Arsenal’s record in the January window is far from impressive, writes Tom Adams, will Mohamed Elneny buck the trend?
Contrary to all received wisdom, Arsenal are on the verge of completing the biggest deal of the January transfer window so far, in a decisive move which has been lined up for some time. Most incredibly of all, the man in question is even an outfield player.Arsenal, you will struggle to forget, were the only club from Europe’s top five leagues who failed to sign an outfield player in the summer. Petr Cech was a transformative addition in nets, but still, Arsene Wenger’s refusal to recruit a midfielder or a striker angered some fans.The recruitment of Mohamed Elneny from FC Basel, in a £7 million deal which is expected to be confirmed in the coming hours and days, represents a departure from Arsenal’s summer strategy, Wenger’s hand being forced by damaging injuries to Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin.It also represents a departure from their usual approach in the winter window. If it was Sir Alex Ferguson who famously repeated the mantra that “there’s no value in the January market” it is Wenger, his old rival, who continues to put it into practice.
Nacho Monreal has had a fantastic season with Arsenal – AFPIn the past six January transfer windows, Arsenal have only signed two players of any lasting consequence: Nacho Monreal from Malaga in 2013 and Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal in 2015. A scattering of youngsters and grizzled veterans make up an unconvincing cast.Thierry Henry’s return on loan in 2012 carried huge emotional weight but ultimately little sporting value. Andrei Arshavin inspired the most protracted saga of the 2009 window as his move, held up by a snowstorm enveloping London, was completed days after the close of the window, but in truth you have to go back to 2006 to find a year, in fact the only year, when Arsene Wenger really threw himself into the winter window.Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott, all of whom arrived in the first month of 2006, have a combined service of 24 years at Arsenal, and counting. They were signings who reshaped the team, enjoyed moments of glory and, in Adebayor’s case, became a modern day villain. But at the time, Diaby and Walcott were only promising youngsters and Adebayor a rather raw striker from Ligue 1.So when Wenger insists he “will be busy” in January, as he did at the end of last month, it probably doesn’t raise the prospect of a genuine transfer splurge. Elneny and maybe one other arrival are likely to constitute Arsenal’s winter business, if past history is anything to go by.
Arsenal’s January signings
2015 Gabriel Paulista, Krystian Bielik
2014 Kim Kallstrom
2013 Nacho Monreal
2012 Thierry Henry, Thomas Eisfeld
2011 Wellington Silva, Ryo Miyaichi
2010 Sol Campbell, Samuel Galindo
2009 Andrei Arshavin
2008 Luke Freeman
2006 Carlos Vela, Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott, Mart Poom
2005 Emmanuel Eboue
2004 Jose Antonio Reyes
2003 Guillame Warmuz
When you look at which winter signings made an immediate impact on the team, the field narrows even further.Arshavin gave Arsenal a much-needed attacking infusion as his six goals and five assists in 12 league matches in 2009 helped them to a Champions League place – a portrayal of his talent which was to ultimately prove misleading.In 2006, Diaby made nine Premier League starts in the second half of the season before his campaign was brutally cut short, and his career fatally undermined, by a tackle from Sunderland’s Dan Smith in May. Walcott did not feature at all, while Adebayor scored four times and got four assists in 12 league matches in a gentle introduction to English football.
Jose Antonio Reyes signs for Arsenal – ReutersThe only other player whose impact was felt to a significant degree in the season in which he joined was Reyes, who helped the Invincibles get across the line unbeaten but also knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup with two goals in February. Like Arshavin, and Diaby to an extent, it was not the start of the great Arsenal career many had hoped for and expected.The omens, then, for Elneny are not particularly promising. One problem is that Arsenal need an immediate impact if Mathieu Flamini is to be relieved of defensive midfield duties. With Coquelin out injured, this is the most critical weakness in the Arsenal team yet Elneny does not seem to fill the brief.The comparison graphic from Squawka, below, suggests the Egypt international is seemingly more suited to the box-to-box role currently filled by Aaron Ramsey. But Arsenal don’t particularly need another midfielder who attacks the box and gets shots away, they need someone who will win possession and add a physical dimension in Coquelin’s absence.
He may prove a valuable long-term acquisition for Arsenal – that is surely why they purchased the 23-year-old, and one piece of analysis suggests Wengercould mould him into a defensive midfielder of some repute – but history, and his present qualities, indicate Elneny may not be an immediate solution to Arsenal’s midfield vulnerability.