Arsenal have won four Premier League games in a row, and while they haven't looked dominant in that run, they are finally beginning to look like a top-four side.
As the January transfer window draws near, Arsenal can likely expect some serious action on Arsene Wenger's part, as the current squad is still very much a work in progress.
Theo Walcott is having a career season despite being in the midst of a tenuous contract dispute. Gervinho has cemented himself as a bench player only, and with his impending departure to the Africa Cup of Nations, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will get an extended run in the side.
Beyond this, there is a serious amount of detritus in the squad, some of which will probably be moved on in January, leaving space in the squad for current Arsenal youngsters or, perhaps more likely at this juncture, new faces to be brought into the fold.
Arsenal fans can expect a busy month ahead and will have several expectations for a rising, but still flawed North London side.
During the Gunners' 7-3 victory over Newcastle at the weekend, the Emirates stadium enjoyed choruses of "sign him up" as winger-cum-striker Theo Walcott put on a superb display to net three goals and assist on two others.
In a career where Walcott has largely flattered to deceive, this season has seen the Englishman net 14 goals in only 11 starts (with nine substitute appearances). This tally surpasses his 2010-11 haul of 13—keep in mind that it's only December, and Walcott was left on the bench early in the campaign—and in the three games that he started in his desired central striking position, he has netted four times. Even Walcott's most jaded critics, those who have witnessed years of lightning pace matched only by his horrific final ball, have to be impressed with his form this term.
He's been in the Arsenal setup since his 2006 arrival from Southampton as a 16-year-old, and at 23 years of age Walcott still has his best years ahead of him. Yet it's not just his current performances and age that make signing him up so important—it's that despite his contributions there is still obvious room for improvement in his game.
Some of his finishes are terrific, but just as many are mishit or tame. He's not yet the predatory Henry-type, so to speak. So, too, with his movement, which is very good, especially for a player transitioning into a new role, but is not yet the sublime, perfectly timed work product of a world-class player. For all that Walcott currently is, this rough diamond could be fashioned into a consistently terrifying goal threat, and any Arsenal fan would love to witness the transformation.
In light of his odds, English bookies are pretty convinced that Walcott will remain a Gunner. After his hat-trick against Newcastle, Arsene Wenger would be foolish not to bow to Walcott's contract demands. The writing is on the wall that if he's not worth the money now, he will be going forward.
It has been suggested that Arsenal left-back Andre Santos could be on his way out of the Emirates to join Galatasaray. Despite only joining from Turkish giants Fenerbahce in the summer of 2011, the Brazilian has been something of a liability for the Gunners.
His shirt-swapping incident with former Gunner Robin van Persie aside, Santos has been pretty terrible in an Arsenal jersey. Whatever threat he offers going forward—he was once touted by Pele as being the next Roberto Carlos—has been offset by abominable defensive showings.
He looks sluggish on the field, unable to keep up with most of his assigned marks. This presupposes that he was in the right position to begin with, a big ask for the 29-year-old.
Santos looks likely to depart in January if Galatasaray can up their initial offer of £2.5 million.
The Premier League-tested replacement for Andre Santos would come in the form of 17-year-old Southampton left-back Luke Shaw, a player who the Daily Mail believes is firmly in the sights of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal. The precocious youngster has already played on 10 occasions in the league this season for the Saints, and despite his tender years, he would likely be an immediate improvement on the departing Brazilian.
Although Shaw's arrival would prove no immediate danger to Kieran Gibbs' starting spot on the left, his youth and potential would provide good competition for the England international. As Shaw is currently in the England youth setup, fighting for a spot with Gibbs could prove hugely beneficial in the development of both players.
Shaw's arrival would mean that there is sufficient depth in quality along the back line for Arsenal, with England international Carl Jenkinson providing backup to Bacary Sagna at the right-back position.
Should Shaw arrive in the January transfer window, the future would like bright for Arsenal's notoriously shaky defensive line.
Many pages of digital ink have been spilt on Crystal Palace winger and England international Wilfried Zaha. The 20-year-old looks to be a tremendous talent in the making and has allegedly been targeted by Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham in the January transfer window.
