Stan Kroenke has clear $70m Arsenal January transfer decision to make for Mikel Arteta


By the end of November 2022 Arsenal were top of the Premier League, two points above Manchester City. Brighton were in the European places and Manchester United had a goal difference of zero despite a lofty table position. Chelsea were 10th, Everton in a relegation battle and Brentford just sort of existing in the middle somewhere.

12 months on and not much has changed. All of these things are still true, though the gap at the top is one point not two and there have been 13 matches compared to 16 in 2022/23. The World Cup had started and Arsenal were paving the way for their title challenge.

This time round the wheels aren't moving quite as quickly and it's been a grind for Mikel Arteta. The Gunners sit top despite not blowing too many teams away. They have won league games by more than one goal just four times which is 50 per cent less than at the same stage last year. They have scored three less goals but more importantly conceded four fewer at the same time.

It has been a safety first approach from Arteta as he balances new signings with injuries across the field, the challenge of Champions League football with the relentless creeping shadow of Manchester City. If Arsenal were top at Christmas and New Year last term and lost the league with games to spare then can they afford to be any worse off this time? It's a nagging feeling that dominates games now.

Arsenal are expected to be at the top, there or there abouts, and challenging with the best. Last year there was a freedom and joy to the play as a young group expressed themselves and shut those around them down whilst doing it, now the Pep Guardiola factor has eaten away and the reality is that nothing short of near total control and consistency will do.

For Arteta the chance will come in just five weeks to make any changes he deems necessary before it is back to the pitch. Again, in a window to the past, Arsenal were caught between how to manage January. Ahead of schedule there was a temptation to let the group manage itself, this lot have done the work, this lot can see it through, but the overarching narrative was a chance that couldn't be missed.

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How many times will Arteta get to this position again? If Arsenal didn't go out to capitalise on being the table-toppers then perhaps they never would. In the end the outcome was a bit of both. Pushing and bidding for Moises Caicedo but not going near his asking price gave off a sense of 'well we tried', especially as they ended up with Jorginho for £10million ($12m) on deadline day.

The Italian was seen as a good coup at the time. On a short-ish deal he doesn't block the pathway for future signings and adds experience of being at the top that the squad lacked. Although not to blame for the drop-off it wasn't the sort of signing that inspired confidence or laid down a marker.

Leandro Trossard has been an undoubted success and beating Chelsea to him was one of the shrewdest pieces of business in recent times. The 28-year-old, signed for a cut-price mid-season, cost just £23million ($29m) and has contributed seven goals and 12 assists since joining. In all competitions per90 he averages nearly a contribution per game, such is his record from the bench.

This deal managed to strike the balance between ambition, value and aiding squad dynamics, it's the sort of thing that the club will need more of this year. The final piece of business was to sign relatively unheard of Jakub Kiwior from Italy.

He played a mixed role as understudy across the backline, getting less than 500 minutes in the second half of the season, and is hardly making much of an impact this year either. The 23-year-old was just as expensive as Trossard but so far much less impactful, this is an example of the type of transfer that needs avoiding.

Arsenal have already upgraded on Kiwior in Jurrien Timber and his long-term prospects look just as bleak as his short-term ones. The clarity in thought that got them the Dutchman over the summer is now needed again.

Stan Kroenke has already shown willingness to back this new Arsenal with his son Josh having a heightened role in the day-to-day activities at London Colney. Meanwhile sporting director Edu Gaspar and Mikel Arteta have been supported in clearing out the squad and replenishing with younger, more adaptable and promising models.

The money spent, for example, to sign Kai Havertz, Timber and Declan Rice just wouldn't have been there in previous years and comes without any huge sales to offset it. In 2021 they went bigger than most expected for Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale. Now the time has come to stamp authority on the season again.

In January there is a demand for a striker with Ivan Toney being the most likely option. He wouldn't be available to play until January 24 when his FA ban for breaching betting rules ends but does pose as a realistic option. As someone with a defined role in a side, contract running out and ready to make the step up to the top level there is genuine interest from the Gunners.

The issue is that for £60million ($75m) he would cost more than the £56million ($70m) spent last year in January alone. Unlike then, however, there are no other clear upgrades. There are questions over the midfield make-up and whether Rice can get more help but the options don't jump out, especially not mid-season.

Last year, however, with injury troubles for Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba, Gabriel Jesus and Thomas Partey, there was a clear demand for additions in three key areas. Arsenal eventually made the calls to sanction deals and were proven largely right in doing so.

This time things on the surface look very similar and it would be risking missing out on a chance to improve and take advantage of the strong start not to act again.

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