It has become almost a transfer window ritual to deplore Arsenal’s lack of activity. In January, however, the North London club were correct to avoid panic buying and keep faith in the squad that have taken them to the top of the Premier League.
It was without a doubt an underwhelming period at the Emirates Stadium. Manager Arsene Wenger acted just once. Experienced central midfielder Kim Kallstrom was drafted in from CSKA Moscow on loan (via BBC) to add depth in the most important of positions.
But did the Frenchman need to be more assertive in strengthening his ranks ahead of what will be a demanding few months in both the Premier League and the Champions League?
There are plenty of commentators who will argue yes. Willie Gannon in these pages was more assertive than most, calling Wenger’s decision not to bring in a striker as an “abject failure”. Phil McNulty, Chief Football Writer for the BBC comes to a similar conclusion; labeled one of the “losers” of the transfer window, Arsenal are again berated for their lack of forward power.
Even former Gunners legend and fellow BBC columnist Martin Keown is puzzled by the same fact. “Arsenal's failure to sign another striker in the January transfer window surprised me - and makes them underdogs for the title,” writes the veteran of countless domestic and European campaigns under Wenger.
Certainly, the inability to close the purchase of Schalke wonderkid Julian Draxler, given the German forward’s undoubted quality, raises eyebrows. But perhaps, knowing the way Wenger works in the market, it was inevitable. The German side quickly inflated the price, pushing the 20-year-old’s value up to a rumoured £37 million.
The French manager, as Keown also recognizes, is not known for splashing out on relatively unproven talent, and this seems to have been the determining factor—rightly or wrongly, we shall yet see—in turning down Draxler.
Against these criticisms, moreover, Arsenal have one very powerful weapon: the facts. Those who doubt can catch a quick glance at the Premier League table. There, they will see an Arsenal team similarly written off as also-rans after a quiet summer transfer period at the top of the table.
In one of the most competitive Premier League races in recent memory, the Gunners sit two points clear of free-spending Manchester City and Chelsea; vindication is needed of Wenger’s safety-first policy in the market.
The lack of a new striker, with resources bare in that position, could prove to be a mistake. But it also reflects confidence in the ability of the side to score from across the pitch. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s double against Crystal Palace at the weekend was a prime example.
In two wonderful examples of collective approach play, Arsenal built patiently yet lethally from near the centre circle. The precision and understanding between Santi Cazorla and Chamberlain for the first goal could not have been repeated by a centre-forward with three days behind him in the Arsenal dressing room. That snapshot is borne out by the statistics: the Gunners when it comes to goals love to share.
Olivier Giroud leads the way for the club with 14 in all competitions. This tally cannot compete with the 26 that Sergio Aguero has smashed for Manchester City, or Luis Suarez’s 23 in the Premier League alone.
But in Liverpool, the Uruguayan is one of only four players to break the five-goal mark so far in the season. The Citizens fare better, with seven men over that milestone. In comparison Arsenal match City’s number of scorers even hitting the net far fewer times (67 to 115).
Manuel Pellegrini’s team have inflated their totals with some frightful thrashings; but it is Arsenal, who with 21 fewer goals have the same winning percentage in the Premier League, who remain top of the table as we enter the season’s most crucial months.
It is all-too fashionable for writers to punish Arsenal for their transfer inertia. But those who believed that a failure to buy a top-quality striker over the summer have so far been proved totally and delightfully wrong by the talented Gunners. Do not bet for a second that the same squad cannot go on and spring a surprise come the final day of the Premier League season.