So that’s it, it’s all over for another seven months, the transfer window has ‘slammed shut’, Jim White of Sky Sports News has packed away his yellow tie, the reporters sent off to cold football stadium car parks across the country can now get back to the jobs they actually trained for and Riyad Mahrez, this season’s Peter Odemwingie, is due a large dollop of humble pie as he endeavours to reintegrate himself within the Leicester City squad and tries to win back the supporters.
There were some significant early moves with: Liverpool finally succumbing to Barcelona’s advances and cashing in on Coutinho to finance the much-needed upgrade to their defence in the form of £75 million Virgil Van Dyke; Manchester City also broke their transfer record to add centre back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao; and José Mourinho and Manchester United exploited an opportunity too good to resist to get one over on both Arsène Wenger and Pep Guardiola and steal Arsenal’s want-a-way star Alexis Sánchez from under the noses of their cross-city rivals in exchange for out-of-favour playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Transfer Deadline Day itself however, unusually for a club that has so often in the past been conspicuous by its abstinence from the January transfer window hoopla, was largely dominated by Arsenal and a complex three-club deal that saw Olivier Giroud join Chelsea and Michy Batshuayi sent on loan from the West Londoners to Borussia Dortmund as the enabling replacement to allow the Gunners to finally get their identified target of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It is fair to say that the disillusioned Arsenal faithful needed a boost after our lacklustre campaign so far and the loss of fan favourite and true top class talent Sánchez. With the acquisitions of former Dortmund attacking dynamic duo Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang in place of Sánchez and Giroud and the departure of the seemingly surplus to requirements Walcott and Coquelin, sold to Everton and Valencia earlier in the window, Arsenal have basically revamped their attacking line for a net outlay of around £7 million. On top of this came the very welcome news that arch-schemer Mesut Özil had signed a new three and a half year deal and would be supplying the bullets for Gunners’ new offensive weapons for the foreseeable future.
On the face of it, this should provide grounds for optimism for the rest of the season and beyond, and for once the Arsenal hierarchy should be applauded for a proactive approach in the transfer market. Yet, for me at least, there is the inescapable feeling that it doesn’t matter who is added to the squad, until there is a change in the man in charge this will remain a team that is less than the sum of the individual parts.
This news followed hot on the heels of yet another Groundhog Day performance, this time against a Swansea City side that were bottom of the table going into the match. Once again, Arsenal completely dominated possession but instead of using the ball effectively spent the majority of the match passing sideways and backwards in front of their opponents’ massed ranks and were then caught exposed at the back on enough occasions to concede three goals and surrender the points in characteristically meek fashion.
The one dimensional, slow-paced, crab-like football that characterises Arsenal’s play these days is compounded by a powderpuff midfield that for the most part views defensive duties as being beneath them and a defence that is time and again left completely exposed to any form of counter attack. Things were so bad on Tuesday night that even the normally relatively reliable Petr Cech gifted Swansea one of their goals with a botched clearance.
The defeat at the Liberty Stadium was less a shock than yet another affirmation that Arsenal are going nowhere and fast under the ongoing stewardship of Arsène Wenger, a manager who lost his mojo some time ago and has no idea what to do to get it back.
The loss to Swansea means that Arsenal have now won just three of thirteen away games this campaign and leaves them a whopping eight points off fourth place and qualification for the Champions League gravy train that is so coveted by Wenger and the money men at the club, if no longer the fans. In even more stark terms the Gunners now have eight less points than they did after twenty five games last season, which ended in their lowest finish of the Wenger era.
Inevitably the club will continue to tell us that we are going to make a push for Champions League qualification if not in the League then by winning the Europa League and the new look squad is capable of driving us on. Yet one only needs to look at the experience of Alexandre Lacazette and how the manager has singularly failed to set up our team to play to his strengths to know that those promises are likely to prove to be just rhetoric.
At the same time, for all the changes to the cutting edge of the team, nothing whatsoever has been done to address the failings in midfield and the continued fragility at the back, save for a late failed bid to bring in Johnny Evans from West Brom. This has to be a significant concern for a team that has conceded as many goals as relegation-battling Brighton and West Brom.
There is a perception amongst Arsenal supporters that the rejuvenation of the squad has been driven by the new Head Scout Sven Mislintat with a view to the future and the arrival of a new manager with fresh ideas. For now though we can only live in hope, until that day arrives all we can do is to watch the new players and hope they have the kind of impact we all want them to.