Buy, sell or trade? Je n'ai aucune idee!
In less than fifteen full days, the majority of the world's footballing associations will enter the January Transfer Window and the landscape will change. In some cases, it is as stark a temperature shift as winter and summer in New York City, while in others, it's closer to the relatively constant weather of equatorial nations like Ecuador.
For a big club like Arsenal, this is no different, though fiscally-minded manager Arsene Wenger rarely splashes large sums during the January spell (or the summer for that matter) and the stable of players at Ashburton Grove changes little. That does not mean that Le Prof is above spending when he needs to, however, and perhaps January 2012 will see some movement.
So, without further ado, here is a position-by-position look at the Gunners with who needs to go, who needs to stay and who might show up for Arsenal to continue the surge to the Top 4.
If there is one position where Arsenal fans feel comfortable, it's with the goalie. In what was initially seen as a disastrous series of events that saw first Manual Almunia and then fabulously in-form Łukasz Fabiański get injured during the 2010-2011 campaign, Wojciech Szczęsny stepped forward and announced through both his play and his mouth, that he was the best keeper in the Arsenal first team.
Starting the season fighting for No. 3 with Vito Mannone, he just continued to impress. By the time Almunia and Fabiański were fit once more, he had a death grip on the position. Now, for the first time since Mad Jens Lehmann left the first time, Arsenal has one of the best young keepers in Europe and a very capable back-up in Fabiański. Mannone still has work, but has also shown some ability (we'll go ahead and just forget that game against Olympiakos...)
OUT: Arsenal has to unload Manual Almunia. That the man has talent is unmistakable and he has shown numerous times over his Arsenal career that he could be an amazing keeper. The problem is that when he's not good, he's horrible and he's a liability at the back. I wish him the best, but Arsene needs to cut his losses and let the Spaniard go before he's tempted to play him again.
If Mirror Football is to be believed, they have another Szczesny-in-waiting with the reserves in Damian Martinez, and the young man hopes to emulate the current No. 1 with a loan spell to get quality playing time and develop. If Mannone isn't careful, his spot at No. 3 could be at risk.
IN: No one. Arsenal not only has a great starter, but an able deputy and third man in Fabiański and Mannone.
At the start of the current campaign, Arsenal boasted a fragile back four, but it wasn't the fault of the current starter at right fullback. If you could count on one person to always be there in defense for the Gunners, it was Bacary Sagna.
While Thomas Vermaelen is the unquestioned leader of the back line and an amazing player, he just hasn't been able to consistently appear for the Gunners through the years. Thankfully, after some early-season surgery, the Belgian is available, but in his absence, Bacary Sagna has provided world-class defense on the right. Woe to the Arsenal when he went down against Spurs.
Gooners everywhere are chomping at the bit for him to get back to playing fitness.
Backing him up is young, but capable Carl Jenkinson, a lad who has yet to grow into the role, but has shown immense promise. His decision-making is lacking at times and he has a propensity to be a bit rash, but he could be special. At times he has been one of the best attacking fullbacks on the team and has the pace to recover.
Unfortunately, he went down with a stress fracture in his back and hasn't featured since early November. He should return within a couple of weeks, if not this weekend against Manchester City.
OUT: No one. The Gunners only have two players that are regular right backs and both are needed and wanted, though injured.
IN: This is a different story. Arsenal needs to reinforce the fullbacks. As this year has shown, Murphy's Law of injuries continues to haunt the Gunners. This year, however, it is on the back line as all four fullbacks are currently injured. Paulo Ferreira is rumored to be on sale in January (Daily Mail) and the Gunners could possibly secure his services, providing pace and experience to the back line.
Who would have thought that Arsene Wenger would be deep at center back? It is, amazingly enough, the deepest of all the positions for the first team if you avoid lumping all off the midfielders into a single group. With healthy and established players, Arsenal has been able to cover down on the loss of their fullbacks by playing center halves out wide. Who's manning the barricades?
The unquestioned leader along the back line and deputy captain for the Gunners, Thomas Vermaelen has returned from last year's injury and his brief spell out this season with a purpose. Arsene's Red Army has played but fifteen games and he has already saved Arsenal from utter annihilation innumerable times.
