Have Arsenal caught up with Tottenham?
The Gunners added two high-profile signings to their squad while tying down Mesut Ozil to a new deal, so is their squad now on a par with their North London rivals?
On Saturday at lunchtime, Arsenal make the short trip across North London to Wembley to take on their fiercest rivals in one of the most hotly contested derbies in Premier League football.
These matches are often frenetic, action-packed and full of goals.
Where the last few decades have seen Arsenal going into these derby matches as favourites, the last couple of years have seen a gradual sea-change as Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs side have become a force to be reckoned with, not just in England but on the continent as well.
However, the Gunners triumphed in the meeting at the Emirates Stadium earlier this season.
Added to this, a victory on Saturday would take Arsene Wenger’s side to within one point of their nearest rivals, who lie just one place above them in the standings.
Whilst many would argue the North London ‘power shift’ has been a theme over the past number of years, others would state that, whilst Spurs have notably improved in recent times, the two clubs are evenly-matched.
Winning the January transfer window?
What is clear is Arsenal’s recent dealings in the transfer market give indications that not only can they spend premium amounts of money but they can attract top-level players too.
The summer acquisition of Alexandre Lacazette was seen as significant, as was the rejection of Manchester City’s advances for Alexis Sanchez.
As it turns out, Arsenal appear to have played their cards right over the Chilean – they may not have landed a big transfer fee for the mercurial forward but they obtained four months of a high-performance level, while also landed the extremely talented Henrikh Mkhitaryan as part of the deal for Sanchez’s departure.
The arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – the second striker which broke the Gunners transfer record fee within the space of six months – was another indication of a new-found level of confidence within the Emirates.
The Gabonese international striker turns 29 this summer – the same age as Mkhitaryan and Ozil – which would suggest that whilst this exciting attack may not provide a long-term solution, it should be enough to elevate the club back into challenging for a top four slot at least.
Arsene knows best…
It is worth remembering the club have won three FA Cup titles in four years, have only missed out on a Champions League spot once and have a League Cup final and Europa League knockout phase yet to look forward to.
Whilst standards in the past decade have slipped and other major competitors have emerged, Wenger is still a winner who produced consistently good – if not great – top-level sides.
The January signings also show a further deviation from the approach across North London. Mauricio Pochettino has been trusted with developing players – Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Eric Dier and more – from talented young players into elite performers.
His skill in not only improving individuals but also of producing a cohesive, well-drilled unit who are balanced in both defence and attack is a credit to the Argentine.
However, there are still clear failings in terms of recruitment in more recent years with big money spent on players who have failed to improve the starting line-up.
Moussa Sissoko is a notable transfer market failing, along with Dutch striker Vincent Janssen. Spurs struggle to attract elite players due to a lower wage budget (and lack of trophies) so need to focus instead on players who are either a low-risk gamble or a young star with potential.
Lucas Moura falls into the former bracket, with his signing a piece of pure opportunism due to his market value plummeting after falling out of favour at PSG.
A litmus test
Spurs have a finely-tuned balance which is the result of years of hard work on a modest budget, whereas Arsenal are now almost the opposite: with big-money signings infused into a team regarded generally as unbalanced.
Long-term squad members Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin all joined Sanchez out of the exit door and it is arguable that too much change could act to destabilise the dressing room.
Saturday’s trip to Wembley will prove a massive litmus test for their new approach.
What do you think? Have Arsenal narrowed the gap on their oldest rivals? Get in touch by commenting below.