Stick or twist? Arsenal must weigh up defensive gamble with top four at stake

It’s a high-stakes game of blackjack, Arsenal have drawn 15 and the dealer has an ace in hand – do we stick or twist?

That is the situation in which the club finds itself during this January transfer window, with the prize a spot in the top four and a return to the Champions League and the cost of busting another season in the Europa League – or worse.

If we twist and bring one or two players in, it may be enough to galvanise the team and propel them into a Champions League place and the latter stages of European competition.

If we stick with what we have and the dealer reveals blackjack, we face the possibility of a wasted season and having to build again in the summer without the certainty of a Champions League financial windfall.

It’s worth bearing in mind that we could gamble and still fail, and we could stick and hit a rich vein of form that propels us into the top spots without the need for new faces at the club. Both are perfectly plausible.

But what we know at this moment in time is that the squad has obvious defensive issues that will be difficult to solve with the personnel we currently have. Oft times we are but one injury away from the sort of performance we saw at Liverpool.

There’s no telling if taking a chance on some defensive reinforcements will solve that problem but, if Sven Mistlintat is half as good as we all believe him to be, it is unlikely to make our predicament worse.

Given that Rob Holding, who has fast become the club’s best defender, is unavailable for the rest of the season, it would seem unlikely that our defence is going to improve significantly of its own accord, not without a fundamental change in the way Unai Emery sets up his team.

If we continue as we are, it will take a hefty slice of good fortune and some amazing work at the top end of the pitch in order for us to sustain a challenge for a top four spot. If that is a plan can we really say much has changed from Arsene Wenger’s latter years?

Many fans believed the result at Liverpool would be the catalyst for serious defensive recruitment in January, but Emery was quick to pour cold water on that notion when he revealed this week that the club would only be making loan singings this month, if at all.

It would seem he has been told by the Kroenkes that money will only be forthcoming in the summer and that only emergency signings will be countenanced in this current window.

If that is indeed the case, so be it, but we will all have to temper our expectations as a result. Without improvement at the back, we face finishing fifth or sixth, particularly given he calibre of our rivals for those third and fourth spots.

For what it’s worth, I believe the club should twist and focus its efforts on bringing in a defender. If that absolutely has to be a loan signing, so be it, but I would argue that investing the money now, with a top four place within our grasp, could reap much richer rewards if it were to prove successful and boost our options come the summer, both financially and in terms of the talent we could attract.

Today’s visit to West Ham will be a real measure of our destiny for the remainder of the season. Defeat won’t be a fatal but the inability to get results on the road against mid-table teams will leave us short of the points needed for a sustained challenge and short of confidence for the months ahead.

Conceding too many goals was a defining feature of the last two seasons under Wenger and we risk a return to those days if don’t find a way to tighten up.

For me, the best way to achieve that tightening is through investment. Though we may have 15 in hand, the dealer’s ace means we can’t be confident of success without taking a bit of a gamble.

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