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Has the Arsenal January Gamble backfired horribly?

arteta-award-tw1050

Was it only 3 weeks ago?

Optimism at the end of March, with talk of possibly overtaking a floundering Chelsea, Arteta’s Manager of the Month deservedly earned and three winnable fixtures ahead of us…….

Was that really less than 3 weeks ago?

Two injuries to key players, the 3 winnable fixtures all lost, with only one last consolation goal scored and our non-scoring ‘centre forward’ captain seemingly sticking the boot in, and it would be fair to say that the mood in the red and white half of North London, is less buoyant. In fact, it is downright angry but where should the fans ire be directed?

The truth is that the coaching team have made some highly questionable decisions, as I wrote last week; with players selected out of position, others who perhaps should have been picked, not picked and a few who were not deserving of their manager’s faith, retaining it, but the roots of Arsenal’s present reality probably lie in the January transfer window.

The last window saw the club ship out a whole host of their first team squad playing staff, either on loan, on loan with a view to a permanent sale, or by contract termination. The plus side of the decisions taken, alongside that of not replacing a single one of them, was a huge downwards rebalancing of a ludicrously inflated wage bill. This is turn was to place the club in a wonderful position to truly ‘splash the cash’ in the summer and bring in several key and high-profile signings to join the highly promising core that had been assembled.

Dusan-Vlahovic

Couldn’t land Vlahovic

However, the huge gamble, when the apparently pointless pursuit of Vlahovic failed, was that Arteta could coax the severely trimmed squad into European competition, with only two misfiring strikers remaining, both of whom were out of contract in June. This gamble, once Partey returned from AFCON duty and suspension and was joined by Xhaka had looked to be paying off with a settled starting 11, and Smith Rowe as a super sub.

Mikel-Arteta-giving-instructions-to-Arsenal-striker-Alexandre-Lacazette

Not so lucky in his choice of skipper?

The ‘lucky’ manager had settled on a winning formula, despite his newly installed skipper, Lacazette, not scoring from open play, due to the form of Saka, Odegaard and the exuberant Martinelli. His team on the back of five straight away wins were the reluctant media’s favourites to grab fourth place and a return to the Champion’s League.

The truth is, as is now abundantly clear, was that the high stakes gamble appears unlikely to pay out a Champion’s League jackpot for Arteta and Arsenal. In harsh reality, all it took was injuries to 2 of his most valuable, experienced and influential performers in Partey and Tierney and a loyalty to Alexandre Lacazette, which, if the recent interview given by his current captain, was seriously misplaced.

tierney

Huge loss with Partey

The defeat to Crystal Palace, post international break, was deserved, but had our Spanish leader managed to re-galvanise his shell-shocked troops, fourth place was still Arsenal’s for the taking. Two defeats later, even his talismanic on-field partnership of Saka and Odegaard are mis-firming and with a run of matches against far sterner opposition, competing for the same prize, Arteta and his beleaguered team need some inspiration from somewhere, and fast.

It will take an almighty effort, without Partey and a recognised goal scorer to pull his team back into fourth, but top six is now essential for the gamble to have been worthwhile at all. In betting parlance, it was probably each way bet, with 5th of 6th place still paying out with European football, if not at the top table. Being in the Europa League in 22/23 will still enable Arsenal and Arteta to attract quality (and experience, which is now essential,) to bolster what is still a fabulous young core.

Martinelli vs Leeds

Through the middle tonight

Whether our young Spanish Manager and his staff can motivate their players and find a formula to achieve results against Chelsea, Man United, West Ham and Spurs remains to be seen but for the bigger gamble to still to be in-play come May, the next gamble must be set up the team to play to Martinelli’s strengths, as the Brazilian surely MUST be used as a striker at Stamford Bridge.

This is the full, unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Football Fan View column.

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