Arsenal

What’s gone wrong at Arsenal and what do they need in this January’s transfer window?

After a lot of pre-season hype, we’ve not really seen the best of Arsenal at all in the first half of this season, with serious doubts now creeping in about whether or not the Gunners can truly challenge for the Premier League title.

Arsenal’s league position is far from the worst – while they’ll be disappointed to have dropped to fourth, they’re still only two points behind league leaders Liverpool, albeit with the Reds having a game in hand. No one else has looked particularly unbeatable, however, so that could still be some cause for optimism for Mikel Arteta’s side, even if there would appear to have been some decline since last season.

So, after back-to-back defeats against West Ham and Fulham, and just one win in five in the league, how bad is it for Arsenal, and what should they do about it in this month’s transfer window?

Too much change, too fast?
If Arsenal don’t look as good this season as they did last term, then one obvious thing to point out is that it’s quite a different team out there on the pitch.

Few can argue with the signing of Declan Rice, who has looked well worth every penny of his enormous transfer fee, but fans are perhaps now voicing legitimate complaints about some of Arteta’s other big decisions.

Firstly, selling Granit Xhaka after he was one of the stand-out performers in last season’s title-challenging side looks more baffling with every passing game. No one would say the Switzerland international had a consistently great Emirates Stadium career, but he really raised his game last term and looked a perfect fit for what Arteta was trying to do. He’s continued to look superb at his new club Bayer Leverkusen, and most Gooners would surely take him back in a heartbeat.

In his place is Kai Havertz, signed after a pretty disappointing spell at Chelsea, and there’s simply no hiding the fact that this looks, for now, like a major downgrade. The Germany international has his qualities and may well grow into his role with time, but at the moment this can only go down as significant spending on a player who is noticeably worse than the one who was let go. What was it that Arsenal saw of Havertz’s time at Stamford Bridge that persuaded them this would go any differently?

Elsewhere, David Raya has also hardly been a roaring success since replacing Aaron Ramsdale in goal. Only those with short memories would seriously claim Ramsdale should come back in as number one after some of his poor performances towards the end of last season, but if AFC were going to replace him, it should have taken a truly outstanding opportunity in the market to do it, and at the moment there’s little to suggest Raya is that.

A flawed, and tired, front three
In fairness, not many people will have seen this coming, but goals have been a real problem for Arsenal this season. None of Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli or Bukayo Saka have quite reached the levels of last season yet, and part of that may well be sheer exhaustion as the latter two have played so many games at a relatively young age.

Over-playing these three is perhaps the only real option for Arteta, though, as Eddie Nketiah has looked a poor alternative to Jesus as central striker, while Leandro Trossard and Reiss Nelson are also an entirely different profile of player, and probably wouldn’t see much playing time at any of the other big six sides.

Jesus missing some glaring opportunities against West Ham also raises concerns about the Brazilian, who is a fine talent but not a clinical finisher likely to reach 20-25 goals a season. That’s not always a problem – Roberto Firmino was a similar style of forward who flourished at Liverpool, but that was with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane providing striker-like numbers from both flanks.

It’s therefore not at all surprising to see Ivan Toney being linked with Arsenal this January. The England international is perhaps not the ideal age profile, and won’t come cheap, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to making significant signings in the middle of the season, and Toney is a good enough finisher that he could add a completely new dimension to this Arsenal attack.

Bad luck with injuries
While Arsenal have got plenty wrong on the pitch, it’s also impossible to ignore the unfortunate situation in the treatment room. Arteta signed a hugely exciting talent in Jurrien Timber this summer, but he’s been out since his Premier League debut for the club after suffering an ACL injury. When you spend a significant amount on a talented young player who’s sure to be a starter and he essentially misses the entire season, that’s pretty difficult to come back from.

Similarly, while Xhaka got his flowers earlier in this article, a big part of Arsenal’s success last term came from the brilliance of Thomas Partey in midfield. Although he’s always been a little injury prone, he played 24 league games in his first two seasons at the Emirates, and 33 last term. This year, he’s so far managed just four. Losing Xhaka alone may have been unwise on Arteta’s part, but losing Xhaka and Partey is a huge blow that most top teams would struggle to deal with.

Jesus and Martinelli have also missed a few games at various points, while Takehiro Tomiyasu also picked up a knock that kept him out for a few games just as he came into a strong run of form. Every club has injuries, but there’s no doubt that Arsenal have had some particularly bad luck with Timber and Partey in particular, whilst also lacking the squad to deal with some of the others they’ve picked up over the course of the campaign.

It remains to be seen how much of a role Partey can end up playing this season, but the Ghana international perhaps isn’t one to be relied on, making it unsurprising to see Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz emerging as a top target for the north Londoners. This would undoubtedly be an ambitious move, but it could be an important one to inject a bit more strength and quality into that midfield again, with Luiz bringing both the presence of Partey defensively, alongside the passing quality and goal threat of Xhaka going forward.

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