By Tim Collings
Another Monday - another quandary for Arsene Wenger. To buy or not to buy? That is the question...
It is nobler to struggle on with a home-made squad and bear the slings and arrows or splash the cash when the transfer window reopens in January. Not since November 9, following his Arsenal team's 4-1 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers has the Frenchman been able to arrive at work with a relaxed smile on his face.
That means three weeks of disappointments and tension, bad news from abroad and even worse news sometimes from the home front have led to furrowed brows and problems to solve.
Since that victory in the West Midlands, the clouds have descended both in reality, with the arrival of the first cold tentacles of the English winter, and metaphorically. The driving rain at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday made Chelsea look almost larger than life, as they shrugged aside the elements, but Arsenal looked soaked and sorry for themselves.
In a wretched November, Arsenal have lost the services of Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Robin van Persie, having been already without Nicklas Bendtner and the rest - and they have also lost the knack of scoring goals in abundance. Two successive goalless Premier League defeats have followed, either side of a spluttering win against Standard Liege in the UEFA Champions League, and in between times an international break that delivered the manager's worst nightmare scenario - an injury crisis exacerbated by delayed delivery with a sting in its tail.
Van Persie's misery summed it up. A prognosis of six weeks out with damaged ankle ligaments was bad enough, but after wasting a week seeking extraordinary treatment abroad he came back to discover that he requires surgery and will miss virtually all of the rest of the season.
Breaking point | Van Persie's injury has been crucial
Hence Wenger's downbeat demeanour and adrenalin-fuelled defiance on Sunday night after Chelsea had swept his boys aside on the way to a 3-0 triumph that endorsed their position as favourites to win the championship and pulled them level with Arsenal as the Premier League's top scorers on 36 goals.
The great entertainers of October have lost their way. They need not only a period of recovery, but some reinforcements or their season will be another characterised by frustrated ambitions and unrewarded dreams. Wenger will rest many of his established senior players for Wednesday's Carling Cup visit to Manchester City and again the following week in Athens against Olympiakos, in the Champions League.
But that rest - especially if a team made up of young protégés and fringe players is soundly beaten - will not solve the problems that can only be rectified by at least two, if not three, major signings if Wenger is to deliver on his promise of lifting a trophy this season.
These are the positions where his current team lacks authority, experience, power and strength:
Goalkeeper - Manuel Almunia has a Dracula-like complex about crosses, rarely leaves his line, let alone his six-yard box and has been culpable in all three of Arsenal's league defeats this season. A tall, commanding and loud personality is required.
Centre-back - William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen have done very well, but in the absence of a dominant and authoritative goalkeeper were exposed by the bruising 'Blues Brothers' on Sunday. If a keeper is signed, they should be ok, but the squad lacks a tall, commanding right-footed powerhouse at the back in the John Terry mould.
Centre-forward - Bendtner's return may help, but it will not make up for the loss of a true targetman in Emmanuel Adebayor and absence of a top-class all-round striker like van Persie. Eduardo and Vela are not, at this time, up to the job of standing in.
Conclusion: Situation Vacant for tall, confident and powerful player who can literally take the strain, and the weight, off the fluent stylists around him.
Remember the days when Arsenal had a team that was built round a real spine? Lehmann, Campbell, Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry. That height and strength is what is missing now.
So, for Arsenal, get the cheque-book out Arsene - and add some substance to a team packed with style.