Predicting Arsenal's Starting XI Post-Transfer Window
When January 1st arrived, there was the usual air of excitement and anticipation around the Emirates Stadium that seems to come around whenever a new transfer window opens.
Fast forward three weeks, and the club are no closer to signing a new player as they were back then.
In between, players have left the club on loan, which only succeeds in raising the bar of hope once again. Yet, time after time Arsene Wenger says he will only sign quality, but that that quality does not seem to be out there.
With that backdrop, here I try to dissect what Arsenal’s starting lineup will be for their first game after the transfer window closes, at home to Stoke on February 2nd.
An admittance on Tuesday that Wenger would like to bring in two new players at least leaves the door open for some speculation.
There is no doubt Wojciech Szczesny will be in between the sticks come the Stoke game, as he is light-years ahead of deputies Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski.
While the club would benefit from bringing in a new goalkeeper with experience to both keep the Pole on his toes and help develop him, it would be madness for Wenger to spend money on that department this January.
There are far more pressing concerns over the rest of the pitch.
With Carl Jenkinson recently putting pen to paper on a new deal, and with the experienced Bacary Sagna in front of the young Englishman, right-back is a position that Wenger does not need to worry about for the foreseeable future.
Sagna should be in the side come February 2nd, as a Sagna firing on all cylinders is one of the best in his position in the country.
Some of his recent performances, however, have left much to be desired—including a woeful display against Chelsea—so Jenkinson could be knocking on the door.
Per Mertesacker has surprised everyone this season by proving to be Wenger’s most valuable centre-back.
Despite fears over his pace, he has shown his reading of the game is more than enough to make up for his slow strides.
While others around him have withered at the back, he has stood strong. And bar one poor performance in the FA Cup against Swansea, Arsenal’s defensive problems would have been far more severe without the big German this season.
Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny have both had very indifferent campaigns thus far.
It appeared at first that the new role of captain was more of a hindrance on Vermaelen than anything else, while Koscielny has lacked the consistency in his performances from last season which would make the centre-back spot his own.
The Gunners' skipper seems to have got back to his best, though, over the last couple of games, while the French international’s stupidity against Manchester City has cost him big time, as after his suspension he now finds himself playing second fiddle once again.
With Johan Djourou having been released on loan and Sebastien Squillaci not being good enough to wear the Arsenal shirt, another centre-back would be a very welcome addition to the squad, but not at the expense of a defensive midfielder or a striker coming in.
Kieran Gibbs is proving to be one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers this season, showing that if he can put a run of games together without getting injured, then little can stop him from rising to the top.
There is really only Andre Santos challenging the England international for the left-back spot, and he has already shown this season that he cannot defend.
If he can stay injury-free, expect to see Gibbs as a mainstay in the team for years to come.
With Mikel Arteta potentially out for a few more weeks, plus the fact that Arsenal have struggled finding a proper balance on the pitch ever since Alex Song’s departure to Barcelona in the summer, a defensive midfielder is a necessity in this transfer window.
Mohamed Diame has raised eyebrows with his displays for West Ham this season, and due to a clause in his contract the box-to-box midfielder is available for as little as £3.5 million.
Arsenal simply cannot rely on the fitness of Abou Diaby, and Diame could be the perfect signing to fill the void, should the former succumb to injury once again.
A fit Abou Diaby is a huge asset to Arsenal. The man with the long legs can run the show if he wants, and he is that key ingredient that has so often been missing for the Gunners, linking defence to attack in one seamless motion.
Sadly, life is not as simple as that for player or for club, and his history with injuries means he cannot be relied on.
When he is fit you have to play him—just as Wenger did when dropping him in the deep end against Manchester City after over three months out.
It would not be surprising to see him pull up with an injury soon, but at least a side with Diame and a fit Arteta would be better equipped to deal with the problem.
Jack Wilshere is the first name on Arsenal’s team sheet. Put simply, without Wilshere, the Gunners would be in an unthinkable mess.
Since returning from after 14 months in injury wilderness, the England man has gradually been getting back to his best. And against Swansea in the FA Cup replay, he put in a monstrous performance and pretty much carried his side through to the next round.
If this is what he is like after over a year out injured, just imagine how good he can be in a year or so.
He is one of the very few leaders Arsenal have left in their team, and Wenger could do worse than buy a few more like of Wilshere if he wants to improve the current situation.
Santi Cazorla hit the ground running when he signed for Arsenal, with his virtuoso performances leading to early calls that he was already the signing of the season.
While he seems to have lost some of that spark of late, on his day he is the most dangerous, skillful and creative player at Wenger’s disposal.
With Diaby returning to fitness, he has been pushed out wide lately—something that may not have happened if he was still in the same vein of form as when he first joined the club—and with the potential arrival of a new central midfielder, this may be where his future lies.
Theo Walcott gets a lot of stick for his inconsistency. Now that he is being paid around £100,000 a week, his performances will face a whole new level of scrutiny.
Yet there is no doubt about it that Arsenal’s top scorer is one of the club’s most important players.
It has been well-publicised that he wants to play upfront, but if we are to presume that Wenger may bring in a new striker, then it looks like he may have to get used to being back on the flank.
A 4-4-2 system would suit Walcott down to the ground as a striker, but while Arsenal play with one man up top, at least against the big clubs, his future is on the wing.
With Wenger revealing he wants to bring in two players—presuming one is in midfield, as he admitted he is rather light in that department—a new striker must be on his list.
While Walcott has shown he can finish well and do a job upfront, his poor performance against Manchester City shows he is more suited to playing out wide in such big games. Olivier Giroud has impressed at times since his arrival but needs another body to help ease the workload.
News this week that David Villa has asked to be allowed to leave Barcelona in January could open the door for a move to the Emirates.
He will cost them, no doubt, but perhaps Arsenal’s willingness to pay Walcott an extortionate wage packet shows the club have moved forward when it comes to finances, while it is more realistic than aiming for Edinson Cavani.
Villa’s signing would be a bold statement, and no doubt a huge addition to the team.