Arsenal: January transfer gamble backfires for reeling Gunners with Mikel Arteta hoping for repeat of history

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Arsenal: January transfer gamble backfires for reeling Gunners with Mikel Arteta hoping for repeat of history
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Arsenal have been here before under Mikel Arteta: being written off after three Premier League defeats in a row, their season unravelling fast and teetering on the edge of a crisis.

The previous time it happened was last August, when a trio of losses in their first three games of the new season left them rock-bottom of the table and with alarm bells ringing.

Arteta managed to steady the ship after that and turn their season around, so much so that the Gunners started this month sat in fourth position. Now, after their 1-0 defeat at Southampton on Saturday, they are sixth and it feels as though Champions League qualification is slipping away from them.

When Arsenal made their miserable start to the season, Arteta described the following period as “the best 10-15 days I have ever had since I have been in football”.

Given the Gunners face Chelsea tomorrow, and then Manchester United and West Ham over the next fortnight, Arteta will be hoping history repeats itself, otherwise a season that promised so much could end in disappointment.

“They are really down today, and they are down because they cannot find the right answer, apart from what we can do better around the box,” said Arteta, after Saturday’s loss at St Mary’s.

“That’s the frustration — when somebody is better than you, you shake their hands and you have to do something, you have to believe yourself, you have to be critical of yourself.”

Three straight defeats have left Arsenal reeling in their battle for a top-four finish (REUTERS)
Three straight defeats have left Arsenal reeling in their battle for a top-four finish (REUTERS)

Arsenal bounced back from those three defeats at the start of the season, but the challenge is arguably greater now. As was the case in August, there are mitigating factors for their poor run of form. Back then, a Covid outbreak and the fact some new signings had not had a chance to bed in impacted them. Now, injuries to key players, like Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey, have caused disruption.

What makes the current climate worse is that Arteta seemingly has fewer options to try and change things.

At least in September he was able to call upon those new arrivals, who he blooded all at once to great success. Arteta does not have that luxury now and it looks as though Arsenal’s gamble in the January transfer window has not paid off. They allowed players to leave, including former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but failed to replace them.

They wanted a midfielder and striker, but when they could not acquire the targets they wanted, they kept their powder dry. It was a calculated risk, and one that looked like it may pay off during February and March, but now cracks are appearing in Arsenal’s small squad. Half of their bench on Saturday was made up of players from the Under-23 squad.

Gunners boss Mikel Arteta has few options to freshen things up (Reuters)
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta has few options to freshen things up (Reuters)

That is in contrast to Tottenham, who signed Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur — two players who have immediately strengthened their first team. What Arsenal would give for a similar impact now.

Despite their struggles, the race for the top four is not dead and Arteta will look to call upon the spirit shown by his side earlier this season.

The Spaniard can also take heart from the fact that all the sides competing for Champions League qualification are flawed; not one has taken the race by the scruff of the neck and Saturday underlined how momentum can swing fast.

If Arsenal can beat Chelsea tomorrow, then momentum would swing back in their favour. But, right now, that seems like a big if.

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