The transfer window is open and to be honest you would not really have noticed. It has been entirely underwhelming. For Arsenal that activity might increase with Nicklas Bendtner out for a month and the possibility of Theo Walcott joining him on the sidelines for the same period. Sanity appears to be prevailing for once with the media focussing more on the coins thrown at Walcott whilst he laid on The Emirates turf awaiting treatment than his harmless gesture, despite the attempts of former FA Chairman Bernstein to push the former agenda.
Having been stretchered off during the weekend’s decimation of Tottenham, the England international has a scan today which will influence Arsène’s thinking towards his squad or the forward line at least. Newspaper talk this morning has Mario Mandzukic’s dreams of an Arsenal future shattered; Bayern aren’t going to release him. Au contraire, they are going to offer him a new contract. It’s a familiar theme; agent plants story and new contract materialises.
Arsène is trying to manage expectations; Lewandowski was a favoured son of speculation but that was crushed when the Pole signed a pre-contract with Bayern. Wenger stamped on it to fully extinguish the myth by noting that the whole of football knew eighteen months ago that this would be the outcome. It won’t stop them looking but you sense the manager’s comments about squad size were more designed to quell ardour for a big-name signing for the sake of it than anything else. In fact, he didn’t disguise that purpose,
We are like everyone, we look out there and see what is happening. Unless you have a club in a desperate financial situation it will be difficult.
It is something many agree with but the influence of the World Cup should not be under-estimated either. No player is going to make a move which might jeopardise any plans for their own involvement in FIFA’s jamboree. Transfer windows are hugely risky for managers; there is a danger of destabilising the squad with a new player but enough research is done on targets that the impact can be assessed before the paper is offered up for signatures. As much as that is a problem, there is as much of a danger in inertia; not signing someone can be as high-risk a policy.
To me, the only glaring weakness in the squad’s depth is in the front-line but the injuries to Bendtner and Walcott should not overly influence that. We have two players for most positions and can manage in the event of a long-term injury striking or with a loss of form but I am not convinced we can if either of those eventualities occurs with Giroud. At the moment it isn’t an immediate issue with a week to go to the trip to Villa Park but the unexpected nature of his absence for the past two matches serves as a warning against the complacency which comes with his overall injury record. Anything can happen to any player in any match.
Mention of the Villa match draws attention to ticket pricing with the next week’s hosts advertising ticket-pricing structured to shift those which cannot be sold. In other words, the visit of the Premier League leaders is not enough to sell-out a fixture that would have done so in the past. The Emirates was an unusual place in this weekend’s FA Cup third round ties; it was sold out. Watching any of the highlights programmes or Sunday’s live coverage, the unavoidable conclusion reached was that few of the matches sold-out. Immediately, the bandwagon rolled with the blame pointed in the direction of the Football Association, at once harsh and accurate.
The first weekend in January has always been the traditional date for clubs in the top two divisions to enter the FA Cup but with the festive period, has the competition suffered as a result of the volume of fixtures? Nottingham Forest, for example, were playing their third home game in a fortnight; it isn’t cheap to attend matches and they will have been disappointed with a crowd that was just over half of the number who saw them beat Leeds United last weekend. Has the allure of the FA Cup dimmed so much that there is little or no allure in the very real prospect of beating a Premier League side? There will have been an impact from live television coverage but surely not to the extent of the drop in attendance suffered? Arsenal were insulated by a North London Derby, a match which will always sell-out but hopefully the club will heed the warnings of the weekend’s other ties when Coventry roll into town for the Fourth Round and offer the match up with Cat C pricing at worst.
The draw was kind to Arsenal, a lower league side at home is as good as could have been wished for. It puts the club in a strong position to advance to the Fifth Round. The flipside to that is what was marked down as a week’s rest between two big matches will not exist but that is the price of success. Arsenal want to challenge for silverware on all fronts, the result is a crowded fixture list. That is the point of the squad system, to allow for this and whilst the FA Cup will be the lowest of the priorities, as a realistic target for silverware, it is surely higher than the Champions League at this moment in time? No disrespect to Coventry but they are less of an obstacle than Bayern Munich in winning a trophy. Before the Tottenham game, Arsène referenced last season’s disappointment against Blackburn Rovers, the feeling being he won’t repeat the mistake of that week in February when the season’s cup runs ended.