It wasn’t the best January ever but, truth to be told, it was better than last year. At least we managed to grab a few points but one victory out of five matches is something a club of Arsenal stature can’t except. We failed to win any of the three big matches in January with the disturbing fact is we went two goals down in every one of them.
The first-half performances in every January match were mostly disappointing, if not terrible. There were wonderful parts of the second halves in matches against Chelsea, Liverpool and – especially – West Ham but it wasn’t enough to improve our tally of 5 points out of a possible 15.
Things had been much better when it came to the FA Cup. We managed to beat Swansea in the replay thanks to the brilliant performance of a certain Jack Wilshere and to avoid an upset at Brighton with Olivier Giroud’s impressive brace.
We all had big expectations regarding possible signings, especially given the lack of depth and horrible lack of consistency in our current squad.
We didn’t get everything what we hoped for. Wojciech Szczesny will still have below-par substitutions in the likes of Vito Mannone and the always-injured Lukasz Fabianski. There are still no strikers on the bench unless wingers Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arshavin are considered as backups. Oh, I forgot, we still have Gervinho who was on CAN duty with Ivory Coast only to suffer an exit in the quarterfinals to Nigeria. To sum it up, our only January reinforcements in attack were Chamakh’s departure to West Ham on loan and the signing of Walcott on a new contract.
Our central defense – not in the very best shape at the moment – is short in numbers generally as well as missin Vermaelen due to injury. Djourou was loaned out to Hannover 96 and Squillaci remains the best paid spectator of our matches. It remains to be seen whether we missed out on Yanga-Mbiwa as his Premiership performances are yet to be seen but it is a shame that our manager didn’t know Christopher Samba, an experienced central defender that has proved his worth in the Premiership already and would be eligible for Champions’ League Knockout Stage, was available on the market. That speaks a lot about our either certain level of negligence in our management or lack of interest in strengthening the squad.
Our midfield didn’t get any reinforcements and it’s not like the market didn’t offer any decent players. Two players from Ligue 1 left France – the long-time Arsenal target Yann M’Vila signed for Russian side Rubin while it seems Newcastle have made another brilliant purchase as they signed Moussa Sissoko from Toulouse for a mere 1.8 million pounds due to the fact that midfielder’s contract with the French side would expire in June. One of our rare physical players we have – Emmanuel Frimpong – was loaned out to Fulham while Coquelin is again currently injured. At this moment we have our top midfielders available – Arteta is back from injury as well as Diaby – but for years we have needed some steel in the midfield but it seems Wenger doesn’t want to admit he has been wrong for some time.
However, there is one reason to smile regarding the January transfer window (two, if we count Spuds missed out on Damiao). We signed a left full-back Nacho Monreal from Malaga. Some might argue that if Kieran Gibbs didn’t get injured against Liverpool, Wenger would never sign Monreal but I won’t go there.
Spanish players that were recently signed by Premiership clubs have been nothing short of brilliant in their new clubs, especially those that concentrate on the attacking part of the game. Now, Monreal is a defender but obviously a good one given that his only rival for the left full-back position in the national team is Jordi Alba, the Barcelona player that has been recognized as the best left full-back in the world. From what we have seen from Monreal so far, he has footballing intelligence, tactical awareness, technique and crossing that make him a quality full-back. His main rival Gibbs will be out of the action for at least two months while other options Wenger has – Andre Santos or moving Thomas Vermaelen from his central position to the left – shouldn’t put in question Monreal’s place in the starting 11. Unfortunately, that only applies for Premiership and the FA Cup as Monreal is cup-tied due to his involvement in Malaga’s European campaign so he won’t feature in the Knockout Stage of the Champions’ League.
Even when Gibbs returns from injury, he will find it difficult to break into the starting 11. Gibbs has been improving every season but he still has problems defending as he gets caught out of position too often for a player of his potential. If Monreal is better in that department (we should wait for a more dangerous player than Jonathan Walters to test it), Gibbs won’t be getting much regular playing time after his come-back.
There is another thing I’m hoping for – the Monreal-Cazorla connection. Cazorla’s presence should make Monreal’s adjustment to English football much quicker while the presence of a former team-mate from Malaga should help Cazorla as well. Monreal should help our other newbies – his link-up with Lukas Podolski on the left will be an important part of our attacking game while his crosses should be an extra line of supply that Olivier Giroud didn’t have consistently before the Spaniard arrived.