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Monday, February 3, 2014
Kim Kallstrom’s loan move to Arsenal will surely go down in history as one of the most bizarre episodes of any transfer deadline day.
With a sudden shortage of central midfield options due to Mathieu Flamini’s ban and Aaron Ramsey’s latest injury setback, it was no surprise that Arsene Wenger made a late foray into the transfer market last week.
Seeking: one central midfield player, available for loan, with the necessary quality to provide cover for Flamini, Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Oh yes, and can he start straight away?
Those, at least, are the boxes you would assume Wenger would need to see ticked before a deal was finalised.
Apparently not. It soon transpired that the Gunners had signed the Sweden international until the end of the season despite learning at the last minute of a back injury that will keep him out of action for at least a month.
Yet Wenger decided to do the deal anyway, apparently on the basis that he might need Kallstrom if Arsenal lose other midfielders to injury in March or April because of a crowded fixture programme.
In fairness, this looks like a low-risk strategy, given that the Swede’s parent club, Spartak Moscow, will continue to pay his wages for the first six weeks of his stay in London.
However, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Wenger’s logic is utterly baffling.
By the time Kallstrom is fit to pull on a Gunners shirt, Flamini’s suspension will have been over for at least a fortnight. Wilshere – and probably Ramsey too – will already have returned to action.
And, while Arsenal may well find themselves with a busy schedule in March and April, it is also possible that they could be out of both the Champions League and the FA Cup before the new signing makes his debut.
Wenger admitted: “I would not have signed him if we had two or three more days to do something, but it was Friday night at 5pm, so it was a case of sign nobody or you do it under these conditions.
“There is a possibility that he may not play, but as well there is a possibility that he scores us the winning goal that might be vitally important.
“We could have gone without, but to find a player on a free loan, of that quality, on Wednesday morning until Friday night, is not easy.”
True enough, but the saga calls Wenger’s judgement into question on two counts.
Firstly, when the Arsenal boss hastily began seeking a midfield player to borrow, was Kallstrom the only name on his radar? Did he not have any back-up options in case the deal fell through for any reason?
And surely, once the player’s injury became known, surely to ‘sign nobody’ became the preferable course of action. It was almost as if Wenger stepped significantly out of character and bowed to the media and fan-driven frenzy that now surrounds every transfer window.
There is an alarming, but prevailing attitude that signing players is always a good thing, irrespective of whether the club actually needs them or can even sometimes afford them.
Clubs and managers are now routinely castigated for failing to spend money and Wenger, until now, is one of the few who has always stuck to his guns and rightly refused to be swayed by the opinions of others.
Perhaps Arsenal’s success so far this season has changed that, and the manager – mindful of the criticism he would face if he failed to recruit in January and then missed out on that long-awaited trophy – concluded that somebody was better than nobody.
If that were so, surely his attentions would have been better focused on other areas where the Gunners are thinner on the ground than midfield.
There has been plenty of discussion about whether Arsenal should have been searching for an extra forward, especially in the light of Theo Walcott’s season-ending injury.
It might also be worth pointing out that, while the Gunners’ defence has been magnificently consistent, a long-term injury to either Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny would leave them seriously stretched at the back.
Who knows, a loan signing at either end of the field might ultimately have proved more beneficial than the addition of a midfielder who is injured when the team need him most – right now.
“At some stage in our job you have to make a decision,” Wenger added. “Are you wrong or right? You will only know at the end of the season.”
Indeed we will…