Defeat by Tottenham at Wembley underlines the truth that Arsenal are no longer in the top five of the Premier League, let alone the top four, and this time around, a season of drift will not be salvaged with an FA Cup, though the Gunners still have a shot at silverware in the League Cup Final and the Europa League.
Overhanging the first half of Arsenal’s season has been the lingering unpleasantness regarding Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil, so even though Arsène Wenger described the recently completed January transfer window as the most destabilising he had experienced at the club, the departure of the unhappy Chilean does at least solve one of those issues.
In his place, Wenger has gained the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Manchester United’s occasionally brilliant, often underwhelming wide midfielder. However, the Mkhitaryan-Sánchez connection was just one bit of business carried out by Arsenal in a bewildering transfer window. Fan favourite Olivier Giroud was released to join Chelsea, who in turn sent Michy Batshuayi out on loan to Dortmund as a replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who then moved to Arsenal for a total of £56 million.
Arsenal also moved on Theo Walcott to Everton for £20 million, Francis Coquelin to Valencia for £12 million and Mathieu Debuchy to Saint-Étienne on a free transfer, leaving them with a net spend during the transfer window of £7.9 million and a much-altered squad.
The big question for Arsenal fans, however, is whether these new signings will breathe new life into the team and help set them up for a title challenge next season. The bookmakers don’t appear to think so. Online betting at Stakers will give you odds of 21.0 for the Gunners to win the title next season. But are they right?
The purchase of Aubameyang was the single most significant piece of business done during the transfer window and the kind of purchase that Arsenal fans were calling for a few seasons back. That it comes just a few months after the club splashed out £52.7 million on Alexandre Lacazette makes it all the more unusual, given Wenger’s history of transfer parsimony.
However, as the dust settles, what matters is whether Aubameyang’s addition will make the team stronger, allowing for the departure of Giroud. The answer, undoubtedly, is yes. The Gabon star has been one of Europe’s hottest properties for several months. He was a prodigious scorer in four-and-a-half seasons for Dortmund, finding the net 141 times in 213 games, including 100 goals since the start of the 2015-16 season – 45 more than any Arsenal player has managed in the same period. That kind of prolific return outweighs Giroud’s contribution and gives Arsenal a target man to rival Harry Kane and a top-four frontline.
Assuming his disciplinary issues at Dortmund were a symptom of the player wanting to move, rather than something more fundamental in his nature, Aubameyang should be an asset, though it may take a few games to integrate him with Lacazette.
The arrival of the Armenian captain was less attention-grabbing than some of the other moves associated with the Gunners this January, but it looks a shrewd move. Mkhitaryan had only occasionally shown what he was capable of at Manchester United, but he wouldn’t be the first creative player to struggle under José Mourinho’s tactics, and the move to Arsenal could bring out the best in him, as could linking up with Aubameyang, his old Dortmund teammate.
It is even possible that Wenger sees him as a replacement for Özil, who may well be leaving in the summer. In the meantime, the prospect of him playing alongside Özil is an exciting one and he should give Arsenal an extra injection of creativity and inspiration.
Amid the flurry of excitement surrounding the departure of Sánchez and the arrival of Aubameyang, Arsenal’s other January signing went nearly unnoticed. However, there is reason to think that Konstantinos Mavropanos might turn out to be the best of the three.
The 20-year-old is regarded as one of the rising stars of Greek football and has been compared to Panagiotis Retsos, the teenager who broke the Greek transfer record when he moved to Bayer Leverkusen last summer. Tall, strong, good in the air and technically accomplished, Mavropanos will add depth to Arsenal’s defence and has the potential to become one of the club’s frontline defenders for many years to come.
While the comings and goings this January may have been unsettling, the departure of Sánchez should at least clear the air at the Emirates Stadium. More significantly, all three of Arsenal’s signings look like good additions, and with the added creativity of Mkhitaryan and the goals of Aubameyang, they should give the Gunners a boost for the rest of the season. Whether that will be enough to fire Arsenal into the top four remains to be seen.