By David Edwards
Another window closes and Danny Welbeck rocks up just as the shutters close (or about two hours later, by the time we get round to finishing the paperwork).
To start with our new recruit – I know that Welbeck’s signing has not been universally welcomed, but from what I have seen he looks a pretty decent player who should fit in and is a significant upgrade on Sanogo. Whenever I have seen him for England he has looked sharp – good work rate, pacey and some nice finishes. My sense was that he was always in Rooney’s / Van Persie’s shadow at Glazers Inc, and he now has an opportunity over the next four months to establish himself as a key player for us. We have a player who won’t need time to settle in the Premiership / Champions League, and who (fingers crossed) could turn out to be a very good signing. There was some disappointment that we didn’t sign Falcao, but £20m for the one year loan for a (admittedly very talented) 28-year-old with a dodgy knee isn’t necessarily a bargain.
Transfer window dealings
However, although Welbeck fills one gap, we still have an unbalanced squad with paper thin cover in some key positions. Even after Chambers was signed, Wenger was very clear that if Vermaelen left we would need a replacement centre back. This was a situation that was known about for some time. A competent management would have signed a replacement before Vermaelen left. Not only did we not do this, but we haven’t filled this gap in the three weeks since the Belgian left. We now have to get through to at least January with a talented but very inexperienced 19-year-old and our second choice left back as cover for the centre of defence.
At the beginning of the transfer window, things looked much rosier. Alexis, Chambers and Debuchy were all brought in early on and with a minimum of fuss. We still needed two more signings, (defensive midfield and a replacement for Vermaelen) but it looked as if the bad old days of a transfer policy veering wildly between obstinacy and panic were behind us….
Instead, we have ended up again looking amateurish and inept. If you look at the way that Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool have conducted their transfer business, they analysed what they needed, paid the going rate and were able to put they feet up and relax whilst Wenger continued to dither about whether or not we actually needed another striker.
There is something about the transfer window that brings out the worst in Arsene. The more obvious the need to strengthen the team, the more he digs his heels in. On Sunday evening he was still denying the need to replace Giroud, after another toothless display against Leicester (who were solid and hard working but a long way from the elite level to which we aspire). Wenger’s comments help no-one. Reeling off a long list of our ‘strikers’, most of whom he clearly doesn’t rate and won’t play, is futile. The supporters don’t buy it – as evidenced by the chants of “Buy a striker” which could be heard on Sunday. The players must be doubting his judgement and it certainly isn’t doing Sanogo any favours. I really hope the guy develops into a top striker, but there is little sign of this at present and his development would benefit by a year on loan, away from the spotlight, rather then being publicly sacrificed on the altar of Arsene’s stubbornness. We did finally get Welbeck but this seemed as much a lucky by product of Glazers Inc buying Falcao as any master strategy.
The other area that we didn’t strengthen was defensive midfield. I’m a big fan of Arteta, but he’s not a defensive midfielder in the Carvalho mode. Rather he plays as a number four in the Barcelona system, setting the tempo for the side from a deeper position. Arteta can defend well, but he would look much better in a side which manages its defensive transitions effectively. We don’t. Tracking back still seems to be optional for our more creative midfielders and in this case there is an argument for a more athletic defensive midfielder, who can plug gaps across the pitch.
The other major concern this season, is the lack of clarity about how we are proposing to play, and which players fit best into whatever system is decided upon. Are we playing with a conventional target man, or a ‘nine and a half’? We should have the flexibility to play either system but they require different approaches. If we are proposing to play with Sanchez and / or Walcott up front, it is not yet clear that the team as a whole understand what is required. In this sense, Welbeck may prove to be a shrewd acquisition, as a striker able to operate somewhere between the Giroud and Sanchez systems.
Finally, it would be helpful to set up the team so that we make the most of player’s individual attributes. We paid a lot of money for Ozil, one of the world’s best number tens, and play him as a wide player. Alexis is regularly parked out on the wing when he is at his best when he can roam across the front line. Carzola does not have the pace to play as a wide player, yet we regularly play him there.
In the knowledge that Wenger will do something entirely different; this would be my proposal for getting the best out of our current squad.
Playing a 4-3-1-2
Debuchy, Mertersacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
(Chambers, Bellerin Monreal and Hayden in reserve)
Arteta, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain
(Chambers, Wilshire, Diaby and Flamini in reserve, with Chambers being tutored to take over from Arteta in due course)
(Carzola, Wiltshire and Rosizcky in reserve)
(Giroud and Akpom in reserve. Walcott to be considered for starting role instead of Welbeck(?) when fit )