindsight, and in all honesty it really could be a great month for Arsenal. However, as this is Arsenal, it could also be an appalling month, or more likely, a complete mixed bag.

Until February then!

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