After yesterday’s disastrous attempt to talk about the frustrations of this season’s transfer window, in which I ended up just celebrating everything positive about Özil, I think it’s time to have another go. I was hoping that by now the post-Özil euphoria would have died down a bit and that we’d be able to evaluate things objectively, but it hasn’t. I’m still a bit giddy to be honest, but I’ll try and push on anyway.
Despite the magnitude of the German’s signing, I don’t think anyone can deny we still have some fairly noticeable holes in the squad. In fact, I’ve seen a fair few cynics implying that maybe Arsenal delayed the Özil announcement until near the closing of the deadline in an attempt to get us to focus on that rather than our lack of any other signings. I’m not sure myself but I’m not ruling it out. Regardless of this alleged PR trickery, we all know we really could have done with a few more players. Wenger’s relentless pursuit of a striker throughout the window – with interest in Jovetic, Suarez, Higuain and Benzema, culminating in a last-ditch attempt to sign Ba on loan – showed that he shares these worries, even if he doesn’t speak about them publicly.
We have a right to be concerned, with Giroud the only reliable option to lead the line; Podolski is injured and was unconvincing in his few appearances at CF anway, the Walcott-as-a-striker experiment seems to have ended with the signing of a new contract, and Sanogo still looks a bit Bambi-ish at the moment. I’m not criticising his signing as it’s not like he drew any money away that could’ve been spent on other players and I’m sure he’ll develop in the future, but at the moment it’s a bit scary to consider he’s our second choice striker. I’m still not sure he’s a massive improvement on Akpom’s current level of ability. There’s still Bendtner of course, and I don’t seem to feel the same collective hatred towards him as a number of our fans do, but he’s out of shape, apparently injured and definitely lacking the motivation to play for the club.
That the situation is far from ideal is apparent to everyone. I still feel that, despite Giroud’s excellent start to the season and the fact that I always felt he was treated far too harshly by the media last year, he’s not at the level a top European club’s first choice striker should be at. United have Van Persie, Madrid have Benzema, PSG have Ibrahimovich and Cavani, Dortmund Lewandowski, City has a wealth of top talent in that position and Barca have both Messi and Neymar fighting it out for that top spot. It’s not that he’s not good enough for the club, far from it, it’s just that other clubs have better options and more of them – we are not going to challenge for the title with our attack completely dependent on one player who, however talented, is still a level below the upper echelons of European forwards.
The same, unfortunately, is true in midfield, both out wide and in the ‘deep’ positions (everywhere apart from in the hole basically). Whilst we don’t lack for quality we do have issues with depth, and probably balance as well. On the face of it the problem isn’t that bad: Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Arteta and Flamini for the deep positions and Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski and Chamberlain out wide. However, three of those players are injured and another (Wilshere) is relatively injury-prone, at least until he shakes off the after effects of that long-term layoff. That means we only really have five players we can rely on for four positions in the short term: Ramsey, Flamini and Rosicky for the two deep roles and Cazorla and Walcott out wide. Take into account that Cazorla and Rosicky are also counted as cover for Özil’s role in the hole and an injury to the German means we’ll be have only youth team players as cover. As much as Gnabry and especially Zelalem excite me, relying on them would almost certainly remove our chances of a meaningful trophy this season. There’s also the fact that out of the three reliable ‘deep’ players, Rosicky isn’t truly suited for that more defensive role and Flamini doesn’t really have the quality to be a first team regular, at least in my opinion. He’s exactly the sort of player we need, but we need a better one than him.
Defence as well I feel we are short a centre back, with us completely dependent on Koscielny and Metresacker in the middle. Quality wise I feel we are absolutely fine as, unlike previous seasons, there isn’t a single player in the backline I would be worried about playing, but we really could’ve done with an extra body, especially with Vermaelen out. Sagna’s proved that he can perform more than adequately at centre back, but that would then leave us short at right back, and I don’t think Bellerin is quite ready to come in and cover.
The frustration is the players were there for us to sign. Clubs drastically smaller than us have signed players I would happily take for relatively small amounts of money. For example, I would take any one of Southampton’s signings – Lovren would be more than adequate as a 4th choice centre back and could easily develop into more than that, and at 8.5m he was easily within our price range, whilst Osvaldo would’ve be an excellent option to add depth up front and Wanyama could’ve been the tough-tackling ‘beast’ in the middle we’ve been lacking. Sakho as well could’ve been an excellent signing and with Wenger allegedly a long-term admirer I don’t know why we weren’t in for him, and to be honest I’d have happily taken Kolo Toure on a free. He played well for Liverpool before he was injured and, like Flamini, would’ve been more than adequate backup and wouldn’t have taken any time to gel back into the club.