Le Prof could not have said it better at the start of the campaign when he said that getting Vermaelen back would be akin to a fresh signing as the team is a completely different animal with him on the pitch.
I typically hate it when I am wrong, but I cannot deny how happy I am that Laurent Koscielny has forced me to eat my words. Last season and throughout the summer, I dogged him relentlessly because, for all his exuberance and energy, he was reckless and dangerous.
Kos has emerged this year as a monster at the back for Arsenal. His pace, positioning and tackling have meant the difference between a win or a draw or between a draw or a loss almost as much as the Verminator.
Per Mertesacker is also not to be underestimated, but I think we all are a bit shocked at how unphysical the German seems to be. He towers over the field and has a reputation as a dangerous header of the ball, and yet shorter players outleap him. He must still adapt to the speed of the EPL. Quoted by ESPN:
"It's getting better and better and hopefully I can keep improving now. Let me play a season and you can get the full picture of my personality and my ability as a footballer."
Ignasi Miquel was called up from the reserves last season against Leyton Orient and has continued to impress. The captain of the Arsenal reserves now features regularly for the Gunners and should be given more opportunities to show his worth. He has even been the best man on the pitch at times and, arguably, man of the match with the first team.
Johann Djourou is an enigma. The Swiss international has gobs of physical talent but has seemingly lost all track of how to position himself. He attempts to hold onto the ball like a midfielder and occasionally forgets how to make a safe pass. He shouldn't start in the center, but he's been marginally adequate playing on the wings.
Sébastien Squillaci, unfortunately, is still a Gunner. What experience he brought with him and what skills he once possessed have long been overshadowed by his inability to do anything correctly on the pitch. Maybe it's the pace of the EPL, but the Squid just isn't up to snuff.
OUT: Squillaci. He just needs to be removed from the roster in order to make room for someone who can make a useful contribution to the side. Squillaci remains a liability to the Gunners and, while I applaud his attempt to play in the EPL, he should try to ply his trade somewhere else... like the MLS.
IN: No one. With four center backs, the Gunners are doing just fine and should focus on reinforcements elsewhere.
I was pretty upset when Gael Clichy left for Manchester City, but having watched him play this year, I was suddenly not that mad anymore. Arsenal has two left backs that are capable of filling in the spot vacated by Clichy in his current form.
Starter by injury default, summer signing Andre Santos has proven to be a capable yet wildly inconsistent defender for the boys in red and white. One game he's amazing, providing attacking prowess and stopping players cold and then the next game he's out to lunch with the defensive mids and center halves covering down on his mistakes.
That being said, he's growing into his role still, and the Gunners are worse off for not having him on the pitch.
The same can be said for fellow injured left back Keiran Gibbs. The youngster had loads of pace and talent to play with the varsity team, but his brain is somewhere between the first team and the reserves. When he's hot, he's great. When he's not, he's another young man that is having to learn quickly.
OUT: No one. Arsenal are two-deep at left back and need to retain the services of both Santos and Gibbs.
IN: The list of possible left backs is extensive and perhaps players would come in on loan, but here is where Arsenal should replace a roster spot populated by Squillaci or Almunia.
One such prospect is Jan Vertonghen (from Daily Mail) who is rumored to be the target of both Spurs and the Gunners come January and is equally adept playing on the left as in the middle. Another possibility is disgruntled left back Taye Taiwo who has recently made his displeasure at a lack of playing time public. A third name is Southhampton youngster Luke Shaw who the Gunners have been eying.
Arsenal could do far worse.
While many other players have been given credit for Arsenal's resurgence, it's hard to look past Alex Song and say that he hasn't been one of the key players. Despite some ridiculous antics on opening day involving the ever-volatile Joey Barton, Song has been a rock in the middle for the Gunners.
This year, Song has continued to develop his offensive skills to supplement his already prodigious defensive abilities that have him as, arguably, the best defensive midfielder in the EPL. He will have to cover the back four a bit more with the injuries to the fullbacks, but he has been a rock that Arsenal can lean upon.
