I touched on this a few weeks ago. It was always going to be the elephant in the room. When Arsenal trimmed their squad during the January transfer window and allowed several players to leave without replacing them, many thought it was a recipe for disaster.
It seemed to work as Arsenal was the clear favorite to claim a Premier League top four spot with points and games in hand, but everyone knew all it would take to derail it was an injury or two. That proved to be correct.
Allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to leave and not bring in another forward, nor sign another central midfielder, Arsenal can only blame themselves for the predicament it finds itself in.
The lack of quality in depth in the Arsenal squad when Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney, and Benjamin White all went down with injury saw Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny, Nuno Tavares and Cedric all find game time in the biggest of moments. Typical Arsenal.
Arsenal’s quiet January where they didn’t make any incoming transfers has cost them Champions League football
In an ideal world, all four would be bit-part players, coming off the bench, not starting the biggest games Arsenal have had this season. There are limitations to all of them.
While the trimming of the wage bill was excellent and needed to be done, it has come at a cost, with Champions League football all but gone now. Needing a win to clinch it away to Tottenham, the side crumbled as they did against Newcastle.
Had Tierney or Partey been involved, the results may have been different. But, seeing as they weren’t, players who are merely squad players were thrust into the limelight and it has cost the club dearly.
That is not a knock on those mentioned above, but if Arsenal wants to get back into the Champions League and challenge on several fronts, they cannot be your back-ups.
Eddie Nketiah, while in good form and leading the line well (four goals from four games), is still young, and it has proved to be a tall order to have him upfront during this time. Rob Holding is another one who is merely a squad player, and indeed now, William Saliba is going to get his chance next season. Leaps and bounds ahead of the Englishman, Saliba should be Arsenal’s go-to guy next year.
An injury was all it was going to take for Arsenal to fall apart, and without a bonafide goal scorer, it was going to be an arduous task, but one that they seemed to handle rather well. Until now.
Let’s not forget that Arsenal comfortably has the youngest squad in the league, so the inconsistencies that have plagued them throughout the campaign come with the territory of an inexperienced side.
Against Newcastle, Arsenal missed the carrying ability of Partey and his willingness to invite pressure and distribute the ball to all areas. In the face of the Magpies’ press, the Ghanaian would have at least given the Gunners some resemblance of a foothold in the match. Instead, Arsenal kept going long and conceding possession.
Without Partey the next players to step up are not what is needed. Elneny has been a great servant at the club and, in particular, the last three or four weeks, but he is not the one the club wants to get them over the line in a top four hunt. The injury-ravaged team put out since January is a not a Champions League quality team, so it adds up that they won’t be playing Champions League football.
Arsenal will be better for the experience and at least get Europa League football, but that is small consolation now. Champions League was within touching distance. They will surely miss out, and they can thank their quiet January transfer window for that.