Arsenal's January Transfer Window. Another False Dawn?08.02.2018 14:40:21
For Arsenal fans, transfer windows are usually like not having a date on Valentine's Day. Sad, lonely, depressing and unfulfilling. Constantly checking your phone in the faint hope of some news knowing full well you're going to eventually just have to settle for what you've got in front of you.
However, this past January was a different story for Gunners supporters as there were plenty of Ins and Outs.
Is this finally the start of a new era at the club or is it simply just another false dawn?
Out with the Old
Much like breaking up with a partner, Arsenal have had to make some tough decisions and part ways with a few loyal stalwarts.
Theo Walcott spent over a decade at the club after joining as a 16-year-old but he never consistently lived up to the hype that surrounded him upon his arrival. The speedy winger was often blighted by injuries just when he started to hit top gear. Walcott was a terrific servant and a record of 108 goals in 397 appearances is not to be baulked at. However, with the emergence of youngsters like Alex Iwobi and Reiss Nelson, his time seemed numbered and there was a growing sense that he'd become stale and too comfortable at Arsenal. Judging by the way he's started at Everton, a fresh challenge may very well be what was needed and the Gunners probably have enough in their squad to cope with his departure.
Olivier Giroud is a much more complex case. The Frenchman has often divided opinion since he was brought in to replace the prolific Robin Van Persie in 2012. He has been capable of the sublime and the ridiculous at times. His lovely touches around the box, his powerful ability in the air, those two FA Cup Final winning assists and THAT Scorpion Kick goal were among his highlights.
The main gripe that Arsenal fans seemed to have with him is that he wasn't quite good enough to be the starting striker. He was far from a clinical finisher and lacked the raw pace that is often needed in the modern game. However, as a "Plan B" option from the bench, there was arguably no one better in the business than Giroud and that has been proved over the past couple of seasons when his appearances became limited to late cameos. Unfortunately, Giroud wasn't happy to just be a super sub and with the World Cup coming up this summer along with the arrival of another big-name striker at the club, he was keen to move on in order to bolster his chances of being on the plane to Russia. Arsenal's hand was forced as their deal to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hinged on Giroud going to London rivals Chelsea. He will arguably be the Gunners' biggest miss because they now are without a striker of his ilk in the squad. Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck and Aubameyang are quality players in their own right but they all have similar qualities. Arsenal will find it difficult in matches when they need the more direct approach which Giroud provided.
A departure that has certainly gone under the radar but may be keenly felt is that of Francis Coquelin. Much like Giroud, he was a specialty type of player and one which Arsene Wenger now doesn't have at his disposal. In terms of raw talent, Coquelin was lacking but he was a hard-working defensive midfielder who put his foot in for a tackle and allowed the more gifted players to work their magic. Arsenal haven't had a truly powerful presence in the centre of midfield since Patrick Vieira left in 2005 and Coquelin was clearly not his heir but he offered something different to what the squad already had. The biggest regret of this transfer window may not be the fact that the club has sold Coquelin but that they failed to find a superior replacement.
Taking the Mkhi
In response to Sir Alex Ferguson suggesting that Manchester United had been the better team in Arsenal's 2001/2 double winning season, Arsene Wenger famously quipped, "Everybody thinks they have the prettiest wife at home!". However, more than 15 years later, the Arsenal boss was happy to do some swapping with an even bigger adversary at Old Trafford.
Alexis Sanchez has been Arsenal's best player for the last few seasons but it's been widely accepted for some time now that he was not going to extend his stay at the Emirates Stadium. Having flirted with Manchester City in the summer, the Chilean was enticed by a bigger offer from their nearest rivals. After the backlash from Arsenal supporters when the club sold Robin Van Persie to United in 2012, it seemed unthinkable that the Gunners hierarchy would sanction the sale of another top performer to one of their closest rivals. On top of that, it seemed even less plausible that Wenger would do business with Mourinho given their bitter personal rivalry.
However, the Frenchman wasn't willing to do a deal with the Red Devils without the inclusion of a player he'd had his eye on for some time– Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian had been voted Bundesliga Player of the Season in his last year in Germany but had been unceremoniously kicked to the curb by Mourinho.
The trade could work out well for both clubs. Manchester United got rid of a player they weren't using and drafted in the superstar name they were looking for to bridge the gap to Manchester City. Meanwhile, Arsenal got shot of a disruptive influence in the dressing room and brought in a player that will likely strive with Wenger's style of football. Judging by his home debut against Everton where he bagged three assists, Mkhitaryan is already feeling loved again.
When a tough breakup occurs like that of Arsenal and Alexis, the temptation can be to go straight out and find a younger, flashier model as a replacement. That's exactly what the Gunners did with their purchase of the flamboyant Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The question remains - is he truly what Arsenal needed or is it just the club's attempt at damage control for the Sanchez sale?
Aubameyang is a different type of player to Sanchez and cannot really be seen as a direct replacement. He doesn't work as hard as the Chilean and isn't as effective off the ball. However, the Gabon striker clearly has substance behind the style with a terrific strike-rate in the past few seasons at Borussia Dortmund. He has been one of the most deadly forwards in Europe but goals haven't been Arsenal's main problem. It has been at the other end where they have looked glaringly inept at times.
Aubameyang's departure from Dortmund was acrimonious to say the least and his discipline has been called into question on numerous occasions. It seems a very un-Wenger like signing as he often prefers to forgo the stress of dealing with erratic characters. However, the Frenchman has always been a fan of the player and his arm was likely twisted by new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat – the man who helped bring both Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan to Dortmund.
Aubameyang's arrival also calls into question the future of previous record signing Alexandre Lacazette who was forced to sit on the bench as Aubameyang impressed and scored on his debut against Everton. It seems implausible that the two can play together in Arsenal's current system so keeping them both happy will be another thankless task for Wenger.
Löyalty Comes at a Price
Perhaps Arsenal's best signing of the January transfer window wasn't a new one. After much speculation and lengthy negotiations, Mesut Ozil finally put pen to paper on a bumper new contract worth a reported £350,000 a week. It is certainly a hefty price to pay for the German who has blown hot and cold over his time at the club but perhaps this is now the perfect opportunity for him to emerge as a leader in this Arsenal team.
Ozil is now by far the highest earner at the club and the star attraction with Sanchez's departure. He finally has a pacey strike-force in front of him to supply with assists as well as players with similar technical qualities like Jack Wilshere and Mkhitaryan to play supporting roles alongside him in midfield. Ozil will now spend the twilight years of his career in North London and can become an Arsenal great if he shows the right mentality and character.
This has certainly been the most eventful January transfer window in Arsene Wenger's 20+ year tenure at Arsenal Football Club. They have said goodbye to their best player and a few loyal club servants. In turn, a couple of top level attacking talents have arrived and seem to have already hit the ground running. Plus, the re-signing of Ozil will have given everyone a boost.
Supporters certainly won't be mad at the club for signing world class players but the shrewder amongst them might be wondering why defensive reinforcements weren't made – as that has often been the main issue with the team's inability to compete at the very highest level.
All in all, it does feel like the dawn of a new era at Arsenal with tough decisions being made and big changes occurring throughout the club. The most significant could be yet to come with Arsene Wenger's future up for review in the summer. That could be the most difficult divorce of all for The Gunners to deal with.
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