First-choice deputies for the Cameroon international include two of Arsenal's young talents in Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong. Both have shown their quality since last year, though Coquelin seems the more composed of the two. Either way, should Arsenal hold on to both, they will continue Song's legacy of defending the middle of the pitch.
OUT: Neither of these three should leave as they represent the present and future for Arsenal. Incidentally, both Coquelin and Frimpong have been linked with moves away from the Gunners this January. Lille has made their interest in Coquelin well known and Wolves, Swans and the Canaries are all reportedly interested in Frimpong for a second-half loan.
IN: Where to begin? The Gunners have been linked to both Yoann Gourcuff and Yann M'vila, but Wenger recently dismissed the possibility of a winter move for Gourcuff and M'Vila has stated that he wants to move on, but not until the summer. Cheick Tioté joins the latest round of rumors as a possible Arsenal target.
Mikel Arteta faces a challenge with the return of Jack Wilshere
Mikel Arteta, the 11th-hour signing from Everton has ensured that only Jack Wilshere could possibly displace him from his spot on the Starting 11. Since his arrival, the Spaniard's ability to make plays, hold onto the ball and even score have seen the Gunners recover from the devastating loss of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
Only the supremely talented Jack Wilshere has any hope of disloding Arteta in his current form for Arsenal.
Jack Wilshere, injured during the Emirates Cup, is the future for Arsenal and has pledged to never leave. Red and White to his core, the young midfielder is coveted by every club in Europe and rightfully so. His return at the turn of the year should provide Arsenal with another dimension.
The rest of the center midfield cast is led by three international captains, Aaron Ramsey (Wales), Tomáš Rosický (Little Mozart - Czech Republic) and Yossi Benayoun (Israel). All have shown the class they possess with Ramsey growing quickly as he gets more playing time following a nightmare injury at the hands of Ryan Shawcross in 2010.
Rosický is finding himself in terrific form for the Gunners this season while Benayoun has been hit or miss, but his leadership has been a boon for a team in need of it. Also, he has provided some help on the scorecard.
Abou Diaby has never seemingly recovered from a horrific injury suffered against Sunderland in 2006 and his resulting displays have been wildly inconsistent. Denilson is a non-factor as well, away on loan and having claimed to never want to return.
OUT: Yossi Benayoun's loan spell is set to end following the season. Unless it's a loan with an option to buy, he will return to a Chelsea side that doesn't care for him any longer. Tomáš Rosický has drawn plenty of interest from clubs, most notably VfL Wolfsburg whose manager praised him recently. Denilson (the only slow Brazilian in history) should also make his loan move a permanent one or find somewhere else to ply his trade.
IN: Arsenal's bid for Mario Goetze is in question with £30million the asking price, L'Equipe has mentioned Kevin Anin, rumors continue to swirl around ManU contract rebel Paul Pogba and Calciomercato claims that Arsenal is gunning for Lucas Biglia.
With Theo Walcott on the right, Gervinho is the first-team selection on the left and has provided immense pace on the left side of the pitch. His runs challenge defenders and his style is slightly at odds with the rest of Arsenal, giving them a bit of unpredictability...unpredictable in when he'll pass or run right at the defense. If he can manage to polish his finishing, he'll be dangerous for years to come.
Andrei Arshavin showed up to Arsenal amidst great fanfare, but has rarely lived up to expectations. There are times when you can see the amazing ability of the little Russian, but the one skill he has developed the most is the ability to disappear for entire stretches of the season, let alone just disappearing during matches.
Perhaps this is a result of less playing time, but either way, Arshavin is a shadow of his former self.
Ryo Miyaichi is the only other actual left winger on the side and his injury has sidelined the Japanese dynamo and prevented his participation in League Cup matches or the "throwaway" game against Olympiakos. The youngster impressed for Feyenoord so much last season that they've inquired on loaning him in once more.
OUT: Andrei Arshavin has outlived his usefulness to Arsenal and should consider a move away from the Emirates. As much as I loved his goal against Barcelona last year, he simply doesn't show up enough and has no desire to track back. Caughtoffside claims that Wenger will use him to sweeten the pot for Goetze.
Miyaichi may be loaned out for the second half of the season as Wenger seeks to gain more experience for the talented youngster. Goal.com reports that both Fulham and Feyenoord are looking to secure his services.
