Arsenal did not have dream window but Arteta has bolstered squad for run-in

The second half of the Premier League season starts now. Mikel Arteta has reorganized his chessboard, changed and polished some pieces, and knows exactly what he is dealing with.

After January’s transfer work was completed, what he has, especially when Gabriel Jesus and Emile Smith Rowe return to fitness, is something deeper than a first XI that Arsenal pray to the training gods will be available more or less every game.

When Arsenal drew Newcastle United in their first game of 2023 on January 3, their bench consisted of a goalkeeper, three defenders, four understudy midfielders with a total of four league starts between them this season, and the sole striker, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji. , was a 19-year-old who had impressed in the Papa John’s Trophy and has just gone on loan to Accrington Stanley. Now they have a stronger base to choose from, more coverage for vital players and a healthier chance to freshen things up.

Time will tell if that is enough to sustain a title challenge, and at least open the door to the Champions League again. Last spring, Mikel Arteta explained that his ideal team consisted of three goalkeepers and 22 outfield players. He is still a fraction short of the total. But Arsenal have strengthened nonetheless.

A frustrating window required flexibility. Their primary focus was on players who could be both useful now and for the future. Making an impact this season, and also having the X-factor to be integral to the next step in Arsenal’s ambitions, was the ticket of the dream. The main targets – Mykhailo Mudryk and Moises Caicedo – were players who could theoretically do both of those things.

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They needed to pivot in both cases, so it is not a huge surprise that they have turned to the proven Premier League. Due to the specific situation Arsenal find themselves in, leading the pack at the halfway point, it is no surprise that Arteta has been tempted to recruit players who are familiar with this league, intelligent enough to know what is required and without much need for customization. . Jakub Kiwior, the left-sided centre-back from Spezia, is a slightly different scenario. But Trossard and Jorginho are expected to compete to play from day one.

Trossard has demonstrated that already with a key appearance to help Arsenal beat Manchester United and a fearless attacking display in the FA Cup at Manchester City. Jorginho is in place to take the load off Thomas Partey, with concerns that overplaying could risk injury in such a critical role. The Ghanaian has not started a Europa League or Carabao Cup game and has featured in just one Premier League double this season. The schedule from here is more intense, so an option to record was essential.

In the summer of 2021, at the start of the rebuild that has brought them to this point, Arsenal brought in seven young players, with Ben White the oldest at 23. Of these, only White came directly from the Premier League, with Aaron Ramsdale having played last season at that level. Since then, they have added a further seven first-team signings – four of whom came with ample knowledge of what to expect in this particular division. It might have been a bit of a coincidence – after all, in an alternate footballing universe, Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Trossard and Jorginho might have been Dusan Vlahovic, Lisandro Martinez, Mudryk and Caicedo. But so far Arsenal’s season has shown that the second choice, the reaction play, can be extremely clever. They can only hope to feel the same about Trossard and Jorginho at the end of the season.

The arrivals of Zinchenko and Jesus, and their influence across the board in terms of refining aspirations, have felt game-changing in a much wider area than the pitch. It confirms to Arteta how the mix in the group can be powerful. The experienced players share a winning mentality with the youth, and the will of the youth gives vitality to the experienced.

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There is something about the tried and tested, as a means to elevate Arsenal, to push them forward, which Arteta sees as a shortcut to help his young team achieve their goals.

The injury to Mohamed Elneny put pressure on Arsenal to deliver an immediate solution to cover for Partey. Jorginho’s capacity to fill the gap is something Arteta feels comfortable with. Some fans need a little persuasion. The reservations are emotional, and have some justification — the list of older players from Chelsea in the fall of their careers is not pretty reading. It has never worked out as happily as intended, going all the way back to William Gallas and bad memories of a title challenge unraveling as he captained trying to walk off the field in high spirits before the end of an intense game at Birmingham City.

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This scratches old wounds. But at a time when the trust and unconditional support of the fans has injected such energy into the season’s journey, they must try to put some worries behind them and judge only on the present, not the past.

It has been quite a turbulent January. Seven points from nine in high-octane contests against Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United, an FA Cup tie that in some ways boosted their confidence against anyone even though a mixed team went out at Manchester City, and enough transfer sagas to almost melt the internet. It seems like another age that Arsenal fans analyzed training gear and slippers from Mudryk’s Instagram posts.

If there is a moral to this window for Arsenal, apart from the need to protect sanity by not living every day in a state of heightened alertness for developments, it is that they must learn not to be led up the garden path by certain intermediaries. Arsenal have absorbed a few things, about others and themselves. There are aspects of the current marketplace that they have disliked and found unproductive.

Ultimately, they end up having done exactly what they failed to do in January. It might not have been their fantasy window, but they haven’t left a giant hole in the squad unfilled.

Arteta and his players can now focus on what is in front of them, one move at a time.

(Top photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)


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