An avowed Arsenal fan, with so much competition for his services, Arsenal may well have to pay over the odds to land the tricky and powerful youngster. And Crystal Palace have no interest in selling him on. Manager Ian Holloway blasted Arsene Wenger last month for talking up the player's obvious talents.
Moreover, does the move even make sense for the Gunners? The answer is emphatically yes. With the footwork of a young Cristiano Ronaldo, and perhaps even more powerfully built than the Portuguese was at the same age, Zaha has the technique and physique to be a huge success in the Premier League.
Moreover, there's space for him in the Arsenal squad. If Theo Walcott signs a new contract and begins to play more frequently through the middle, there is an open spot on the right side of Wenger's 4-2-3-1 formation for the young Englishman.
Andrei Arshavin looks set for an Arsenal exit, and Ivorian Gervinho will be at the Africa Cup of Nations through January and will need time to recover in early February. There's also the issue that Gervinho...well...isn't very good. His heavy footwork is surpassed only by his lack of a quality final ball, and with the arrival of a player like Zaha, the two players could challenge Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for a starting spot.
Zaha would be a welcome, if expensive signing. If he meets the heights of his hype, it may well prove to be a bargain in the long run.
Newcastle striker Demba Ba has a well-publicized £7.5 million release clause in his current deal with the Magpies, and while Arsene Wenger has not publicly stated his desire to purchase the Senegal hitman, he has been coy on the subject of potentially activating the clause.
In the wake of his team's seven-goal haul against Newcastle on Saturday, the Arsenal boss flatly denied rumors that he was pursuing Manchester United winger Nani. But on Ba, he was more cagey. "I like Demba Ba, yes. If you ask me 'do we sign Demba Ba?' I say no. I don't think [this] is the right place to speak about that, because he plays against us...I wouldn't like to put Newcastle or us or him in an uncomfortable position."
Perhaps some will find that to be effectively ruling out a move for the striker, but considering the language used, the situation may be different. He could have simply said "Ba is a terrific player, but no, we are not interested in signing him." Rather, he cites the inappropriateness of tapping up a player as the reason for his denial. In other words, Wenger feels he has to say no.
Whether this ambiguity and articulated interest will result in a bid for the striker remains uncertain. But unloading Marouane Chamakh and signing Demba Ba would leave the Gunners with a top-class strike force.
One can dream.
Andrei Arshavin was a very, very good player when he signed for Arsenal a few years ago and is still a very good player today. He has amassed 28 goals and 39 assists in 131 appearance for the club, almost all of them in a wing position that he had never played in before arriving in London. In 10 appearances this term, he has netted once and assisted on seven goals. It's a pity he probably won't get another starting appearance for the Gunners.
But at 31 years old, his best years are behind him, and his £80,000-per-week salary is one of Arsenal's largest. A misused and at times under-appreciated player, Arshavin probably will not be a Gunner come January, as Reading are looking to bring him in.
So too with Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh, who is reportedly being pursued by West Ham. The striker enjoyed a strong start to his Arsenal career when Robin van Persie was still recovering from a long-term injury. When the Dutchman returned, however, Chamakh's form and confidence fell off the proverbial cliff.
In the cameo appearances that he has been handed in the past year, he has not looked nearly as threatening as he did upon his arrival in London. He enjoys weekly wages that exceed £50,000, and these wages have been the stumbling block that has made Chamakh so difficult to move on. Freeing up these wages, and making any kind of profit for a player that Wenger brought in for free from Bordeaux would allow Demba Ba to take his place.
I can guarantee that Arsenal fans will see something in this article come to fruition in the next month, especially in the exit department. But it would hardly be surprising if there were an arrival or two to compensate for these losses.
Arsenal are perpetually a team in need of a few world-class players to regain the ground they have lost on league rivals Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, and it's unlikely that these needs will be filled in January. But trimming the squad of older or under-performing players and buying players with huge potential, and in Ba's case, demonstrated goal-scoring ability, has always been Wenger's modus operandi.
Wenger's tying down of his young English contingent in late December was an early holiday gift for Arsenal fans. The January transfer window could now help cement Arsenal's place in the top four of the Premier League this term, especially if Theo Walcott's signature can be confirmed on a new five-year deal. And, with a little luck, it might pave the way for greatness, and even a trophy or two in the years to come.