A sign of change
The January transfer window for Arsenal was looked upon as an opportunity for the club to move on players which ultimately were never going to get minutes before the end of the season. Technical director Edu has done fantastically well to instigate player’s departures which seemingly were destined to remain and continue earning their wage at Arsenal.
The imminent departure of Mesut Ozil along with the termination of Sokratis’ contract represents a significant amount of wages saved which can be redirected towards incomings. Arsenal’s recruitment has been questionable over the past decade and has overseen a period of decline from a side continuously involved in the Champions League, to a side that is now scrapping for a Europa League place in the Premier League.
Things needed to change and that appears to be the case with Edu’s appointment and now major recruitment role after Raul Sanhelli’s departure as Head of Football. The previous summer window saw the Gunners bring in two fantastic signings in Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 18: Thomas Partey of Arsenal battles for possession with Matty Longstaff of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on January 18, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around England remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
“If you see Gabriel, he gives us a lot of physicality and presence,” he said at the end of the summer window regarding the approach he made to signings in the window. “Thomas, physicality, quality and mentally he is very strong.”
For a significant period of time Arsenal have looked a side both fragile in mentality and defensive solidity. Consistently making mistakes, conceding defendable goals and failing to rectify their shortcomings.
A tricky start to the season has been followed up with a dramatic turn in form. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 5 matches and have kept 5 clean sheets in a row – an achievement which has not been accomplished in 11 years.
Arsenal’s recent history has cried out for a quality defender and an exceptionally good midfielder. These have been delivered in the form of Gabriel and Partey and a coach which has improved the side defensively. It is not perfect at Arsenal, far from it, but the progression in the right areas is there and should they maintain this fine run of attacking form, it is exciting to theorise where this thing could end up.
Continuation through January
It is clear that one of the reasons for the turning point this season was the inclusion of Emile Smith-Rowe into the Arsenal line-up. The central attacking midfielder has provided creativity and dynamism in the Gunners’ final third and with it the goals have begun to flow. At still just 20 years of age, Smith-Rowe is far from the finished article and a player that should not be heavily relied upon to be Arsenal’s sole creative force.
With the World in a very difficult period, the possibility of self-isolation is real and the England youth international has previously suffered with injury issues. Should he befall either of these hardships, Arsenal could again be left with a void of creative spark.
The link to Real Madrid’s Norwegian midfielder Martin Odegaard is another example of sensibility. There had been links to his teammate Isco and Inter Milan and former Spurs midfielder Christian Eriksen. The latter two are both in their late 20s and on significant wages having progressed through to the peak of their careers at major clubs in Europe.
PAMPLONA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 09: Isco Alarcon of Real Madrid CF runs with the ball during the Liga match between CA Osasuna and Real Madrid CF at El Sadar Stadium on February 09, 2020 in Pamplona, Spain. (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
However, they have both declined in consistency and output over the past 12-18 months. For Arsenal to target either of these players in January and expect an immediate impact whilst providing competition for the young Smith-Rowe would have been unrealistic. Yet the target of Odegaard is different. Another young player (22) who last season was mightily impressive on loan with Real Sociedad, helping them qualify for the Europa League has so far been frustrated with a lack of opportunities in the Spanish capital.
This has been down more so to a lack of position than an absence of quality. Los Blancos are not a side akin to regularly playing with a number 10 and instead field a single pivot 6 (Casemiro) with two number 8s (Modric, Kroos or Valverde) in front. The Norwegian is versatile enough to play in wide roles but Zinedine Zidane has preferred Rodrygo, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez – more natural options, to Odegaard.
Being young and hungry to continue his development, the desire to impress at Arsenal would outstrip that of the aforementioned Isco and Eriksen and the presence of Smith-Rowe would be seen as less of a formality to overcome but a challenge, being of a similar age. Also, the significant wage difference makes this financially more beneficial.
👋 Welcome to The Arsenal, @MatyRyan!
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) January 22, 2021
Mat Ryan’s arrival from Brighton provides Premier League experience. The Australian international has plenty of this and being simply a loan, like Odegaard, doesn’t obstruct Arsenal from pursuing a more long-term option in the summer.
These targets provide further evidence that Arsenal are looking for more intelligent and level-headed moves in the market and fans should look upon these with hope rather than apprehension.