If you had asked me before the Chelsea game how important it was to sign a really good creative attacking player during the January window I would have said “vitally so.”
We were on a terrible run of results and, never mind not scoring, we weren’t even making chances. In some games the opposition goalie was so untroubled by our efforts that he could have set up a camp bed between the posts and had a 90 minute nap.
But then Emile Smith Rowe was brought into the team, we beat Chelsea with ease and won our next two games, with ESR playing a significant role in all three victories in, yes, a creative attacking position.
Once, in 2008, Arsene Wenger was asked about the possibility of new signings and said: “…we have done such a great job with the young players that you are concerned ‘Do we kill a young player or not by bringing another player in?'”
So where does that leave us in 2021? Do we sign a player like Isco or Hassem Aouar? And if we do, what does that do to the future career of young Emile? Do we risk “killing” him?
We have had plenty of false dawns with young ‘stars of the future’ at Arsenal, but Smith Rowe really does look to have what it takes to be a top player and is very highly regarded within the club.
If we bring in an established star it’s likely that ESR’s’ opportunities will be reduced to Europa League appearances and occasional Premier League cameos from the subs’ bench.
And then what? He won’t progress as quickly as he would with regular first team appearances and may quite possibly become disillusioned and start thinking about a move.
So my instinct – now – is to say we should not go in for a new Number 10 or central attacking midfielder in this window, although this course of action is also not without its problems.
Would it mean putting too much pressure on one young player to consistently deliver, right at the start of his senior career? What if he got a bad injury just after the window closed? In any case, wouldn’t it be good for him to have competition for his place?
As far as a potential injury scenario goes, we have other players who could (in theory) take up the No 10 role. The obvious one is Willian, but there has been nothing about his performances since he signed for Arsenal that makes you think he could do the job with anything like the energy and commitment of Smith Rowe. Saka could be tried there, but it would be a shame to remove him from the wide right attacking role where he is proving to be so productive.
So where does that leave us? With a tough call for the club and the manager.
If they buy a big name they will be accused of stifling the chances of a brilliant home grown talent; if they don’t and ESR gets injured or suffers a drop in form, they will be slaughtered for not having brought in cover.
I would take the risk, put my faith in ESR and keep my (financial) powder dry until the summer transfer window when new signings can be made in a more strategic way. It’s a risk, but one that could pay off big time. If Smith Rowe continues to progress, we might enter the summer window feeling that a new playmaker is no longer top of our priority list and that the money can be spent on improving us in other positions.
If we do decide to bring an extra face in this January, I hope it is a short term loan move for an experienced player who is not a guaranteed starter. In that regard, Isco is not a bad option, provided he doesn’t mind being second fiddle to Smith Rowe.