January 4, 2012

It had to end sometime.

Arsenal had won four games in row heading into the New Year's Day match at Southampton. It was exactly what the Club needed to do to bring 2012 to a close. Had the Boxing Day match against West Ham not been canceled - assuming we won it - we would have ended the year fourth in the table.

Still, after the incredible 7-3 win over Newcastle at the weekend, Arsenal had to settle for a draw and missed a golden opportunity to move up the table. Despite the same lineup that "could have scored 12" against Alan Pardew's side -- including one hat-trick and a brace that was inches from being a second hat-trick, Southampton were the only team to score goals and we slipped back to sixth, two points behind Everton.

The mood following each game was decidedly different. Amid the praise Arsène Wenger handed out to his team after the Newcastle win, was line about team spirit and character. "I feel the team is focused, has a good spirit, and are united. Slowly we are getting there. We still have some work to do."

But after the Southampton game? "We lacked purpose, penetration and speed. All qualities we have usually but lacked tonight."

The game is serves as a reminder that Premier League competition is tough from top to bottom. Don't believe me? Look what happened to Chelsea against QPR the following day.

And it's not only tough, it's getting tougher. Which brings us to the transfer window. Most fans will say without questions that we need to bring in some new talent in January and the manager has said he expects to be busy on the transfer front. But before you open a new browser window and click refresh 10,000 times -- he also says that he thinks the market will take a couple of weeks to get going.

Of course the big question is, where will Wenger look to strengthen the squad? While there are some oft-discussed positions, it's surprisingly difficult to find a consensus. But one clue could stem from which players are off - or rather said to be heading out. Marouane Chamakh has packed his bags and headed to West Ham on loan, Squillaci and Djourou could soon follow him out and there have been constant rumblings in the media and on the Twitter machine that Andrey Arshavin will leave as well. Could that mean a new striker, a wide player and perhaps a central defender?

In terms of the striker role, many assumed the obvious choice was Demba Ba. He ticked several boxes: Available, reasonably inexpensive and plenty of goals in the Premier League. But it became apparent pretty quickly that Arsenal wouldn't make a move for the player. As the manager explained, "I like Demba Ba personally, he is a similar type to Giroud who we just bought. It was one or the other one."

As in every transfer window, the number of players linked to Arsenal is pretty astounding. You'll see everything from big name superstars to players from smaller clubs whose names you can't pronounce. Big money has meant that the former has been somewhat difficult for Arsenal of late, but improved scouting networks mean that even the latter kind of player is also becoming harder to sign.

Regardless of which new rumors pop up, one thing is clear.  As Wenger says, "For us it is important to focus on our next game and our next game can only be won by the players who are here

And that next game is against Swansea in the FA Cup. It's a match-up of contradictions. Swansea beat us at the Emirates on December 1 ... but have only one win in their last six league games. Arsenal is on a five-game unbeaten run since that loss ... but Swansea is the team that many say are full of confidence. And in another twist, Swansea is the team that may have their eye on another fixture - they play the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Wednesday.

Kieran Gibbs said, "We go to Swansea like it's one of our biggest games of the season." Wenger said that he will put "maximum effort" to win the game and that he plans on playing the team with the best chance to win the game.

We all know how vital this month is. And by the time we tune into Arsenal Players for FA Cup highlights, we'll have a good sense of how it's going.

Come on you Gunners! 

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Kevin Mooney 4 Jan 2013