By Ewan Roberts
Arsenal fans could be forgiven for feeling a little downbeat about a January transfer window that promised much – the north Londoners pressed hard to try to sign Schalke's Julian Draxler before conceding defeat late on – yet ultimately resulted in another cut-price deal for a largely uninspiring signing.
There was no repeat of the eye-catching, morale-boosting, club-record capture of Mesut Ozil on deadline day of the summer window, instead the club made a last-minute move to bring Kim Kallstrom to the Emirates Stadium on loan until the end of the season. Yesterday he had been in Abu Dhabi with Spartak Moscow, one phone call later he was en route to Arsenal.
The Swede is certainly not the statement signing the Gunners wanted in a window where fellow title rivals Chelsea have strengthened and Manchester City have hit top form – and his arrival hints at a return to the penny-pinching, frugal approach that triggered so much criticism and despondency barely six months ago, when, prior to Ozil's capture, free transfers Mathieu Flamini and Yaya Sanogo were the only additions.
But while Kallstrom may not be the star signing Arsenal craved, he could be the player they need. Arsene Wenger is currently in the midst of a midfield injury crisis, with Aaron Ramsey out for up to six weeks following a training ground setback, while doubts linger over the durability of Jack Wilshere's problematic ankle. Mathieu Flamini's three-game suspension has only exacerbated the situation.
Kallstrom, a combative box-to-box midfielder, ticks many of the criteria the depleted Arsenal midfield requires – even at 31 years of age. There is a certain debonair flavour to the way the Swede plays, typified by a left foot that's so classy it would not look out of place in the halls of Downton Abbey, and he should merge seamlessly with a side that is already packed with flair and imagination.
His experience, especially in Europe, where he has 45 appearances in the Champions League (reaching the semi-final in 2010), and of title challenges (he won Ligue 1 in back-to-back seasons with Lyon between 2006 and 2008) could prove invaluable, and, as much as his signing will highlight Wenger's parsimoniousness, it also shows a deeper respect for the wisened, seasoned campaigners he has previously overlooked.
Kallstrom really began to stand out during a three-year spell at Rennes that began a decade ago – where he shared a dressing room with Chelsea's Petr Cech, now a rival in the Premier League title race. The Swede's 20 goals in 83 Ligue 1 matches for les Rouges et Noirs, coupled with a notorious computer game, made him hot property and he duly moved to Lyon.
Les Gones may not be the dominant force they once were, slipping to sixth place in the division currently and out-muscled financially by Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, but not so long ago they were top of the pile in France, winning seven consecutive titles, and had their pick of the best talent in the country.
Their side throughout that period was packed full of quality, and Kallstrom consistently played an important role despite the wealth of options available to the club – even rejecting offers from elsewhere.
Older now, and somewhat off the grid since he has moved to Russia, Kallstrom is still a very useful player – and Wenger has an immensely keen eye for spotting players that are undervalued, as the purchases of Mikel Arteta and Flamini attest. In his most recent forays in European competition, in the 2012-13 Champions League, the Swede still showed that he is able to compete at the highest level.
While Spartak had a torrid campaign, losing five of their matches, beating only Celtic, and finishing bottom of the group, Kallstrom was one of few players to escape with his reputation intact. He averaged 47.6 passes per game despite the side's struggles, while his 39 combined tackles and interceptions (6.5 per game) underlines his tenaciousness and work rate which will suit the Premier League.
Kallstrom is not a spectacular signing, but he is a shrewd and sensible one. Arsenal needed reinforcements and Wenger duly delivered, recruiting a player with a wealth of experience that is inherently suited to the Gunners' philosophy and style. His reading of the game, his cultured passing and vision, and the dash of physicality make him an excellent solution to a midfield problem that could otherwise have turned into a title-derailing crisis.
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