I put off writing anything after the Liverpool game, because of a niggling feeling that our cracks had simply been papered over by the Pool's growing tendency to self-destruct. Another unconvincing away performance against Burnley, yielding only a lucky point, seemed to confirm my suspicions. Anfield had been a false dawn, not a turning point. After that, a home win against Hull was the minimum we could expect. So, it was not the 3-0 win yesterday that was significant, rather the continuing bizarre results elsewhere, results which continue to suggest that, against all logic, this unbalanced Arsenal team could mount at least a semblance of a title challenge.
Trust me to find the negative side even of this happy turn. There is a growing feeling, to me at least, that Wenger missed a trick, even more than is usually the case, last summer. You look at this Arsenal side, and as much as you want to believe that they can win the league, there still seem too many areas of doubt. Our goalkeeper convinces nobody. If either Vermaelen or Gallas get injured, the alternatives as they are now don't bear thinking about. Alex Song has probably been our player of 2009, but he's soon off to Africa leaving no suitable replacement. And, last but not least, Robin Van Persie's devastating injury has left us without a true candidate for the centre-forward position until Bendtner returns (and it's not like everyone's in love with him). Surely a team with all these doubts, with a height and strength deficiency, with a number of players who don't look up to the task (Walcott, Vela, Diaby a lot of the time), players who are almost always injured (Rosicky, and almost ten more), and players who are detested by a lot of their own supporters (Eboue, Diaby), surely this rabble cannot come out on top.
But the tale of the table at the moment is that IF Arsenal continue to win, and win their game in hand (all of this far from certain), they will leapfrog the worst United team in more than a decade, and trail not far from a chelsea side who everyone was ready to inaugurate as champions elect only three weeks ago but who are now showing signs of weakness.
THE BIGGEST JANUARY EVER?
Suddenly the January transfer window takes on serious significance. Frankly, if Man Utd and chelsea do shrewd business, they can in my view make Arsenal an irrelevance in the title race. But all three teams have areas they can improve. Arsenal will lose Song for some weeks, so some back up would not go amiss. I am not expecting this to happen. It would be just like Wenger to entrust Denilson with the task, and hope it works out. He'll probably get injured, and Diaby will be left "patrolling" the area in front of our backline in his own inimitable way. Oh dear.
The long-term injury to Djourou was a particularly cruel one. He would have been the first line of back-up at centre-half and could also fill in at defensive midfield. Instead, we need players in both positions. Wenger might be a tad more likely to buy a defender, seeing as Senderos seems likely to move on- he doesn't even make matchday squads anymore. Silvestre is not, I think it's fair to say, an option worth contemplating for more than a couple of games at a time, if that. So when Gallas picks up his inevitable annual injury, we'd want to have a new man in place.
But Wenger, being the attack-obsessed tunnel visionary that he is, will doubtless prioritise finding a temporary replacement for Robin Van Persie. And that is fair enough, having watched recent games. It is the most pressing issue, but as we've seen far from the only one. And that's not to even mention the goalkeeping situation.
One worry I have is that United and to a lesser extent chelsea will be looking for similar players and wield the greater cash power. United, somehow having seen Vidic, Ferdinand, O'Shea, Brown, Evans and Neville all ruled out at once, are in the midst of a defensive crisis that may need a solution from outside, although one feels Ferguson may be patient enough to ride it out- they really have suffered a bizarre run of luck that is unlikely to either sustain, or repeat, itself. Ferguson may be more perturbed by the inability of either the languid Berbatov or the powder puff, shadow of his former self that is Michael Owen, to compensate for the loss of Ronaldo. So perhaps they will plunge for the Valencia pair, Silva and Villa. Neither of these players are likely to be on our radar- the former we don't need, the latter is agonisingly out of our price range. But United may also be on the lookout for a big, physical striker, much like the one Arsenal crave. Wolfsburg's Edin Dzeko is sure to be a man in demand this January.
For chelsea, the feeling is that their squad may only need slight tweaking. But with the possibility of a long transfer ban hanging over the club, Ancelotti may be tempted to do big business. Michael Essien is injured now and will not play before the ANc so they may feel they need a defensive midfielder as badly as Arsenal do (John Obi Mikel hasn't really convinced, and will also be absent in any case). We saw last season just how much they miss his bite and dynamism, and we're already seeing it again in the short time since his latest injury. Ancelotti presided over the retirement home that is Ac Milan, so names like Vieira and Gattusso have been thrown about. But it's upfront where they are most likely to add a player. Drogba will leave for Africa aswell, and both he and Anelka are the wrong side of 30, so with the aforementioned transfer ban a necessary consideration names like Aguero and Pato will be the subject of much rumour. While either of those playing for chelsea THIS season seems a little unrealistic, you could see a deal being struck in advance of a summer move, perhaps.
So all in all, with Wenger having said he only wants to add top quality at the right price, there is a grim possibility that any move we try to tie up could be hijacked by either chelsea or United. And don't forget new city boss Roberto Mancini will doubtless be looking to put his stamp on the club in the shape of one or two signings- again, centre backs are in real demand, and short supply.
What would I like to see? A lot of the time, people moan about the problem but don't have an idea of the solution. I've been guilty of that, so this time I will make one suggestion. Midfielder. He's French. He used to play for Arsenal. He is NOT Patrick Vieira- Paddy's legs have gone, he'd be a good character to have around but we need more. We need the Flamster. I half-follow Italian football and Mathieu Flamini seems inexplicably underused in an ailing, aging Milan side. 10 million. Test their resolve. I know he went for free, but the time has come to disregard economics and shoot for glory. I know, not a hope. But still, I've been pining for the bite and tempo that he provided. Scott Parker would suffice if there's the expected firesale at West Ham... Either of these would be worth having around even after Song's return. In fact, I think a midfield of Song-Flamini-Fabregas would at last provide the solidity we need, without compromising flair. And Ramsey, Denilson and Diaby would be there as cover. Wouldn't it be nice.
Ok, I'm off to dream on something else.