Why Arsenal should resist temptation to sign any more players this January
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Fuelled by certain media outlets and the new breed of fans, there is now an insatiable appetite for transfer activity at this time of year.
Clubs and managers are expected to devote all their energy to the pursuit of a frenzied recruitment drive until the very last seconds of January (or, on this occasion, the first day of February) as proof of their ‘ambition’.
And there is no limit to the demand for new faces, certainly at Premier League level. No sooner has a manager announced an addition to his squad than he is asked what others he plans to make.
The questionable implication is that signing more players is always a good thing. And so it was with Arsene Wenger last week.
The Arsenal boss confirmed the expected arrival of Basel midfielder Mohamed Elneny, only to be bombarded with questions about who would be next through the Emirates entrance.
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Wenger, fortunately, is too shrewd and experienced, as well as stubborn, to be swayed by that kind of simple, populist outlook. The Frenchman has long since worked out his approach to the January transfer window – and it has largely been successful.
For the last decade, Wenger has taken a ‘needs must’ view in the winter, preferring to do most of his squad-building outside the football season.
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That usually translates into a single signing at most, always a player who is needed to plug an obvious gap and develop into a valuable member of the squad long-term.
Nacho Monreal, signed from Malaga in 2013 and now established as the Gunners’ first choice left-back, is a good example, while Gabriel – who cost £13.5m from Villarreal a year ago – shows signs of following suit.
Sometimes there have been low-risk investments with mixed success – the re-signing of free agent Sol Campbell in 2010, for instance, or the small fees paid for the likes of Nacer Barazite and Thomas Eisfeld.
Ultimately, the £15m invested in Andrey Arshavin in 2009 – then a club record fee – could not be recouped, although Arsenal did get three good years out of the Russian before his form declined so alarmingly.
Perhaps Wenger’s most bizarre January signing came two years ago, when he opted to take Kim Kallstrom on loan from Spartak Moscow as cover for injured players – even though the Sweden midfielder was also injured at that time and could not play for another two months.
Although the Kallstrom episode was puzzling, it could hardly be said that it was a major factor in the collapse of Arsenal’s title hopes that season.
This time, there can be little doubt that Wenger needed to strengthen his midfield options – ideally with a player who was not injured – given the absences of Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere.
We have yet to see what Elneny can do, but his record suggests the Egypt international has the pedigree to become a useful member of the Arsenal squad.
And that should be sufficient. There are no glaring deficiencies elsewhere in the group, no need for Wenger to try and complete another hurried purchase just because others think he should be seen to be more active in the market.
Let’s not forget, the manager was heavily criticised last summer for failing to bring any outfield players to the club, with £10m goalkeeper Petr Cech the sole arrival in north London – yet Arsenal are top of the table.
There is a great deal to be said for continuity. The fact that the squad remains largely unchanged from last season has worked to the Gunners’ advantage because so many players are so familiar with their team-mates’ game.
That has helped Wenger’s side to survive such a spate of injuries and to maintain their challenge at the summit.
Incidentally, it is also worth noting that their two main challengers at the moment – Manchester City and Leicester – have both made just a single signing so far this month, in each case a player for the future rather than a big name.
The message is a simple one: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.