The second half of the Premier League season starts now. Mikel Arteta has reorganized his chessboard, changed and polished some pieces, and knows exactly what he has to play with.
After January’s transfer work was completed, what he did, especially with Gabriel Jesus and Emile Smith Rowe returning to fitness, is something deeper than a first XI that Arsenal pray to the fitness gods will be available more or less every game.
When Arsenal drew with Newcastle United in their first game of 2023 on January 3, their bench consisted of a goalkeeper, three defenders, four understudied midfielders with a total of four league starts between them this season, and the only forward, Nathan Butler- Oyedeji. , was a 19-year-old who had impressed in the Papa John’s Trophy and had just gone on loan to Accrington Stanley. Now they have a stronger base from which to pick, more cover for vital players, and a healthier chance to freshen things up.
Time will tell if it is enough to sustain a title challenge, and at least reopen the door to the Champions League. Last spring, Mikel Arteta declared that his ideal squad counted three goalkeepers and 22 outfield players. He is still a fraction of the whole. But Arsenal strengthened nonetheless.
A frustrating window requires flexibility. Their primary focus was on players who could be simultaneously useful now and for the future. To deliver an impact this season, while also having the X factor to be integral to the next step of Arsenal’s ambitions, was the dream ticket. The main targets – Mykhailo Mudryk and Moises Caicedo – are players who could, in theory, do both of these things.
They needed to turn in both cases, so it’s not a big surprise that they turned to the proven Premier League. Given the specificity of the situation at Arsenal, who lead the pack at the halfway stage, it is no surprise that Arteta is tempted to recruit players who are well-versed in this league, intelligent enough to know what is required and without much need for Adaptation. Jakub Kiwior, the left-sided centre-back of Spezia, is a slightly different scenario. But Trossard and Jorginho are expected to compete to play from day one.
Trossard demonstrated that already with an important cameo to help Arsenal beat Manchester United and a display of fearless attacking in the FA Cup at Manchester City. Jorginho is on hand to take on the burden from Thomas Partey, with concerns that overplaying could risk injury in such a crucial role. The Ghanaian has not started a Europa League or Carabao Cup game and has only featured in one Premier League double this season. The plan from here on is more intense, so an option to slot is imperative.
In the summer of 2021, at the start of the rebuild that got them to this point, Arsenal brought in seven young players, with Ben White the oldest at 23. Of these, only White came directly from the Premier League, with Aaron Ramsdale having played The previous season at that level. Since then, they’ve added a further seven first-team signings – four of whom have arrived with plenty of knowledge of what to expect in this particular division. It may be a bit accidental – after all, in an alternative footballing universe Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Trossard and Jorginho could have been Dusan Vlahovic, Lisandro Martinez, Mudryk and Caicedo. But Arsenal’s season so far has shown that the second choice, the reaction gambit, can be extremely clever. They can only hope to feel the same way about Trossard and Jorginho at the end of the season.
Welcome to Arsenal, Jorginho 👊 pic.twitter.com/jHXqAUBKKQ
— Arsenal (@arsenal) January 31, 2023
The arrivals of Zinchenko and Jesus, and their influence across the board in terms of refining ambition, have felt game changing in a much wider area than the pitch. It reaffirms to Arteta how the mixture in the group can be strong. The experienced players share a winning mentality with the youth, and the willingness of the youth brings vitality to the experienced.
There is something about the tried and tested, as a means to lift Arsenal, to push them on, which Arteta sees as a shortcut to help his young team achieve their goals.
Mohamed Elneny’s injury puts pressure on Arsenal to provide an instant solution to cover for Partey. Jorginho’s ability to fill that gap is something Arteta feels comfortable about. Some fans need some convincing. The reservations are emotional and have some justification – the list of senior Chelsea players in the autumn of their careers does not make pretty reading. It never worked as happily as intended, going all the way back to William Gallas and bad memories of a title challenge unhinged while he, as captain, tried to walk off the field in a mood before the end of an intense game at Birmingham City .
It scratches old wounds. But in an era when the trust and unconditional support of the fans have injected such energy into the season’s drive, they will have to try to put any worries behind them and judge only on the present, not the past.
It was quite a tumultuous January. Seven points from nine in high-octane contests against Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United, an FA Cup tie that in some ways boosted their confidence against anyone even though a mixed team turned out at Manchester City, and enough transfer sagas to almost dissolve The Internet. It seems like another age that Arsenal fans analyzed gym equipment and slippers from Mudryk’s Instagram posts.
If there is a moral of this window for Arsenal, apart from the need to protect sanity by not living every day in a state of heightened alertness for developments, it is that they have to learn not to get led up the garden path by certain intermediaries. Arsenal have absorbed a few things, about others and themselves. There are aspects to the current marketplace that they have not enjoyed, and have found unproductive.
Ultimately, though, they end up doing exactly what they didn’t do last January. It may not have been their fancy window but they didn’t leave a gigantic hole in the squad at Anfield.
Arteta and his players can now focus on what is in front of them, one move at a time.
(Top photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)