Arsenal

Ailing Arsenal must use Premier League winter break to revive title bid… but new signings are unlikely

Three weeks off league action is key test of Mikel Arteta and his squad

The start of a new year is always a good time to take stock — and a three-week Premier League winter break provides Arsenal with a much-needed ­opportunity to reset.

Mikel Arteta’s side have lost their way, with damaging back-to-back defeats by West Ham and Fulham raising serious questions about their title credentials.

Arteta described the 2-1 defeat at Craven Cottage on New Year’s Eve as their worst performance of the season and said his side were “nowhere near” the required level.

Arsenal have taken just four points from their past five League games and are now five points behind leaders Liverpool after the Reds’ 4-2 win against Newcastle last night. They are also only one point ahead of Tottenham in fifth place.

The Gunners face Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday, but do not play again in the League until they host Crystal Palace on January 20, and the next three weeks feel crucial if they are to get back on track.

Arteta needs to refocus a jaded squad that needs a break.

A lack of rotation has caught up with Arsenal and Bukayo Saka, in particular, looks fatigued. Declan Rice has also looked weary and even William Saliba had an off-day at Fulham.

Their lack of goals in attack is a major concern. Gabriel Jesus is not a reliable scorer, Saka is struggling and, on the other flank, Gabriel Martinelli’s form has dipped. Eddie Nketiah was handed a start at Fulham but was anonymous.

Now their defence, so reliable this season, looks vulnerable, too. Saliba and Gabriel had a difficult afternoon at Craven Cottage and Arteta is facing a left-back problem, with Takehiro Tomiyasu off to the Asian Cup with Japan and Oleksandr Zinchenko struggling with a calf injury.

Arteta is planning to take the squad to Dubai for some warm-weather training after the Liverpool game. A third-round replay could complicate those plans, but the trip should offer a good chance to recharge.

Sunday’s match against Jurgen Klopp’s side has taken on added significance for Arsenal.

Defeat could see their title rivals land a psychological blow, but victory would provide a boost when, for the first time this season, Arteta is struggling to come up with answers.

Arsenal are in need of a spark from somewhere, but they are unlikely to get a boost in the form of a big new signing in the January transfer window.

The club needs to stay within Premier League profit and sustainability rules and would first have to sell players to raise cash.

Selling academy players Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe would significantly boost finances but Arteta has spoken about the squad already being short, so their exits seem unlikely.

Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale is another player who could be sold, after losing his place to David Raya, but his future is most likely to be resolved at the end of the season. That may mean Arteta has to look to the loan market for any external solutions.

Another worry for Arsenal is that they failed to take advantage of Manchester City’s struggles.

City look the big winners from the festive period. Liverpool and Arsenal threatened to pull away when City went to the Club World Cup before Christmas, but Pep Guardiola’s side are again in a good position and have Kevin De Bruyne back and Erling Haaland closing in on a return.

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