I think everyone, including Wenger, is aware that Arsenal need to bolster the squad in the upcoming transfer window. Few agree on the exact details but defence and striker appear to be two positions where most would want reinforcements. I was thinking about the possibilities while looking at the current squad and it seems like a very complicated situation for the Gunners.
To start with we need to keep the 25 player limit and the home-grown quota requirement in mind. Based on the details of that rule, I compiled the following table for the current squad.
The names in black font are players who are neither home-grown, nor U21. Arsenal already have the maximum possible 17 players under this quota. As a consequence, in order to accommodate any non-English experienced (above 21 years) player, Arsenal will have to leave someone from this list out.
Almunia and Squillaci seem like the obvious candidates for the drop. I can’t see anyone else being left out. I am not completely sure about Diaby’s status as a home-grown player but it’s likely that he doesn’t qualify.
In effect, if Arsenal have to sign a striker they will have to leave Almunia out. Squillaci can probably be replaced by a defensive signing. Although given the current state of injuries at the back, I am not sure leaving the Frenchman out is a wise choice.
There is also a concern over the fitness issues of Mannone and Fabianski so there might be an argument for having four goalkeepers in the squad. Of course “anyone but Almunia” remains the popular mantra so he should be the first to get the chop. There might be some rule for getting an emergency signing if all three goalkeepers are injured. I don’t have the details about that but other clubs have done something similar.
So it would be safe to say Arsenal can get one experienced player in at the expense of the hapless Spanish custodian. But for that to happen he will either have to go on loan, or be sold, or be left out of the list despite being on the club’s payroll. I strongly feel the Gunners should explore the first two options but if it doesn’t work out they should ruthlessly leave him out. I don’t hate the guy as some seem to do and will find such a move harsh but it is also inarguably necessary.
With that free spot Wenger can only bring one player in. That can be a striker, a winger, a midfielder, or a utility player. I will return to the possible choices a little later.
The other option for Arsenal is to sign a player to replace Squillaci or someone who can qualify as home-grown. Apart from the 17 “Foreign” players, each team can have 8 players above the age of 21 who are home-grown (trained at an English or Welsh club for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 21).
The players listed in the blue font currently fall under this category and the Gunners only have 5 such players. Those listed in Green can be included in the U-21 list for the current season and can play without being part of the squad of 25. Arsenal’s youth strength is obvious from that list but it’s worth noting that Ramsey and Szczesny will move past the 21 year limit next season so the squad will have to maintain some room for them.
In essence, the Gunners can safely buy one English (Welsh or foreigner trained in England) player and supplement the squad with up to two additional acquisitions to replace Almunia and Squillaci. There are other options like selling Arshavin and/or Chamakh but I think these will just complicate things further and in themselves will not be as easy to execute in January, particularly in a manner that would give Wenger the time to sign a replacement.
Arsene has to balance these equations with the short-term and long-term in mind. For instance, bringing someone like Henry on loan at the moment can work for a couple of months but will leave a hole in the squad for the rest of the season. Players like Park and Oxlade-Chamberlain might step up by that time or might not. It’s hard to guess.
Given the constraints, it’s also hard to visualize two players like Podolski and Henry being signed. Le Boss could go for the audacious and buy a prodigy like Eden Hazard (and loan him back for the rest of the year) for the next season to go with a short-term loan for the Arsenal legend.
Personally speaking, a striker is more important than a wide attacker. And in order to fit into the Arsenal style the striker would have to be comfortable with his back to the goal. There aren’t many who can do that. For instance, Podolski is a very good player – someone I have always seen as RvP Lite – but I am not sure he can play as a central striker in Wenger’s current tactical system.
Among the other names that I have read and are realistically possible, none is particularly exciting. It’s also important to remember the difference in the quality between various leagues across Europe. Lille were desperate to sign Ju-Young Park but he isn’t getting many games at Arsenal, not even making the bench for some. Gervinho was a lot more effective in France than he has been for the Gunners. So the likelihood of getting a top class striker who can make an immediate impact is very low even if many are hyped up in the relatively weaker leagues.
