Wednesday, 1 January 2014

January's here - Don't expect any arrivals + Cardiff Preview

At long last the winter transfer window has opened, and many Arsenal supporters will surely be hoping that Wenger will loosen the purse strings once more to get in a striker we all know is needed to sustain our title bid.

Well, keep hoping. While any striker - whether a marquee or a decent one - would be fine with me, I am quietly confident that we aren't going to see any additions to the squad, apart from a promising midfielder, of course. I absolutely have no faith in a manager who has failed to get a striker when it was necessary in January 2013 and August 2013 to use his money wisely now.

While it would be too over-confident and maybe even foolish to categorically rule out the possibility of Wenger signing a decent striker, I have absolutely no doubt that Arsene will NOT get a marquee signing at all. That scenario is almost out of the window, as far as I am concerned.

Look, we need to get one thing out of the way that signing Ozil was under very special circumstances. The frustration of not spending a single penny when Wenger had £80m in his pocket, the anger of buying free agents in Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini and the pain of experiencing a home thumping at Aston Villa would mean that Wenger's job would be in jeopardy had he failed to get in someone marquee. The signing of Ozil in the last half hour of the transfer window was one that saved Wenger's neck. I'd even argue that that was the sole reason why Wenger purchased him in the first place.

If Bendtner leaves the club early in the transfer window, then I think that there is a small chance of Wenger getting in a striker to provide Giroud with good backup. However, knowing him, he'll probably replace Bendtner's gap with Lukas Podolski and promote Serge Gnabry to Podolski's vacant winger hole. Or he might just promote Park Chu Young to being second fiddle to Giroud. There's no telling with this guy.

You can say one thing for sure, though. Arsene will always look at the cheapest option first.

I'm actually hoping that Giroud's knee cut magically turns into something serious that would rule him out for a month or two, AND that Bendtner leaves in that same space of time, because that just might compel Wenger to spend. There are only two ways that Wenger will get a striker, according to me:

1. Bendtner leaves the club, Giroud gets injured for long term and Podolski performs badly in the striker position, leaving Wenger no choice but to loosen the purse strings.

2. Gazidis builds on his wish to purchase a striker and piles pressure on Wenger through the media, like he so cleverly did in the summer. Giroud misses great goalscoring chances in January, leading to an abysmal run of form over the month. Supporters begin to question Wenger's priorities, chanting the need to buy a striker in the Emirates Stadium to resurrect our diminishing title bid.

Are any of these hypothetical situations likely to occur? No chance, I'd say. My prediction is that Giroud would be back for the Tottenham game, and his return would paper over wide cracks in the forward line. Bendtner won't be sold until late into the transfer window, leaving Wenger to say that he had no time to get in reinforcements as an excuse. And the season would end with Bayern Munich eliminating us with our title bid gradually turning into a fight for second. All too predictable.

We might have a good run in the FA Cup - I'm positive we'll get past the Spuds, for starters. However, it's winning the league, not winning any other trophy, that is the main priority this season. Anyone who thinks that we can finish first with Giroud having Bendtner, Park Chu Young and Yaya Sanogo as backup are totally bonkers, to be absolutely frank. While we being in control of the title race is by no means a fluke, it was the result of decent players overperforming due to confidence gained from nabbing Ozil from Real Madrid. I highly doubt that they would be able to continue that level of form in the second half of the season, especially Olivier Giroud, who's already feeling the fatigue of the season.

I have nothing against Giroud, honestly. It is my firm belief that he has the potential to be a massive player for Arsenal FC and I trust him completely, and apparently so does Wenger. However, do I trust him enough to sell all other strikers and heap pressure on him to perform in every single game? That isn't trust, that's foolishness. And that is exactly what Wenger did with Giroud for the entire last season, and is currently doing with him in this season. 

I'm tired of saying that Giroud is fit enough only to be a backup striker at Arsenal, and that we need a player like Karim Benzema or Diego Costa to seal us the title, as well as give us a fair chance in the Champions League. However, I'm certain that Wenger will NOT get anybody in January, unless inconvenient circumstances force his hand. And I'm still not sure that he will get a capable striker to be a good backup for Giroud, if he's forced to buy.

For a realistic (or maybe a pessimistic) Arsenal supporter like me, it's frustrating to know what's coming up and know that you cannot do anything about it. We're one signing away from the title, yet we have a stubborn, blind manager who refuses to do that, even though he has at least £35m in the bank left to spend. Even a Demba Ba for £10m or a Christian Benteke for £15m would get us far in the title race, yet Wenger will refuse to buy, leading to yet another possible trophyless season.

The jury's out on Wenger. The club needs two signings, a center back and a striker. While a center back isn't the most desperate necessity in Jan (we have Sagna and Flamini to cover), there is no denying that a striker is a must to fire us to the Premier League crown. My judgement on Wenger is simple: if he wants the title, he'll get a decent or a world-class striker. If he's content with top four, we won't see any movement in January. Period.

Ball's in your court, Arsene.


Elsewhere, we kick off the new year against lowly Cardiff, struggling after Vincent Tan's stupid decision to sack Malky Mackay. They won't be half as threatening as they were the last time we faced them, and I feel that they are a team doomed to relegation after sacking Mackay. While we're suffering from a bit of an injury crisis that should clear up by the time we face Aston Villa on the 13th, we should have enough in our locker to convincingly beat the Bluebirds.

Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Wilshere, Rosicky and Walcott are all doubts for this match, while Gibbs, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud are definitely not participating, not to mention Yaya Sanogo, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby, who were already injured for months together. I really feel that we shouldn't include any of the aforementioned players in the starting XI, even though news suggest that Jack is set to start on his birthday. We would doubtless need these players against Spurs 3 days later, which is why they should be given their rest.

It's really difficult to predict the lineup because there is an uncertainty on which players are fit, but if all of the above mentioned players are injured for this game, the manager would be forced to field a lineup of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Flamini, Arteta, Cazorla, Gnabry, Podolski and Bendtner. While it is a severely weakened one, it is still capable of three points at the Emirates Stadium, which is our main priority anyway.

I think that half of the players who are doubts to start against Cardiff will start today, resulting in a comfortable victory for us. However, it would be their fitness levels that would worry me a lot more than their performances, keeping in mind that there is a huge North London Derby coming up.

Come on Arsenal. And come on Arsene: SPEND.

P.S. Wrote another piece for Arsenal India Supporters, describing my top 3 moments of 2013. A Happy 2014 to all, and also a happy birthday to England's biggest hope, Jack Wilshere.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )