Arsenal’s transfer policy has been questionable for a number of years, but this January the club seem to be surpassing themselves with their ineptitude.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Arsenal are a club, who have so much ‘strength in depth’, that they managed to get knocked out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle by a Championship side, Nottingham Forest. Going into today’s game against Bournemouth, Arsenal will remain 6th in the league table no matter what the result. A season of mid-table mediocrity looks likely with former Chelsea legend Dennis Wise predicting (not unreasonably) that Arsenal will finish between 6th and 10th. Wise claims that Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea are all better teams than Arsenal. Few people would argue with that assessment, although I don’t think Arsenal are getting the best out of the players they have got.
Surely in this situation, the worst thing that Arsenal can do is offload players just to get them off the wage bill. If Theo Walcott can do a job for Sam Allardyce at Everton, then why can’t he do a job anymore for Arsenal? Is it because Theo had the honesty to say that Arsenal weren’t up for it last season at Selhurst Park, after a disappointing defeat? Is it more about politics than ability nowadays? If so, it’s no wonder Arsenal seem devoid of spirit every other game and that the players are no longer able to give their best consistently.
In the circumstances, perhaps a major overhaul is needed. However, is it wise to wait until halfway through a transfer window to start offloading players before replacements are secured? So far, Arsenal have lost Francis Coquelin, albeit for a decent transfer fee and now seem poised to lose Walcott for another sizeable sum. Alexis Sanchez will probably join them, as even Wenger admits the Chilean is unlikely to sign a contract extension. With a potential bidding war ensuing between Manchester City (who are refusing to up the ante for now), mischief-makers Manchester United (who may be trying to upset City’s plans to sign Sanchez in the summer) and Liverpool (who are ready to spend money to match their ambitions), Arsenal may recoup around £35m for the want-away star. By all accounts, Arsenal could have banked more than double that if they had been prepared to sell to City this summer, but the financially-prudent club decided to keep an unhappy star and see how it panned out.
The season has virtually gone down the pan, as a result of the poor decision made on the transfer front in the summer not to significantly strengthen the squad. There were even rumours that Shkodran Mustafi was about to be sold, which would have taken the metaphorical biscuit, given he’s one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers. The only light at the end of the transfer tunnel was the acquisitions of Alexander Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac. Over the summer, the club dithered over the re-signing or selling of Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, making Arsenal seem something of a laughing stock (compared to the ‘big five’) even before a ball was kicked in anger.
As we pass the halfway point in the season, Arsenal have only got two cups to play for and few would bank on them overcoming Chelsea and then Man City (who are already ahead of Bristol City in the other semi-final) in the League Cup. That leaves the Europa League, which Arsenal may be capable of winning. However, so poor are performances of late, it is hard to see the Gunners returning from the sub-zero temperatures and plastic pitch of Ostersunds with an advantage to take into the second leg. Arsenal have developed such an uncanny knack of shooting themselves in the foot that fans simply cannot take any result for granted, even if the players and the manager seem to.
Strengthening the squad appears to be the only answer, but Arsenal seem intent on flogging what talent exists at the club first before pushing youngsters (whether they are ready or not) up the pecking order to replace the outgoing stars.