Arsenal sit atop the Premier League in the New Year for the first time since 2008, but the top 3 are separated by the smallest amount of points in the history of the Premier League. At the start of the season you would have said it would be impossible for them to compete with the financial superpowers that are Chelsea and Manchester City, despite the signing of Mesut Ozil for £42.5 million.
It is, however, going to be tough for Arsenal to keep their place at the top. Their squad is already stretched to the limit with injuries and the team still lacks a top quality striking presence. This lack of depth, particularly up front, is only highlighted by the recent injuries to both Theo Walcott and wantaway Nicklas Bendtner, as well as the inconsistent displays of Lukas Podolski when played as a striker.
Arsenal have one of the highest chance creation ratios in the league, but despite this number one frontman Olivier Giroud has managed to score a paltry eight times. It has in fact, been the Gunner’s defence that has kept them at the top of the table. A feat in itself, if you consider the amount of criticism it has been subjected to in recent years.
What Arsenal need is a top class striker that can finish chances, a penalty box poacher. Recent reports have linked the club with Dimitar Berbatov, but Wenger was quick to rubbish those rumours, though he did admit the club were considering their options up front. Diego Costa has also been linked with the club, but it is highly unlikely Wenger would sanction spending 30 million plus in the January window, especially after Ozil’s record move at the end of August.
It’s far more likely Wenger would either swoop for someone with potential, or a player who has already proved themselves in Europe. An interesting young player – and somebody who Arsenal have been linked with by The Mirror – is Michy Batshuayi, who has scored 15 goals for Standard Liege this season. I believe it highly unlikely however that Wenger would move for another youngster after the signing of Yaya Sanogo in the summer, who before his leg break was one of the highest rated teens in France. A far more logical and likely move would be to sign someone with experience and versatility. One such player would be Alexandre Pato – who has impressed sporadically since moving back to Brazil with Corinthians.
People forget just how lethal Pato was during his first three years at AC Milan, and when he first came on the scene he was labelled as the next big thing in Brazil. In his final three years at the club, he suffered from injuries and lack of form, which could be attributed to being asked to play out on the right rather than his preferred position up front. Wenger has a history of taking strikers being played out of position in the Italian League and improving them – anyone remember Thierry Henry?
Pato would be the perfect signing for Arsenal. He has been injury free for the past 18 months and when fit has a proven record in Europe – another bonus. Roberto De Andrade, director of football at Corinthians, has also said Pato is available for transfer, as per Paulo Freitas of Sky Sports.
Pato would also fit perfectly into Arsenal’s style of play. His pace and finishing ability would perfectly complement the finesse and guile of Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey behind him, and a forward trio of Walcott, Pato and Oxlade-Chamberlain would destroy teams with their pace on the break.
Reports have also linked Wenger with signing a centre back, though I believe this is highly unlikely unless Thomas Vermaelen were to leave in search of first team football. However, with Arsenal still in three competitions it’s likely the Belgium vice-captain will get a bit more playing time, particularly in the FA Cup, a competition Wenger has openly stated he wants to win.
Although Arsenal only have three senior centre halves at the club, Bacary Sagna filled in there with great effect for several games last season, and Carl Jenkinson is a more than adequate replacement at right back if injuries did force a reshuffle.
Despite the constant rumours surrounding the Emirates of more midfielders arriving at the club, I don’t see this as a possibility in January. About Diaby is returning in a couple of months (admittedly, for how long), and the club has plenty of strength in depth in the youth teams in this position. Keep an eye on German youth international Gedion Zelalem, who has drawn praise for several strong performances in youth matches and in the senior team’s summer tour of Asia.
Many point the finger at Wenger, saying he is reluctant to spend in winter transfer window. But is this really the case? There have been many examples in recent years of Wenger splashing the cash in January, be it to settle a player in ready for the next season, as in the case of the Jose Antonio Reyes and Walcott signings, or to give the extra impetus needed for a strong league finish, as the signing of Andrey Arshavin provided in February 2009. In fact, Wenger has twice broken the club’s transfer record in the winter window, firstly with Reyes and then again with Arshavin.
Wenger’s past dealings in the winter market show him to be a shrewd manager, who knows what his team need at any given time. In this case, it’s a top class striker to propel Arsenal over the finishing line. Sign one of those, and Arsenal are in with a real chance of claiming the Premier League for the first time since 2004.