By Greg Stobart
The sad truth for Arsene Wenger is that, by the time Arsenal complete their first transfer of the January window, his dallying in the market may have already cost the club vital points and, potentially, a place in next season’s Champions League.
The Gunners should have signed Mohamed Diame from West Ham in the first week of the month, yet on Wednesday the Senegalese midfielder will be lining up for the Hammers at the Emirates Stadium.
Apparently, Wenger feels he needs another look at a player who has played in the Premier League since 2009 and is available for a cut-price €4.2 million thanks to a buyout clause inserted in the contract he signed when joining West Ham on a free transfer from Wigan last summer.
The 25-year-old has recovered from a hamstring injury and would have provided much-needed steel in midfield in Arsenal’s last two league matches, defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea.
At Stamford Bridge, in particular, the Arsenal midfield was dissected with ease by the hosts as they fell two goals behind in the first-half.
Against City, Abou Diaby was thrown straight into the starting line-up following a four-month absence as Wenger was so short of midfield options.
There is no excuse for Arsenal not to have dipped into the transfer market given the obvious deficiencies in the squad, the €59.5m budget available to Wenger and – most crucially – the fact the team is sixth in the table and seven points behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
Wenger has continually seemed to find an excuse or an explanation for the club’s lack of action. At first, the Frenchman claimed the Gunners were waiting for Theo Walcott to sign the three-and-a-half -year contract extension officially announced last week.
On Tuesday, Wenger tried to insist that Arsenal did not attempt to sign Crystal Palace wonderkid Wilfried Zaha, who is close to joining Manchester United in a deal that could be worth up to €18m.
Wenger had previously admitted Arsenal were “looking at Zaha” yet struck a very different chord once it emerged the forward is heading to Old Trafford.
“We were never in for Zaha,” Wenger said. “I don’t know if he will go to Man United. If he goes to Man United, good luck to him.”
It was almost insulting to Arsenal fans to deny any interest in Zaha when the club have been scouting the 20-year-old and held talks with Palace and the player’s representatives over a deal this month.
In attack, Arsenal fans continue to watch the lumbering frame of Olivier Giroud following a failed attempt to sign David Villa and continued haggling with Atletico Madrid over a €14.3m move for Adrian Lopez.
Giroud, who was signed as a replacement for Robin van Persie but has scored just six Premier League goals, is the most recent example of Wenger’s increasingly questionable judgement when bringing players to north London.
The list of ‘flops’ arriving at Arsenal – from Marouane Chamakh to Andre Santos and Park Chu-Young – appears to grow by the year. There is an argument that the only bona fide successful signings in recent years have been Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla.
And that is why Arsenal right now face their biggest challenge under Wenger to achieve a top four finish and qualify for the Champions League – something they have managed in all of the last 15 seasons.
Wenger has always been a slow decision-maker, treating the club’s money like his own as he analyses and scouts players to the tiniest detail. Arsenal is run as an autocracy and everyone knows it; even the chief executive answers to the manager.
But surely it’s not that hard to find players who could quite easily improve this Arsenal squad and plug some holes.
Perhaps, at the heart of it, Wenger is even doubting himself as he reflects on recent poor signings and a history of failures when it comes to spending big, club record-breaking money on the likes of Andrei Arshavin.
Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal since 1996 but if hasn’t learnt lessons from the fact Arsenal are approaching eight years without winning a trophy, what will it take?
The money is in the bank and there is a desperate need for reinforcements, not least to galvanise a group of players lacking confidence and belief.
It is gob-smacking that Arsenal are yet to make a signing in January – and unless Wenger can sign one or two quality players in the next eight days, they can kiss goodbye to their famous record of qualifying for the Champions League 15 years in a row.