The 2012/13 Premier League season has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs for Arsenal. A string of disappointing results in the league and in cup competitions brought forth a chorus of "club in crisis!" shouts from the media -- and even from some supporters. But now, nearly halfway through the season, we find our Club sitting fifth in the Premier League table and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
So what can we make of all of this? To help figure it out, we once again turned to our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to find out their views on what has happened so far and what lies ahead in the second half of the season.
With the January transfer window looming, our panel considered what moves Arsenal must make to ensure that the Club pushes its way up the Premier League table in the new year. But rather than focus on individual players, we first asked them to focus just on which roles and positions they think need to be addressed.
Question: Where should Arsenal add to the squad: goalkeeper, defense, midfield, forward and Is there a specific type of player you'd like to see brought in January?
Given Arsenal's recent run of results, I don't think you could fault anyone for simply answering "everywhere" to the question "where should Arsenal add to the squad," especially considering that most of Arsenal's problems have been born out of an overall lack of squad depth rather than any real individual shortcomings. But seeing as how "everywhere" probably won't be the scope of Wenger's purchasing ambitions in January, it would probably behoove us to dial in our own transfer expectations to a few specific areas.
I personally don't think Arsène should devote any of his precious transfer funds to the purchase of a new defender per-se, because defensively I think we've been sold short by a midfield that doesn't always have either the focus or the stamina to specialize in shielding the back four and foiling opposing moves at all times. A dedicated defensive midfielder would help prevent some of the positional problems our back line gets into when it's laid bare to opposing offenses on counter attacks.
While the ability of our center backs to track the run of a forward or midfielder may have come into question from time to time this season, it's important to note that even the best defenders in the Premiership have made identical positional miscalculations and have chosen to minimize these errors by using a dedicated holding midfielder to shield their backline rather than just expecting center backs to take care of all their problems. A midfielder who specializes in staying home and actively stopping opposing moves before they gain momentum should therefore be a high priority recruitment in January.
On the other -- and ironically the more problematic -- side of the field, I think it's fair to say Arsenal have often looked like a side who have run out of ideas on attack, and as such need to add depth and, more importantly, a different dynamic to their offense. I'm not exactly sure whether the oft-linked Huntelaar actually brings a suitably different skill-set to the team or if he's just linked with Arsenal because of his current form and contract situation, but ideally Arsène would tinker with his one-dimensional offense by adding someone who acts more as a false number 9 and provocateur behind Giroud. Cazorla -- for all his technical ability -- has shown he doesn't always have the necessary combination of creativity and direct, goalscoring threat to be the kind of offensive nuisance that keeps opposing defenses off-balance.
Don't get me wrong, I'd always love to see Arsenal splash the cash on a proven goalscorer like Huntelaar, but I think Arsenal would be best-suited in the long run to add a player who forces opposing defenses to both worry about his playmaking ability and his knack for goal, thereby removing the element of predictability that seems to permeate the entire offense at the moment.
And when it comes to looking within for reinforcements, I don't feel like I'm being too harsh when I say no, sorry, there isn't any one particular youth or reserve team player I'd like to see utilized in the squad at the moment, at least not as a direct replacement for one of our "starters." Arsenal's lack of depth this season has forced them to call on players who haven't been the most consistent, so given our current crisis of confidence (and points) I don't think we're in the position where we can afford to roll the dice on another youth or "potential" player in the hopes that he'll yield the kind of consistently good performances that will help haul us back up the table.
I think we all understand the ludicrous nature of the prices the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea pay for their players, but let's face it, these players are valued for a reason, specifically they've (in most cases) shown the ability to consistently deliver solid performances against a variety of opponents throughout the season. Arsenal aren't getting that value for money out of their bench right now and that's part of the reason they've experienced an extended stay in mid-table.
I would love to see an experienced keeper, a defensive midfielder, and a wide midfielder brought in.
If Arsenal had been able to sign Mark Schwarzer two years ago, I would feel much more secure about the keeper situation. Szczesny has been fantastic and was easily my man of the match against Bradford but what happens to him if he gets injured? That's where you want an older head coming in and keeping the sticks for a few weeks. Someone who can give Szczesny both competition and a breather every once in a while.
A defensive midfielder is probably a pipe dream but I think someone like Capoue would add significantly to the Arsenal midfield. If he did nothing else but free Arteta to influence the creative end of the pitch it would be a positive in my book. But Capoue does more than that; he is a superlative long-range passer, tackles well, is physically imposing, and can play center back in a pinch.
Wide midfielders seem to also have gone out of favor as players want to drift inside these days and the better players are moved into central positions by managers who need a creative midfielder. James Rodríguez plays wide for Porto and is having a fantastic run in the Champions League. He can dribble, pass, shoot, and cross and is exactly the kind of signing that would energize the team and the fans.
It's difficult to prioritize which holes in a leaky boat to plug before the others, but I suppose as in anything else, you go from the most gaping to the least until you're seaworthy again. That said, with Arsenal on course to score the fewest goals in the tenure of Arsène Wenger as manager, striker is an area crying out for attention. I do like Olivier Giroud, and I believe he's the best header of the ball Arsenal have seen since Alan Smith, however we desperately require a more mobile and dynamic option up front than what the Handsome French Bloke is able to deliver. With Chamakh likely on his way out of the club and no other out-and-out strikers available for selection, this is an area that must be addressed in January; who that player is, it's hard to say;
Huntelaar is rumored to have signed-da-ting with Schalke, which, if true, would remove him from consideration. I think we've done a good job assembling a midfield with creative players all around, but someone needs to be up front who will take the bull by the horns and make something happen.
Similarly, I have to agree with Joel in that, while we've brought in a very gifted creative midfielder in Santi Cazorla, we've neglected to address the lack of a strong physical presence in the middle of the park, primarily as a defensive midfielder. Mikel Arteta is exceptional in his positional sense, but he lacks the physical strength to impose himself. We have a great number of technical wizards in midfield, but are missing that element. And please, don't suggest Abou Diaby... it breaks my heart, but counting on him to be available on a game to game basis is akin to spitting into a strong headwind.
I agree with Joel that a defensive addition isn't much of a necessity--a pinprick in the rubber dingy, to continue the analogy--but we could still do with a proper backup goalkeeper. It's not weighing much on anyone's mind now that Szczesny is back to fitness, but while he was out, we were left with Vito Mannone, who the manager would have been happy to see go in the summer had there been a realistic offer. The Italian acquitted himself well enough considering some shortcomings (decision-making, positioning, handling the most obvious), but he did cost us points, and despite pep talks in the press from the manager, he will never legitimately challenge Szczesny for his place in the first team. I don't expect this need to be addressed anytime soon, but I fear not doing so will come back to bite us.
Song's departure over the summer has also left a gap in the squad for an addition to be made in the form of a midfielder of the defensive ilk.
Unlike Joel, however, I do feel there are a few youth players I'd like to see featured more. Gnabry's recent appearances have certainly excited many Gooners like myself and I always enjoy watching the young and versatile Coquelin step in when needed. It is important that the club gives some of its brighter young stars opportunities to prove themselves but also take into account the risk fielding them could bring in more important fixtures.
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