This makes the return of King Henry a very real possibility but again I am not sure he has the speed or the work-rate to contribute at this level consistently. Nonetheless, he could be a good player to have on the bench and for the cup-ties. This should relieve the burden on Van Persie to a great extent. Will Henry be able to accept a bit-part role is the bigger question. He cannot bring the attitude we saw in his last season – pointing at his feet and demanding the ball, angry glares at teammates – to the ground anymore. But all things considered, TH14 seems to be the best bet.
As an interesting side issue, what number would Henry take if he did return? I say 41 will be apt for a comeback.
Moving to other positions, I don’t see how Arsenal can sign a creative midfielder or winger to go with the striker without severely compromising the defence. That would explain the excuse that Wenger has given regarding the Gourcuff signing. He mentioned the return of Diaby and Wilshere but I don’t think that is the real argument. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, Fabregas wanted to come back this January – Do you think Arsene would have said I can’t sign him because our midfield would be too crowded? No way! So citing the returning players is just a ruse that Le Boss has used to deflect the issue. Sadly, many have taken his words literally, but I don’t blame him for not being forthright about such issues. Do you really expect him to say something like, “Well Gourcuff is returning from a long injury layoff and isn’t in top form, and we don’t have the space in the squad to accommodate a player who will need time to get back on track”?
As an extension of that, I don’t see a player like Goetze coming to Arsenal this January. Although it would still be interesting to see if Wenger bids for the young German. For a talent like that Le Boss might just decide it’s worth leaving the striker out. But it doesn’t seem realistic at this juncture.
That brings us to the defence and I include defensive midfield in that.
For close to two years I have held the opinion that the Arsenal squad needs at least one more versatile defensive player of very high quality. The current injury crisis has only strengthened this belief. Someone like Jan Vertonghen ticks a number of boxes as he can play LB, CB or even in midfield. But in order to secure the services of a foreign player, Arsenal will have to make space in the squad.
While removing Squillaci and adding a player like Vertonghen will certainly improve the quality of the squad, I am not convinced that will give Arsenal sufficient depth to cope with the hectic schedules ahead. Let’s not forget players returning from long layoffs are likely to suffer at least some niggling injuries on their way back. So even when the fullbacks return, it would be naive to assume they won’t face further fitness related problems.
The best way to solve this conundrum would be to add a home-grown defensive player to the squad. I am not a big fan of players like Cahill, Baines, Jagielka, and the likes but they can be useful squad members and Wenger has the ability to get more out of them. Essentially, Le Boss will have to find some value in the local market in defence or defensive midfield. Otherwise adding depth will be a tough ask. Arsenal might get lucky with injuries and manage with one or no acquisitions but the current league position is too precarious to take such a risk.
Part of this analysis has been under the assumption that Arsenal can either sell, loan, or leave out players like Almunia and Squillaci. I don’t know if the rules permit having a player on the payroll but leaving him out of the roster of 25. If they don’t, Arsenal will have to find new clubs for these players before making any signings.
The activities in the winter window will also affect Arsenal’s options in the summer but at that time Wenger will have more time and will be better placed to decide on the futures of players like Chamakh, Arshavin, and some others along with those who are currently on loan.
Apart from the aspects discussed thus far, certain basic factors will have to fall in place for any transfer to be completed – Wenger should rate the player highly enough to want him, the player must be interested in playing for Arsenal, his wage demands have to fit the Arsenal structure, and his club should be willing to do business at a price Arsenal can afford. Other issues like being cup-tied can also have an impact on any likely deal.
All-in-all this is clearly a complicated period for the Gunners and Wenger will have his task cut out. One can only hope Le Boss is more decisive than he was during the summer but it’s not hard to see his difficulties. These transfer issues are not as simple as sell X, Y, Z and buy A, B, C. But I will be worried about the top four spot if Wenger cannot perform the right balancing act in January.
I started this post around midnight and haven’t been able to double check the details so apologies in advance for any errors.