By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger has been a consistent critic of the January transfer window – but it has undoubtedly worked in his favour this season.
The week began with the biggest deadline day splurge in the history of English football. Chelsea lavished £71 million on two major additions – Fernando Torres and David Luiz. Then Andy Carroll filled the gap left at Liverpool by the Spanish striker for a cool £35 million.
The last of those deals was done so late that Newcastle had no time to buy a replacement. You can easily argue that the loss of their striker and talisman will affect the mentality of Alan Pardew’s side when Arsenal visit at St James Park on Saturday – but it will have no physical impact. The England striker is injured and would not have played anyway.
However while the immediate advantage is minimal, the benefit for Arsenal is more obvious in the longer-term.
Carroll should be back when leaders Manchester United go to Anfield on March 6. Meanwhile Carlo Ancelotti’s acquisitions will have bedded-in by the time Sir Alex Ferguson’s side visit Stamford Bridge five days before that. And they will certainly be contributing for the return fixture at Old Trafford on May 7.
That game comes days after Arsenal entertain Manchester United, the only remaining game for Wenger’s men against the current top four.
The Emirates Stadium side have already fulfilled their fixtures with Chelsea and even managed to get their return game with Manchester City out of the way at the start of January before Roberto Mancini signed Edin Dzeko.
Despite the ‘telephone number’ transfer fees you cannot be sure this will make one jot of difference on the pitch of course. But it has certainly done Arsenal no harm.
And, after this week spending as much money as it cost to bring the nurtured Arsenal team together, then pulling off a confident 4-2 win at highly-rated Sunderland, Wenger argues Chelsea are back as fully-fledged title contenders.
However the Stamford Bridge side are ten points off Manchester United, double the distance of Wenger’s men. So if, as the manager asserts, the west Londoners are “serious contenders” then their counterparts in the north of the capital must be of grave concern at Old Trafford.
“I believe it is quite open right now,” he said. “Chelsea are still in there. They have found their form back. They have had a consistent run and I look at them being serious contenders for the title.
“But for me it is down to our performances and our consistency. I am confident that we have a good chance because we have quality and talent that nobody denies. But also we have spirit, attitude and a great togetherness. You can see that when we play. There is something special in our team that is coming out from game to game. That’s why I firmly believe in our chance.”
After picking up knocks against Everton in midweek, Song is “70:30 against” for Newcastle while Theo Walcott should be OK. Wenger confirmed that Lukasz Fabianski’s season is over after undergoing surgery on the shoulder he damaged against Manchester City. Samir Nasri (hamstring) is still at least two weeks away.
Newcastle not only lost Carroll this week, Shola Ameobi fractured his cheekbone in the 1-0 defeat at Fulham and will be sidelined for six weeks. Outside the top four, the Tyneside club are the biggest scorers in the Premier League but these two have accounted for 14 of their 36 strikes.
Carroll scored the only goal in November at Emirates Stadium and celebrated his header by running straight to manager Chris Hughton, the manager who preceded him out of the St James’ Park exit in December. Pardew has kept the ship steady but the events of this week leave you with an increasingly precarious perception of Newcastle. They are both above halfway and six points off the drop zone. Like more than half of the top-flight, they are a few defeats away from the dogfight.
It is a far cry from late last year when they beat Sunderland 5-1 and, the following weekend, pulled off a wonderful 1-0 win in North London.
“They had a fantastic game against us at the Emirates, where they did very well collectively,” recalled Wenger.
“We lost the game that we will never forget to a header from Carroll. But we were a bit unlucky as well on the day because they had only one shot on target and that was their goal.
“Carroll has been injured for a long time, so it is difficult to predict whether it will be easier [without him]. Sometimes a team finds a different balance when a player goes out, so it is very hard to know.
“But certainly it is difficult to sell a striker of that calibre at 10.15pm and bring somebody in at 10.45pm. They have taken an opportunity to sell the player at a high price with the gamble of course that they might not replace him. But they have Ameobi, Best, Ranger – they have strikers still, don’t worry, and they will certainly want to invest that money later on.
“But they are still a good side, Newcastle. When they played at Fulham this week, the pitch was not the best and I think it handicapped the two teams. We expect Newcastle to be up for it against us and so we prepare ourselves to meet a good team.”
Saturday is Arsenal’s last trip outside London until they go to the Nou Camp on March 8. Much may have changed by then. The Carling Cup Final will either help or hinder their psyche while Manchester United will have gone through arguably the most treacherous run of the remaining campaign.
The last three games – Ipswich, Huddersfield and Everton – have fuelled the suspicion that this Arsenal side can constantly find a way to win.
If they map a successful path to March then this season could start to get very interesting.Copyright 2016 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