IN: Wenger would love to get his hands on Eden Hazard, but it looks increasingly like the Lille winger will not arrive at the Emirates. No one can imagine Le Prof shelling out Lille's £43m evaluation of their star.
The future of Arsenal.
Theo Walcott's great run of form has allowed him to lock down the role of starting right winger in Arsene's Red Army. His terrific pace and improving passing skills have made him even more of a headache for opposition left backs at all levels of competition.
If he can continue to improve his shooting, Arsenal could have a true second scorer on the side. He'll have to keep up the great work, however, because he has a youngster breathing down his neck.
I was among the doubtful when Arsene Wenger dipped into his pockets and signed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the summer and all I could think was, "Oh no! Another project?!?! NOW!?!?!"
Instead, like with Koscielny, I have been left impressed by AOC's ability to simply dismantle the opposition. He has size, speed, power and confidence in spades and truly represents the future of Arsenal alongside Jack Wilshere.
OUT: Arsenal sits only two deep at right wing, but many of their players are capable of covering the position should Theo or Ox not be available. I don't see either of these two leaving anytime soon.
IN: Most of the January targets can play all across the front and attacking midfield, but I'm not aware of any specific right wingers that have been targeted.
There are not enough superlatives to cover the current form of Robin van Persie as he has shouldered the burden left by both Cesc and Samir and carried Arsenal through the darkness and back into the light.
On pace to break Alan Shearer's scoring record for league goals in a calendar year, a relatively injury-free Flying Dutchman has grown into the player that Arsene Wenger could see all those years ago. I'm sure we'd clone him if we could.
Backing up the devastating Dutchman, however, is where Arsenal finds itself at its weakest.
Marouane Chamakh started his career with Arsenal as brightly as any other player to come into the EPL. He immediately put his head to use scoring goals, then added his feet and finally began passing the ball around for assists.
And then he lost all confidence, all form and is still trying to find his way back onto the pitch. Seriously, look at him when he plays these days...the poor guy looks lost and with him goes our hope for a quality consistent aerial threat at the front.
Park Chu-Young has yet to make a heavy impact for Arsenal, but the South Korean's quality is well known from his international prowess. That the man can score is accepted, but whether he can translate that to the EPL remains to be seen. With only a year-and-a-half in which to do so, hopefully he comes to life sooner rather than later.
Bendtner and Vela are currently out on loan and are an interesting pair. Bendtner has the tools to be amazing, but his ego gets in the way of his feet. Vela has fallen out of favor for failing to produce given his limited opportunities over the years and their days as part of the formal Arsenal squad are numbered.
OUT: From the outside looking in, it would appear that Marouane Chamakh's time at Ashburton Grove is done, but with Arsene Wenger you can never really tell. The player himself has stated that he cannot get better because he does not play and is willing to leave. Arsenal plays with a single man up front in the middle and that, perhaps, is part of the problem.
Chamakh should look elsewhere because he'll never be the true No. 1 option for the Gunners.
Bendtner and Vela both needs to either make their loan moves permanent or find other clubs that are willing to deal with them. Bendtner is a malcontent convinced of his own superiority and Vela lacks the skill to excel in the Premier League.
IN: If there is a single position outside of the midfield that has received a flurry of attention, it's the lone striker/center forward that Arsenal employs and a veritable list of who's who keeps the rumor mill running:
Lukas Podolski, Karim Benzema, Moussa Sow, Marco Reus, M'Baye Niang, Loïc Rémy, Seydou Doumbia, and Salomon Kalou are all names that have been bandied about and any of the above would bring some relief for van Persie and help alleviate the scoring load.
I leave you with this:
Arsenal need signings to bolster their bench and add firepower, but Wenger has a tendency to be tighter with the purse strings than Ebeneezer Scrooge. He'll have to go against his better nature and spend in January to continue the current surge with the Cup of Nations striking home at the turn of the new year.
I hope that he discards the chaff and picks up some true talent that can help us stay (at the very least) in the Top 4, but to also challenge for domestic honors. So while it's definitely abnormal, so was a last-minute shopping spree to close out the summer!
Let me know what you think!
Gooner for Life!