This 2015/16 Premier League campaign has been an odd one at the top end of the league, with reigning champions Chelsea doing so poorly, early leaders Manchester City stuttering and Leicester surprising all by keeping pace with the leaders. The inconsistent form of the top clubs has almost made it seem as though the trophy is in some way cursed or smeared in something unpleasant and as a result, nobody wants to win it! What it has done, is present Arsenal with a great opportunity to become Premier League champions for the first time since the days of the ‘Invincibles’ back in 2004.
You would expect Chelsea to spend in the summer and be back fighting for the title next season and if rumours are to be believed, Pep Guardiola will be at the helm at Manchester City come the summer and would be sure to attract big players to join him. Therefore, I think it’s fair to suggest this season is a unique opportunity for the Gunners to capture their first Premier League crown in 12 years.
Arsene Wenger predicted this January transfer window would be one of the most active we’ve seen and already he’s signed Egyptian defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny for around £5m from FC Basel. He’s reported to be a player of some promise, able to play the defensive midfield role or the more offensive role alongside a defensive midfielder, where he pops up with the odd goal. Whether or not he is a signing that can tip the balance in Arsenal’s favour this season remains to be seen and it’s uncertain how long it will take him to adapt to Premier League football.
Back in the summer, the signing of Petr Cech was undoubtedly an important one as it brought solidity and assurance to a position that had been a problematic one for the best part of a decade. However, there were no outfield signings and that not only surprised me, but also led me to believe that Arsenal would likely end up having the same old season, like a football Groundhog Day. Most observers felt that an upgrade on Olivier Giroud was required, but I believed, and still do, that Giroud is an under rated striker who would receive rave reviews if he had bags of pace. The strength, technique, awareness, movement and link up play he offers suits Arsenal very well. In the summer I felt that between Giroud, Sanchez, Welbeck and Walcott, Arsenal would be okay for goals and that central midfield was more of an issue. The key position that is criminally under-appreciated is the defensive midfielder role and that was where I felt Arsenal needed to make a signing. Yes, Francis Coquelin was impressive on his return from loan last season, but he is inexperienced and there was no guarantee he would continue that form and even if he did, there was nobody to step in if he was injured, suspended or simply in need of a rest. A physically dominating central midfielder was the signing I felt Arsenal needed if they were to make a concerted title challenge this season.
Will Elneny be that player that Arsenal needed to deputise or lend support to Coquelin? That remains to be seen, but without the defensive cover of Coquelin and the control of the fantastically converted Santi Cazorla, the back-line is more exposed and that is another area that probably needs bolstering. Gabriel has not progressed in the way some envisaged and despite being a good reader of the game, Per Mertesacker is increasingly positioning himself ten yards deeper than the rest of his defence to counteract his complete lack of any pace whatsoever. What has surprised me, is that not many strikers have attached themselves to him, to really expose his aircraft carrier turning circle and tortoise-like acceleration.
Strong, quick and cultured centre-backs are few and far between these days, but the addition of one could make a huge difference come the end of this season. John Stones would be ideal, but would cost a lot of money; however, Arsene Wenger has been more willing to break the bank in recent years and Stones could be worth doing it for again. Another forward to support Giroud would probably be a good move as well, given the long term injury to Welbeck and the niggling injuries Walcott has suffered.
So, to the question: do Arsenal need further reinforcements? I think the answer is a question of ambition, if Arsene Wenger really wants to go for it and make the most of the opportunity that exists to once again win the Premier League title, then a couple more signings could just be enough to get them over the line.