As the January transfer window comes to a close today, Arsenal FC manager Arsene Wenger has again failed to meet the demands of many of the club’s supporters to spend serious money to improve the team.
Experiencing what is arguably their worst season since Wenger took over 16 years ago, Arsenal are currently fifth in the English Premier League table, and sitting five points behind fourth-place Chelsea, are set to miss qualifying for the Champions League unless their form progresses in the remainder of this season.
Wenger’s philosophy to run a football club has been to focus on developing young players. The club’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis has defended and supported Wenger, because it has proven to work for Arsenal in the past.
Twenty-year-old midfielder Jack Wilshire joined the club when he was nine years old, and though he has been injured this term, he has a bright future ahead of him at Emirates Stadium and also with the English national team.
Then, last August, Wenger made a move for 18-year-old Southampton winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Making his first Premier League start on January 22, 2012, Arsenal supporters booed when he was subbed off for Andrei Arshavin. Like Wilshire, Oxlade-Chamberlain also has a bright football future with the club and the English national team.
Though Gazidis has supported Wenger’s theory on bringing along young players, he has maintained that Wenger has access to all the money the club has generated if the manager wishes to make a splash in the transfer market.
The funds generated include the more than £50 million the club received for selling former captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and French international attacking midfielder Samir Nasri to Manchester City last August.
Many Arsenal supporters were angry when Wenger did not make a big signing for a sufficient replacement for either Fabregas or Nasri, despite the amount of money they were sold for.
Earlier this month, Wenger opened the January transfer window with a move for the club's all-time leading scorer, Thierry Henry. After training with the club during the MLS offseason, Henry signed for two months, as the club are without Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, who are participating in the Africa Cup of Nations.
While Henry is beloved by the fans and has given them a lift, his signing will at most be a short-term solution for the Gunners. For only two months, it is unlikely that the aging French striker will have a major impact for the club who erected a bronze statue of him this past December.
After bringing Henry in, Wenger was quiet in the transfer market until deadline day. Today, Wenger again favored youth as he constructed a last-minute deal for Thomas Eisfeld, a 19-year-old attacking midfielder from Germany.
Eisfeld, who cost about £400,000, came from Borussia Dortmund, where he sat on the bench and struggled to make the first team.
Though Eisfeld has potential, he is not even rated as one of Dortmund’s top-five prospects. In 2009, he suffered damage to his ACL that some of his coaches called “career-threatening,” which has slowed his development. He has worked his way back into form, though, and scored six goals in 12 appearances with Dortmund’s U-19 team.
Eisfeld’s signing is one for the future rather than the present. The Gunners are still in striking distance of Champions League play, but with Chelsea bringing in attacker Kevin de Bruyne and defender Gary Cahill, they may have fallen even further behind, as Wenger has essentially stood to the side and watched this past month.
The Henry and Eisfeld signings both have their positives and upside, but neither is near enough for Arsenal to seriously compete for a spot in the Champions League this season.
The club could use some help on defense, and skipper Robin van Persie could use some help in the attack. Van Persie has been in world-class form this season, leading the EPL with 19 goals, almost single-handedly keeping Arsenal in contention.
But no one else on the team has more than four goals in league play, and RVP has been injury-prone the past few seasons. To help share the load up top, Wenger would be wise to spend some of the £50 million he brought in last summer and look to someone like Clint Dempsey, who is valued at around £10 million and has scored 15 goals this season.
I’m afraid that because Wenger has not brought in any big-name signatures this January, not only will the club miss out on the Champions League, but they run the risk of possibly losing van Persie.
With less than 18 months remaining on his contract, many clubs have shown interest in van Persie. RVP has said he may be interested in joining Fabregas at Barcelona, and it has been widely speculated that he will decide on his future in North London based on their finish after this season.
By not making any moves this January, Wenger may have missed out on bringing in a marquee player and Champions League play, and he may lose his captain, who has arguably been the best player in the Premier League this season.