New year, same story. There isn’t much that needs to be said about the game, other than it brought back dark memories of Bradford. It also brought an end to the four-game winning streak in the league, of which games I’d say we looked pretty good going forward against Reading and Newcastle, but laborious against West Brom and Wigan. Last night, though, was a return to the depressing aridity of the Swansea, Man U and Villa misfires.
According to Opta’s own Sauron, we registered less than two shots on target for the second time this season. Something which had never happened in the previous 94 games. 94! And in case you aren’t already reaching for the razors, he adds that every other team in the top seven has registered more shots on target this season. We aren’t creative enough up top, and we’re undone by endless individual errors at the back. It’s quite the cocktail.
And lest you think, ‘ah, you’re just grousing because we dropped points’, well yeah - of course. Just as I’ll always be pleased when we take them. But nothing I’ve seen over the recent run has changed my central thesis outlined here. The zombie apocalypse is still very much on. After the game Arsene was unusually blunt, saying:
"I felt we lacked purpose in our game. It was more mental than physical. What was lacking mentally? The sharpness. We were not very good offensively. We didn’t create enough chances. I felt that we lacked sharpness and desire."
Of the two lacking qualities, sharpness is bad enough given we had a game less over the festive season. But it’s the second that has to be a real worry. Lack of desire? It can hardly be because the players are drunk on success. He also said that with the window now open, Arsenal won’t be re-signing Henry on loan (the right call, for me) but will be busy…
"I will be active yes. We are looking everywhere. We are open-minded. We want to strengthen the squad everywhere."
Ignore the slightly ominous use of the word ‘looking’, and ask yourself how many players you think Arsenal must sign in order to correct course back into the Champions League places. Two? Maybe three, in dreamland? Now ask yourself how many this team needs to make qualification comfortable. At a conservative estimate (and I of course accept this isn’t what will happen), that number may well be five. Here’s why:
- Back-up goalkeeper – because the back line looks even more fragile with Don Vito at the helm. A Begovic, Mignolet or (eek) Al-Habsi type signing could well be the answer here.
- Back-up left back – Santos couldn’t be more out of favour without becoming a Lib Dem MP, and Gibbs is still listed under glassware on the Emirates contents list. If the Brazilian goes, as surely he should, we need cover at left back that isn’t Vermaelen.
- Defensive midfielder – put aside the argument about whether you need a ‘beast’ roaming the midfield in the modern game, and just ask yourself whether Arteta can keep playing 90 minutes in the three competitions we’re still currently in. For me the jury is very much still out on Coquelin, and Diaby by his own admission isn’t a defensive midfielder in the first place. And is also Diaby, and therefore only available when Scorpio is rising and the blood moon is full. Etienne Capoue would fit the bill, assuming my M’Vila man crush is to remain forever unrequited.
- Winger – Theo wants to play centrally and is probably leaving, The Ox, Newcastle game withstanding, is hardly a goal or assist machine, and Gervinho is off to the ACON. And is also Gervinho. Adrian Lopez or Wilberforce Zaha seem to be the men in the frame. I haven’t seen enough of either to have a favourite, but we need width and crosses that don’t defy Euclidean geometry.
- Striker – What happens if Giroud, who I like but not everyone is sold on, gets injured? If your answer is Theo than I can only assume you’re also his agent and are herewith banned from this blog. Yes I’d like Theo to stay, yes we should probably pay him what he wants largely on the basis that he’ll still be a saleable asset in a year’s time and would cost at least that much to replace, but no he isn’t the new Henry. It’s not that complex is it? David Villa would be exciting, would fit our tap dancing style, and would probably relish the chance to play with Santi. There are at least as many reasons why it probably won’t happen, but it’d provide a real lift if it did.
So five then. Five! The goalkeeper and left-back *might* be able to wait until the summer, but I’m not sure the others can. Not if you maintain real hope of finishing higher than fifth anyway. I maintain that list is conservative, on the basis that if Djourou goes (likely) we arguably need a spare centre back, and there are still question marks over who covers for Santi if anything happens to him, particularly if Rosicky isn’t deemed worthy of game time.
Or we could just blow the entire TPA on Cavani, which would still be my pipe dream preference. Let me know what you think we need in the comments below. (But don’t bother telling me Yann has been shit this year and is mental. Trust me: I know. Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants…)