02 February 2015

Arsenal's transfer dealings: in with a bang, out with a whimper...

Now is the winter of our discontent. Every January, we pin our hopes to a miraculous mid-season signing only to see those hopes crumble (must...resist...urge...to mention Källström...). A year ago, we managed to loan in Källström (blast it, that's one New Year's Resolution gone by the wayside, and the year before that, we fast-tracked the signing of Nacho Monreal after Gibbs went down. Thus was spawned this blog, two years ago almost to the day, in frustration at the tight-fistedness and apparent short-sightedness of our transfer-dealings. In those days, it seemed as if we would only see signings in some kind of last-ditch response to injury or departure, whether it was Gibbs or Fabregas or van Persie. This time through, though, we have a few signings...and, for those who like parody, someone who's "like a new signing."

Man U and Liverpool apparently shot their loads in the summer, because neither could be arsed to spend much in this window. True, Man U brought in Victor Valdes from Barcelona, but when you have David "I inspire hashtags" de Gea, this hardly amounts to earth-shattering business. Liverpool were even quieter, with the apparent "retirement" of Steven Gerrard to MLS's LA Galaxy in the summer their only business worth mentioning.

However, I'm not here to suss out the dealings of our rivals (it would be short post indeed). This post marks an anniversary of sorts, as Woolwich 1886 exists almost entirely as a knee-jerk reaction to the post-haste signing of Monreal at the close of the winter transfer-window in February 2013. Back then, I was a wet-behind-the-ears, doe-eyed ingenue outraged at our ad hoc approach to transfers. The previous summer, we had bid adieu to the Dutch Skunk. Even if we had signed Podolski, Cazorla, and Giroud, these ended up feeling like stop-gaps rather than reinforcements. Even as Cazorla and Giroud have earned their way into our hearts (as had Podolski, his loan to Inter notwithstanding), the persistent feeling has been that Arsène would only open his cheque-book under extreme duress, namely, when injuries or departures forced him to. Then came the signing of Mesut Özil. After that came the summer of 2014 in which we added Chambers, Debuchy, Welbeck, Ospina, and, last but not least, Alexis. It seems as if we'd turned a corner, one in which we could strike an honest balance between fiscal sanity and competitive relevance.

As such, we might have looked to this winter transfer-window as one in which we might have added one more gilt-edged signing, the kind of player who might indisputably elevate us to the realm of title-contenders. However, to do so is to ignore history. Rarely, if ever, have January tranfers been worth the price paid. There are too many moving parts, what with managers, players, agents, or clubs reluctant to rock the boat midseason. All of that only exacerbates the Prem premium, the sense that players need time to adjust to the Prem's pace and physicality. On one hand, players coming to the Prem might need months to adjust. On the other, players already familiar with the Prem might command a transfer-fee far in excess of their actual value.

One more factor to consider before we actually assess Arsenal's dealings: Arsenal were far from the only club needing defensive reinforcements, especially at centre-back. This trend tracks all the way back to the summer, when we among many others needed CBs. With that in mind, to have picked up a CB of Gabriel's calibre looks like one of the sharpest moves of this window. Yes, Chelsea signed a midfielder for twice the fee we paid for our man, but theirs looks like a bit of three-card monte while ours looks like we're holding a full house. Gabriel looks ready to delegate for Koscielny almost immediately, similar to how Monreal slotted in (he had no choice, really) on short notice two years ago.

If that's not enough to slake our thirst, we do have Francis "he's like a new signing" Coquelin, who has proven to be a revelation in the defensive midfield, at least in the short term. Should he continue to prove his mettle over the next four-or-so months, we might be hailing him instead of Gabriel (and, er,that Polish kid we signed) as the season's saviour.

Time will tell whether our mid-season dealings and discoveries will amount to much. Add in the ascenscion of Hector "I'm faster than Theo" Bellerin, and we have a nifty compromise between signing starlets and developing them into superstars and signing superstars and, well, permiting them to do what they do. Gabriel and Bielik have some time to decide which category they'll end up in, and that works for me.