In a week that saw the end of the January transfer window, many teams - Arsenal included - haven’t been shouting about their transfer activity. It was expected that Arsene Wenger would resist all temptations to sign new players but his resolve was broken after the mid-week draw against Liverpool. It wasn’t so much the result of the match which changed his mind, but rather, the injury that was picked up from that game.
That injury to Kieran Gibbs and the continued poor form of Andre Santos forced Wenger to take action. It led to a quick signing of Ignacio “Nacho” Monreal from Malaga. That very deal is proof that, contrary to popular belief, transfers can be swift and easy. However, only time will tell if Monreal has the ability to live up to Wenger’s expectations.
Being a new player in a relatively new squad, Monreal will be analysing Arsenal matches and paying more attention to the difference in the team’s defending quality before and after his arrival. This comes after the poor performance in the tie against Liverpool prior to his transfer. It was an error-strewn showing, gifting goals away and effectively making matters worse for Arsenal. The Gunners are currently the team with the highest number of goals conceded due to individual mistakes, anywhere in the English Premier League - a statistic which explains the low morale of the defence.
Unsurprisingly, Monreal went straight into the squad for the match against Stoke City. Wenger described the debutante’s selection as: “No better introduction to English football.” In that match, Monreal was part of a more resolute Arsenal defence. No, Stoke City are not comparable to Liverpool in their attacking qualities nor was Tony Pulis’ tactics geared towards attacking. Nevertheless, the Gunners were able to shut out all of Stoke’s options via set-pieces, long balls and aggressive tackling.
In the past two matches, Monreal would have been encouraged by some of the attacking qualities on display. Even after going down to Liverpool, Arsenal always looked like they could come back into the game. The forwards were vibrant and the only thing in their way was a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping.
It was a case of déjà vu against Stoke as well. Despite finding plenty of goal-scoring chances, the Gunners seemed out of luck. Asmir Begovic’s brilliance proved to be the only barrier between Arsenal and a major bashing of Stoke. What was different though, was that Santi Cazorla was almost non-existent in that game. The Spanish genius has been the creative hub for Arsenal throughout the season and even in his ‘absence’, it was pleasing to see that the team had creativity in the middle of the park.
Eight games in 31 days was a tough run of fixtures for the Gunners. In the end, it is what it is. Reinforcements have been minimal and the team will have to press on without much help. Substitutes will have to come to the fore as Arsenal heads into the final stretch of the season. They can only hope that injury-prone players like Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky will spend less time in the recovery room. There is little room for error in the race to vie for a spot in the next Champions League season.