14 January 2015

Bony, Bielik, Benik, and bugger-all...

On one hand, Man City, already in possession of such attacking options as Sergio Agüero, Edin Džeko, Yaya Touré, David Silva, Frank Lampard, and Stevan Jovetić, look to have secured the services of Wilfried Bony for some £28m. On the other, we've loaned out Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo and sold off Benik Afobe while dithering over the potential transfer of 17-year old Krystian Bielik. Ahead of our trip to the Etihad, it's hard to find a more-apt symbol of each club's differing mindsets and ambitions. City, already 11 points above us, may add one of the Prem's more-reliable scorers in a window in which it is "impossible" to make marquee signings. Arsenal, once again mired in a scrum for fourth place, hope to sign an unproven youngster for £2.5m—and we're nickel-and-diming on that.

Wilfried, we hardly knew ye...
It is true that finding players who are willing to move and who are worth moving for can be difficult in January, but City have proven that where there's a will, there's a way. Swansea, just a few points off the pace in the Prem, have apparently just agreed to part with one of their most-prized assets. How badly do City even need him when they've already scored 45 goals in 21 matches? Perhaps Pellegrini worries about Agüero's fitness, but the lad has found enough time on the pitch to chip in 14 goals so far. We might have never been after Bony (and why we weren't if he was available is another question for another day), but his move gives the lie to the suggestion that big moves don't happen in January.

At our end of things, the only story that has any legs at the moment is our ongoing, Achilles-and-the-Tortoise pursuit of Bielik, who looks like he'll be a fine player someday. Someday. We meanwhile are limping along, quite literally, with two defensive midfielders the wrong side of 30 years old, a raft of midfielders who seem heartset on getting as far forward and as far away from defending as possible, and just two experienced centre-backs, one of whom makes the aforementioned Tortoise look like quicksilver. With Flamini and Arteta taking turns getting injured and/or suspended, and with Monreal, Debuchy, and Chambers slotting in where needed, we've just barely stayed within striking distance of a top-four position. We owe that position just as much to the faltering form of Liverpool and the complete capitulation of Everton as we do to our own performance to date.

If anything, though, we've weakened ourselves, if only in terms of available bodies. Gone on loan are Podolski to Inter and Sanogo to Crystal Palace. Gone too is Benik Afobe, sold to Wolverhampton, despite having scored more goals against Manchester United in the last three years than anyone else still in the squad. Yes, he bagged that brace in the League Cup, but we've now shorn ourselves of three scoring options, two of them projects (Afobe and Sanogo) but one of them a clinical finisher in Podolski who could come on in the last 15-20 minutes and deliver a stunning goal more often than not. However, it's not that we're struggling to score, necessarily, although our reliance on Alexis threatens to make us a bit one-dimensional.

It's at the other end of the pitch where we're weak—and we've shown it all too ingloriously, dropping more points from winning positions than any other squad. In a transfer-window in which we reportedly have roughly £20m to spend, it seems like madness to throw almost 10% of that at an unproven starlet like Bielik, all the more so when the other players we're after would probably command a £20m transfer-fee, if not more. Could we get the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin for £17.5m? Not after Southampton refused to sell him for £25m in the summer, not when they're above us on the table. Signing Bielik might make sense for our future, but he's probably three or four seasons away from bossing the pitch as we'd need him to do.

My first reaction to the loans of Podolski and Sanogo and the sale of Afobe is to hope that we're clearing out some dead-wood ahead of a larger move, much as we did in the summer of 2013 when we finally unloaded Squillaci, Chamakh, Arshavin, and a host of others, culminating in the climactic acquisition of Özil. The summer of 2014 was similarly productive as we sold Vermaelen and saw Fabianski and Sagna leave for free while unloading Bendtner and loaning out Jenkinson, again culminating in the cataclysmic acquisition of Alexis. However, it's getting difficult to see how we'd find someone of similar stature—or someone significant enough to bolster our title-tilt—when there's little-more than two weeks left in the window.

It's unlikely that the sale of Afobe will change that £20m figure very much, but the acquisition of Bielik, should it come through, might prove to be more bane than boon, at least in the short term. Should Legia Warsaw insist on a higher transfer-fee, we at Arsenal might price ourselves out of the market for players like Carvalho, Bender, or any of the other proven players whom we're apparently wooing.

If there's a saving grace to all of this, we'll be spared any excruciating ironies in our trip to the Etihad on Sunday, as Bony is currently representing Côte d'Ivoire in the Africa Cup of Nations. Let us hope that this is not the only saving grace we'll see over the next few weeks...