When Arsenal signed Thomas Partey on the final day of the summer transfer window, the plan was that the cheque book would remain shut until the end of the 2020-21 season.
The addition of the central midfielder, combined with the earlier captures of centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes and wide attacker Willian, were viewed as enough to ensure that Mikel Arteta’s side would be able to compete for that precious top-four spot in the Premier League.
However, wind the clock forward a few months and Champions League qualification looks a remote possibility. Partey has managed just four league starts and did not make it through to the second half in two of those appearances due to injury.
The Ghana international remains sidelined with a thigh problem, and it will be 2021 by the time fans next see him again in an Arsenal shirt.
Without him, Arteta’s side are suffering, languishing in the wrong half of the table, with the focus now on moving away from the relegation zone rather than finishing in the top four.
So, could the Gunners be tempted back into the market in January in order to give Arteta’s struggling squad a boost?
If so, where would they be looking to strengthen, and will players have to be sold to make room for new additions?
Arsenal's likely January signings
Should Arsenal make a move in January, there would be no doubt as to what type of player they would look to bring in.
A lack of creativity in the final third has caused them real problems from the start of the campaign, with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette continuously starved of decent service.
Arteta has not totally ruled out the possibility of bringing Mesut Ozil back in from the cold and registering him in his Premier League squad for the second half of the season, but that still feels highly unlikely.
So, they could look to fast-forward their plans to add another attacking midfielder to their ranks, someone who can create from the central areas of the pitch and provide a link to the attack.
“It’s quite clear what we need,” technical director Edu said earlier this month when talking to supporters at a fans’ forum. “We need a player with creativity in the middle; we don’t have that in the squad right now.”
Arsenal held a long-term interest in Dominik Szoboszlai of Red Bull Salzburg, but the Hungary international will become a RB Leipzig player once the winter window opens.
So, the focus could again fall on Houssem Aouar, the Lyon playmaker that Arsenal tried to sign during the summer.
Aouar was expected to leave the Groupama Stadium before the start of the season, with Juventus and Real Madrid also interested in his services, but Jean-Michel Aulas rejected all offers for the 22-year-old.
The Lyon president values Aouar at around £45 million ($61m) and has stated that the France international will not be sold until the end of the season.
However, with French football teetering on the edge of a financial crisis due to the collapse of a broadcasting deal with Mediapro, Aulas may be willing to do business with Arsenal.
Elsewhere, the Gunners have also watched Norwich City playmaker Emiliano Buendia in recent seasons, although no offer has ever been made, while Real Madrid star Isco could be an appealing loan option in January.
A new striker is also on the agenda, with Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard a player who has been scouted extensively by Arsenal.
A winter move is extremely unlikely, though, with Arteta expected to wait until the summer before bolstering his attack, given Lacazette's future needs to be sorted first.
Arsenal's likely January exits
The Arsenal hierarchy will once again be hoping to move some players on once the winter window opens.
Having failed to find clubs for unwanted stars in the summer, Arsenal have been left with a bloated squad that is so big that Ozil and Sokratis were not even registered to play in either the Premier League or Europa League.
That has caused some unrest behind the scenes, something Arteta acknowledged earlier this month.
“When you have the squad we have at the moment for many circumstances, it’s impossible to have 31 happy players in the camp,” the Spaniard told reporters. “It’s impossible and I don’t know any club in the world that has that.
"Obviously when you lose, these things are going to come out to try to put more pressure on and be disruptive. But I’m not interested in any of that.”
Arsenal will hope to find a taker for Ozil in January, with clubs in the Middle East and the United States interested in the former German international. Ozil continues to insist, however, that he will see his contract out before leaving in the summer.
Sead Kolasinac and Sokratis are also free to leave, while William Saliba is expected to be allowed to go out on loan to earn some game time.
A return to former club Saint-Etienne remains the most likely option for the teenage defender, although there is interest from other Ligue 1 clubs, as well as some in England.
Calum Chambers might also be given the green light to find a temporary home for the next six months to facilitate his attempts to return to full fitness following his year-long injury absence.
How Arsenal will line up after January
It remains unlikely Arsenal will do any major business in January, with the huge financial issues caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic still having a massive impact in north London.
Should the opportunity arise to do a deal for Aouar, they could take it, particularly if owner Stan Kroenke is willing to sanction a significant outlay on a long-term target, as he did when Partey’s release clause was triggered on the final day of the summer window.
However, the more likely option is that the Gunners will try to get through until the end of the season with what they have before starting what could be a major overhaul of Arteta’s squad for the 2021-22 campaign.
The hope is that Partey will return from injury and make a major difference in midfield, and that Aubameyang will find his shooting boots again. More is also expected of Willian following his free transfer from Chelsea.