After their hard fought 2-1 over Manchester City on Monday night Arsenal sit in second place – just two points off the summit of the Premier League. The last two times Arsenal won the league they sat in second on Christmas Day.
In the most wide open title race since the inception of the Premier League Arsene Wenger has his biggest chance to add to his three Premier League titles since his last one in 2004. With current champions Chelsea enduring their worst ever season since Roman Abramovich took over, Manchester United in their own turmoil under Louis van Gaal and Man City being inconsistent Arsenal are the one of the so called ‘big four’ putting up a consistent chase for the trophy.
Many still believe that Leicester City do not have the staying power to win the whole thing but the more they continue to perform the more you have to believe that they can indeed go all the way. Arsenal will have to match pace with this unexpected juggernaut and now Wenger faces his most critical January.
Wenger’s victory over Pellegrini was made even more impressive that he had to do it without the services of: Alexis Sanchez, Sani Cazorla and Francis Coquelin – three of the key components to Arsenal’s success so far this season. Wenger now has an opportunity to strengthen his side in January ahead of his players returning to fitness. The Frenchman has hinted that he may seek short term options with the danger of Cazorla being out for the season and with Danny Welbeck no closer to fitness.
To search for the short term option seems strange when discussing a coach who has always been about the long term. In this instance in particular Wenger has an opportunity to capitalise of some of his rival’s stock being down. In previous January windows Wenger has always been reluctant to buy. The logic being that it is very hard to embed a player midseason. The last time Wenger really went for the kill at the turn of the year resulted in him signing Jose Antonio Reyes – who never really caught fire in London but helped Wenger, and the rest of the Arsenal team, achieve the unbeaten season of 2003-04.
The biggest advantages that Arsenal hold over Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester side is that they have the financial muscle and the cache to attract the biggest stars. Ranieri has proved that does not necessarily equal success with him getting the best out of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez – who cost the club a total of £1.4m – but the Gunners have the power to attract instant difference makers with established reputations and add depth and quality to an already high calibre squad.
Manchester United look to be the only team to spend as heavily as they did in the summer. However it is not unlikely that Chelsea or Man City enter the market to add to their ranks. Leicester may face a bigger fight to keep stars names rather than attract them. Arsenal will still have to compete to get the players in but the task could be made easier with their rivals faltering.
Wenger has the theory that getting players back from long term injuries: Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla – if indeed he returns – are like new signings. But the theory has fallen flat in the past, Wenger needs to bring in some fresh blood and give himself the best chance yet to bring home a fourth Premier League title.