The transfer window has finally arrived, and with it comes the abhorrent transformation of mature men and women into dead-eyed souls with all the impatience and raw excitement of a small child on Christmas Day.
‘tis the season to pull your hair out, moan, and get excited over something that’s, frankly, pretty futile. But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t caught up in it, and didn’t love every second. For Arsenal, this month is particularly important, perhaps the most crucial under Arsène Wenger’s stewardship.
We’ve moved between hyperbolic crises and whilst things are of course not that bad, the garden is certainly not at its rosiest. The club have taken good early steps that will appease certain sections of the fan-base by shipping out the ‘deadwood,’ to coin a nauseating tabloid buzzword.
Marouane Chamakh has been loaned to West Ham, Johan Djourou will spend the remainder of the season at Hannover, and Sebastien Squillaci is also edging closer to the exit door, having been unable to find a club that would take him last summer. I appreciate I may be on my own here, but I have a little bit of sympathy for each of those on their way out. Not the fact that they’ve each been twiddling their thumbs for £40k a week, but that I don’t any are as woeful as many would have you believe.
Djourou in particular I’m sorry to see leave in such disappointing fashion; when he’s shown glimpses of his potential that could have led him to be, as Harry Redknapp might say, a top, top player. Certainly in the 2010/11 season, he began to show us why he was given a six-year contract once upon a time with some colossal performances at the heart of the defence. With Thomas Vermaelen out for the vast majority of the season, he struck up a fine partnership with Laurent Koscielny; one that kept four clean sheets in January 2011, and shackled the likes of Didier Drogba, a notorious bogeyman, and that Lionel Messi fella, who, by all accounts, isn’t bad.
I think many forget just how good he was, until his form, and perhaps ultimately, his Arsenal career, was curtailed by a shoulder injury sustained at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. He simply hasn’t been the same player since. Shoehorned into the side at right-back has done little for his confidence, and he reached an all-time low last season when, against Manchester United, he was replaced at half-time, a period in which the manager seldom makes changes, for young Nico Yennaris, who performed to a far higher standard. Since then, he’s featured intermittently and has failed to impress. Subsequently, he’s become a name on what has become an ever-lengthening list of ‘flops’ that we should seek to offload as quickly as possible. Yes, I do think a move is best for all parties, but I resent the fact he’s been described as “useless” when, once upon a time, it could be argued he was Arsenal’s finest defender.
Likewise, there was a period of Chamakh’s Arsenal career when he was quite effective. Until about Christmas, and the return of that Dutch bloke, he led the line extremely well for someone coming from another league. Not unjustifiably so, that form has been forgotten thanks to his minimal contribution in the subsequent 24 months, but the point remains that there’s a decent player in there. I’m of the unpopular opinion that, given a run of games, trusted with responsibility, Chamakh could do all right at West Ham. Perhaps under Sam Allardyce’s, ahem, functional brand of hoofball, he could flourish as the target man he was meant to be for us upon arrival from Bordeaux in 2010.
Of course, whilst these players barely featured, and few will shed any tears over their departures, they were at least bodies in the squad; ones who often filled a place on the bench, and therefore, surely, need to be replaced. If Squillaci departs as well, all it takes is an injury to one of Vermaelen, Koscielny or Mertesacker, and we’re down to the bare bones.
Even more so up front, with Chamakh gone, Gervinho off to Africa for a few weeks, and the future of Theo Walcott still very much up in the air, there is an obscene amount of pressure on Olivier Giroud to perform. Another striker is absolutely essential and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, failure to bring in such a player would have every chance of being a catastrophic move.
We’ve missed out on Demba Ba and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who plenty weren’t keen on anyway, so in terms of realistic targets, we’re already scraping the proverbial barrel. David Villa has been a player linked heavily in recent days and weeks; whether he’s a genuine, realistic possibility I don’t know, but I do know that he’d be an excellent addition to the squad. Having seen Mertesacker, Arteta and Koscielny play a big part in luring Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud respectively in the summer, hopefully our two Spaniards can do the same with Villa who, by all accounts, is out of favour at Barcelona.
Of course there is an element of risk to the deal in the sense that he’s 31, and has only recently returned from a serious injury, which, as we’ve seen with Eduardo, can have a detrimental effect on a player’s career. Nevertheless, there are few better finishers around; none with the experience and know-how Villa can provide to what is still a relatively young team. He’s featured irregularly this season but his stats are mouthwatering; a conversion rate of 71% compared to say, Giroud at 13% or Gervinho at 19%.
Villa also offers a little versatility, as he’s more than capable of playing as the main striker as he is cutting in from the left. Whether it’s him or someone else, I can’t help but feel we need someone else on the flanks as well; particularly with the aforementioned issues with Gervinho and Walcott, Podolski’s inconsistency, Arshavin’s apparent lack of existence and the fact that Wenger suggested at the start of the season that Oxlade-Chamberlain is now a central player. He hasn’t featured there once this season, such is our lack of options out wide that he has had to take up that berth once again. Wilfried Zaha is another name that has been touted and I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like him come in to add greater depth to the squad.
Whilst I think it’s commendable we’re looking to shift this so-called ‘deadwood’ it really is vitally important that we add two or three players to what is, frankly, a paper-thin squad. These next few weeks really could define not only this season, but the future of the club, and perhaps even the manager’s legacy. A good run in the Champions League would be great. A top four place is essential. The FA Cup is up for grabs. With the right additions we can achieve each and every one of those. It’d be foolish to panic that we haven’t brought in anyone in yet, after five days of the window, but make no mistake of its importance. Let’s hope we do what needs to be done.------------
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