Although it’s possible that Wenger will find a striker for a reasonable price before the end of the transfer window, it’s looking more and more likely that the Gunners will end January with the same squad that they had going into the transfer window (with the possible exception of Julian Draxler). Many Arsenal fans thought that the loss of Theo Walcott for the season would force Arsenal to buy a striker, but it appears as if Wenger has enough faith in Giroud, Bendtner, and Podolski (and maybe Sanogo) to carry the team through to the end of the season. This will likely make most Arsenal fans nervous, given the drop-off in quality between Giroud and Bendtner while Podolski has yet to play as well up front as he does out on the wing. And more than a few pundits and bloggers think that the Gunners’ slim (in their opinion) title hopes will completely vanish without reinforcements up front.
So why does Wenger seem unconcerned with finding a new striker, even if it’s a clear stop-gap like Berbatov, Vucinic, etc? And is the lack of a shiny new striker as big of a deal as most people believe? Or are Podolski and Bendtner reasonable options, given that transfer fees are inflated in January and there are few world class strikers on the market at the moment?
Let’s start by examining Wenger’s transfer policy. Although he doesn’t often pay big money for a player, we know he’s willing to do when the right player comes along (read: Mesut Özil), so presumably the transfer figures being tossed around (32 million for Costa, 22 million for Griezmann, etc.) aren’t the only sticking points. But there are very few strikers who are available right now, and even fewer who would come into the side and immediately start over Giroud. In fact, the only out-and-out striker who seems readily available and an upgrade over Giroud is Diego Costa. The other available options (Alexandre Lacazette, Domenico Berardi, Antoine Griezmann, Adrian Ramos, Loic Remy, etc.) are all either far from a guarantee to even be an upgrade on Podolski or unlikely to move this window because of playing time, league position, or money.
However, although Wenger is willing to spend big for the right player, he almost categorically refuses to pay more than his valuation of the player. For example, we know the Gunners were flush with cash last summer, but when Arsenal saw bids for Luiz Gustavo, Cabaye, Suarez, Higuain, and Bender rejected because the offer was too low, they didn’t up their bid for the player despite obviously having the money. Similarly, it seems pretty clear that Arsenal were interested in Antoine Griezmann at one point this transfer window but were put off by Real Sociedad’s asking price. If it was the summer, I think Wenger would be more willing to go in for a player like Griezmann, but he’s unlikely to pay the inflated prices of the January transfer window.
While Wenger is likely refraining from buying a world-class striker this transfer window because of prices and availability, that doesn’t explain why he isn’t looking for a loan option or an ageing striker who still has a year or two left in him. There are plenty of available options, but there seems to be no real interest from Arsenal in any of them. And Wenger has shown that he’s willing to purchase older players in positions of need (Flamini, Arteta, Squillaci, etc.), although he does prefer to buy players who will still have value in a couple years. It’s tougher to figure out why Wenger wouldn’t be interested in another able-body up front, but my guess is that it primarily comes down to two things: He truly believes in the ability of Bendtner and Podolski and the recent memory of all the players Arsenal had given large contracts to but hardly played (Andre Santos, Chamakh, Gervinho, Arshavin, Denilson, etc).
For much of the season, I’ve been of the opinion that Arsenal would benefit hugely from a striker, but I have recently begun to change my mind. In my opinion, Diego Costa is the only available striker in the world who would constitute a clear upgrade on Giroud, and there are several reasons why that transfer won’t happen this transfer window. If Arsenal can’t improve upon Giroud this transfer window, then the Gunners are simply shopping for a back up–and in my opinion, Podolski and Bendtner are as good as all but a few options. Although Podolski hasn’t been at his best as a striker since transferring to Arsenal, he’s shown at FC Koln and Bayern Munich that he has the ability to play as one. He’s one of the most clinical finishers in the league and if he can recreate his left-wing form as a striker, he would be one of the best back-up strikers in the league while conveniently providing a different type of involvement as compared to Giroud. And although Bendtner has lost his way in the past two seasons, he did score more than ten goals in three out of his four full seasons at the senior level. More importantly, he is a similar type of player to Giroud, and as Wenger has said before, finding an available Giroud-esque striker is very tough.
Finally, it’s important to remember that if Arsenal bought a striker, he would be a part of the squad for likely at least a couple years. And although Bendtner will leave at the end of the season, Walcott will recover, Giroud and Podolski will (likely) stick around, and there are rumors that Wenger wants to convert Draxler to a striker if he winds up at Arsenal. Throw in Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and the possibility of Arsenal finding an upgrade on Giroud in the summer, and Arsenal could easily head into next season with a striker depth chart that looks like this: Karim Benzema (or other world class striker of your choice), Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo. A sixth name in there, especially if its an aging player, will just eat up playing time for the younger players, cost money, and make it more likely that someone like Podolski or Sanogo would leave the club looking for playing time.
Wenger puts the long-term health of the club before short-term gains every time and while it is a little risky to rely on Giroud, Podolski, and Bendtner, I think it’s worth it. Wenger has a longer term focus than just this season and there is no guarantee that a striker purchased now would be able to adjust to the league in time to provide a boost this season. Perhaps I will be proved wrong in a few days by Arsenal signing Diego Costa, or in a couple months when it becomes clear that Arsenal needed a striker to challenge for the league. But it is also possible that Giroud will remain mostly fit, Podolski and Bendtner will rediscover their best form, and Arsenal will win the league and have open squad space and money to purchase a world-class striker this summer.