However, I accept that I have been exaggeratedly negative throughout most of this piece. A lot of it was drafted before Özil and before I saw Flamini’s performances in the North London Derby and, whilst I’ve been through and re-written the whole thing, it still carries that undertone of negativity and frustration I felt before those events. I also accept that not all of these dealings were within our power. Maybe Lovren, Sakho and Toure were approached, but went to clubs where they’d be first choice, and maybe it was the same with Osvaldo and Wanyama, or players like them. Or maybe Wenger just didn’t think the aforementioned players were at the right level or had the right attributes – Wanyama, for example, could turn out to have nowhere near the technical abilities to fit into our midfield, and Osvaldo’s mentality could have disrupted the strong unit we’ve managed to assemble. It’s hard to tell, and it’s something I neglected to think of whilst I was still channelling the traditional transfer window rage. Now the wizardry of Özil has cleared my head though, at lot of these prior gripes have sort of melted away.
In reality, I think we’re okay. Just. Up front my concerns still remain; we need another striker, maybe two, with one for depth and one being ‘top, top class’. A signing in that position in January is an absolute must for me if we’re going to compete. Hopefully we can lure Benzema away from Madrid, with him being booed constantly by their fans despite some good initial performances, whilst a return for Suarez could also be feasible. Until then I just hope Giroud can maintain his form and fitness. Walcott could maybe handle a few minor games at centre forward and Bendtner, if he gets his fitness back, is far from the worst option we could have – we forget that a lot of his woes came from being shunted out onto the right wing a lot of the time and that the majority of the ill-will towards him is due to his attitude rather than his ability. When Podolski returns we’ll be a bit more secure there, although that’ll be around January time anyway so the fears are still there, as is the need to buy.
Podolski’s return is also important for the midfield. Both he and Chamberlain will be vital for depth in the wide areas as at the moment I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gnabry or Miyaichi getting a few more minutes than expected to rest Cazorla and Walcott. However a large amount of our worrying lack of depth comes from the fact that we’ve already had two big injuries; were our squad at full fitness we’d have two players for either wing and that’s just about what you want really, we could perhaps do with another wide man but too many and it becomes hard to keep the squad happy. Add in the fact that the two aforementioned youngsters, in keeping with the Arsenal way, are probably competent enough to be third and fourth choice for the wide positions and we aren’t really in too bad shape out wide, so long as we get Lukas and the Ox back without suffering further injuries. Centrally is the same, with Flamini’s performance in the NLD reassuring me over his ability and I think he’d fit within the Rosicky category of an experienced squad player with enough ability that you’re happy to see them in the starting eleven, even if you wouldn’t want them there permanently. Whilst I would still like a Flamini-esque player of a higher quality, he’s certainly adequate until Arteta returns.
Defensively is where I’m worried, with three centrebacks not being enough for a season even if all of them were fit. Yes Sagna can fill in there but, as I’ve said, the problem isn’t quality but depth and we could really do with another body in there. I really hope we can get through to January without a major crisis in that position, but I can see it becoming a major issues unfortunately.
So all in all it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’m sorry this piece has been slightly haphazard compared to some of my others – I’m aware I laid out a whole foundation of negativity and then in the second half contradicted myself and claimed that all that doom-and-gloom wasn’t actually that bad – but that’s just how Arsenal were in this transfer window. We still lack depth in a number of key positions, especially defence and centre forward, and lack probably two quality players, with us definitely needing a top centre forward and probably a quality defensive mid, but overall I’m fairly happy with our business. Flamini was a shrewd signing and looks like he could equal Capoue ability-wise without the 9m fee, whilst I’m relatively confident, barring injury to Giroud, we can hold out until January and still be close enough to the top to mount a real challenge if we make the right mid-season signings.
Like a few people have said, I’m fine waiting until deadline day if it gets us someone like Özil, and if the same is true of a top striker then that’s okay. If we didn’t sign a Soldado-class player this window because we’re putting that cash towards a Suarez or a Benzema in January then fair enough, but we need to follow the trend set by the Özil signing. We’ve spent a long time shipping out ‘deadwood’ and assembling a strong base on which to build – I feel there isn’t a single weak link in our squad anymore and all of our players seem to have the right professional, hard-working character – and the Özil signing added world class quality and showed world class intent. We’re set to really push on now and, unlike at the start of the window, we finally have an Özil-shaped lure that shows the big players we mean business and will hopefully make bringing Suarez et al in easier. At the moment we can just about scrape together a title challenge, but add a backup CB and a top class striker come the winter window and we’ll be set to do a lot more than that.
614 total views, 3 views today