This time last year we were on a long unbeaten run and were beginning to hint at the possibility of a serious title challenge.
There was one glaring problem – we did not have a lead striker.
Robin van Persie was out on one of his trademark lengthy injury lay-offs and Nicklas Bendtner was filling the berth next to him in the treatment room.
The result – Andrei Arshavin as centre forward.
I still have nightmares about some of those games where we played the Meerkat as our CF: his little legs scurrying around among the ranks of Jurassic defenders, those brave but pointless jumps to try and win headers against six-foot-plus titans. Sometimes his only viable tactic was to try and run through the defenders’ legs. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that Arshavin hasn’t been the same player since.
During the January window it was obvious that we needed to strengthen our injury-depleted attack and it was also clear whom Arsene had in mind for the job: Marouane Chamakh.
But the boss felt Bordeaux were asking too much money for the Moroccan international (who had only a few months left on his contract) and preferred, instead, to wait until summer to bring him in on a free.
The rights and wrongs of the Chamakh non-move last January have been much debated so I don’t want to go into them again here. But I do feel that, even if he thought it wasn’t right to bring in Chamakh at that point, Arsene should have looked for other quick fixes to the striking problem. Perhaps a loan deal, or a relatively low-money move for a veteran forward (like when ManUre snapped up Henrik Larsson in 2007 on their way to winning the title).
And so to this year’s January Transfer Window.
This time our problem is at centre back, not centre forward. Our best defender, Thomas Vermaelen, has been out for most of the season and there are real question marks about whether he’ll be back in the short to medium term.
Fortunately Johan Djourou has really stepped up to the plate and both Squillaci and Koscielny have made better starts to their EPL careers than they are often given credit for.
But what if one of those three got badly injured – particularly if it was big Johan? We would be seriously weakened at the back and you would have to doubt our ability to sustain a title challenge.
Yes, we could push Song back into a CB role, but he offers so much in the middle of the park (and has no obvious replacement for that role in the squad) that it would be equally damaging to move him.
So, as they say, it’s déjà vous all over again, only this time it’s a defender we need, not an attacker.
Chris Samba has been mentioned, as has Gary Cahill. Per Mertesacker is being linked with us (I like him a lot but Big Raddy makes the reasonable point that a mid-season arrival should ideally have EPL experience).
I really hope Arsene goes for one of them. I hope he realises that although his failure to acquire a striker last January can’t be said to be the only reason we failed to sustain our challenge, it at least played a part.
To see the same thing happen again would not only be deeply disappointing, it would also be a major faux pas on our manager’s part.
Come on boss. Make that move!