Somewhere in his mind, Arsène will have probably foreseen something like this. His hand would be forced, if not voluntarily, for different options whilst not jeopardising his team. Nicklas Bendtner’s outstretched arm signalling for medical attention brought grimaces to the Arsenal bench. It was amidst concerns that the Denmark international would be sidelined for a certain amount of time that further depletes personnel in the club’s strikers department. And when Wenger approached the press after the win against Cardiff on New Year’s Day, with which Bendtner scored the winning goal, he accepted that, if worst comes to worst, he will consider alternatives.
But of course, that could not determine the news, in that Theo Walcott’s injury during the FA Cup win over Tottenham Hotspur would subsequently rule him out six months – and most likely the rest of the season. “We don’t rule anything out,” he said. “If Bendtner is out for a long time, [then] that is the obvious position. We would have to buy in January.” It’s a month’s waiting, but that can, and should, convince him that reinforcements are required whilst time is opportune.
Now that the issue has been identified, it’s who that arrives to resolve it that becomes the pertinent question. Such limited time to find right signing, coinciding with a prosperous title challenge drains both time and effort. “Is it for short term or a stop-gap? Ideally, you want a longer solution but a longer solution looks much more difficult to find in January than a short gap.” he said.
“You can find a solution somewhere – a club that has financial trouble and wants to get rid of a big contract [with] five or six months, but to find in January exactly the player who will be tomorrow’s star on the longer term is much more difficult.” Arsène added. There is a depth of options to choose from, but how many of them are ‘right’ ones? And how can you tell, once purchased, that they will be the better choice than the others in the long-run?
In fact, it may be just as difficult to know what to look for. Would they be in a similar mould to Walcott; fleet of foot, direct, versatile across the final third and a confident finisher? Or perhaps like Giroud; an aerial threat, provides strong link-up play, and a proven goalscorer? Questions fall upon themselves, such as if they will be impact substitutes or serious challengers for a first-team role. Careful consideration is required, and, it’s because of that need, which accentuates how time is against Arsenal.
But for Walcott himself it is a devastating blow, felt in spades by his supporters. The England international sat out six games from the 3-1 victory over Stoke City in late September, through to the 1-0 defeat away at Manchester United. He returned in the following fixture against Southampton, appearing off the bench which invariably the Gunners ran out 2-0 winners, but managed to complete four of his last five league games for 90 minutes. His production was invaluable, producing five goals and three assists, compared to Giroud, who had only found the net once in the Premier League since the Southampton win.
It adds problems to Roy Hodgson’s plans, who would have undoubtedly wanted to involve the 24-year-old in some capacity ahead of England’s preparations for the World Cup. The fixtures are yet to be announced, however there will be a number of games to be played before they open their campaign against Italy. His gesture towards Spurs fans, to a small group whether they support Tottenham or not, will act as a form of justice. It doesn’t, but rather delivers a stronger message about the treatment of players against the backdrop of some more disturbing behaviour by football fans in general.
At this point more questions will be asked than answered. Chelsea, who trail Arsenal by two points, may well have to continue its strong run of form throughout the month whilst its cross-town rivals contemplate the next step. For Manchester City, now more or less the need to assert a firm grip where possible on pole position prior to their Champions League meeting with Barcelona in mid-February.