Wenger's toughest Arsenal challenge
Armed with a new sponsorship deal it appears Arsene Wenger will have an increased transfer budget at his disposal this January. After seven seasons without a trophy and an undistinguished start to this campaign, the signs are that the notoriously tight-fisted Frenchman is preparing to splash this newly available cash.
But has he left it too late? Are the players who could make a serious difference to the quality of the Arsenal first team available?
This is perhaps the most difficult period of Wenger’s 16-year tenure in charge of the Gunners. His team has not won a trophy since 2005, and at no point in that run has one seemed so out of their grasp.
Previous incarnations of Wenger’s Arsenal have been able to point to comfortable top four finishes guaranteeing Champions League football, and a conveyor belt of talent appearing seemingly at will from their North London training ground.
These teenagers, unleashed on the League Cup, used to tear apart even Premier League teams with thrilling displays of attacking instinct, making a rosy, trophy laden future seemingly inevitable.
It was a harrowing evening for Wenger, and clearly displays how far the club has fallen. Cup upsets happen. The mere fact Wenger put out a full strength team, shows he no longer sees this competition as a distraction from bigger things, but as his chance for silverware.
Now the cavalry has arrived riding horses of money, but where does the money need to be spent? Another striker appears a must, a commanding center back perhaps, and a defensive midfielder would be useful.
Identifying the weaknesses in the Arsenal team are one thing, finding the players to plug those gaps is another matter entirely. While Arsenal were busy balancing the books, their rivals have stolen a march and forged ahead.
The last few seasons have seen players for whom a new North London home seemed essential have slipped through their fingers, mainly ending up at Chelsea (Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and Victor Moses, Romelu Lukaku) but also painfully, Spurs (Jan Vertonghen).
It may no longer be a case of, who do they need, but who is left in the January sales. Misfits and the previously discarded most likely.
The irony is, even though Wenger now has the money to spend, he will still be searching for the diamond in the rough, the undiscovered gem, because his big name targets have already been sold. He may also have to work a little harder to convince players to sign. A lack of trophies, regular departures of their best players, and a notoriously restrictive wage structure hardly scream 'sign for me!'
The invincible team of 2004-2005 have gone, the bright young things have been sold, this is a crossroads moment for Arsenal, made worst by increasing rumors of Wenger’s stay in the Arsenal dugout, no longer seems as indefinite as in previous seasons.
Wenger has played a massive part in shaping Arsenal football club from the training ground to the boardroom. With staff disharmony, booing crowds and boardroom battles, turning this team into one which can again challenge for trophies may be one transformation too many.