It is fair to say that, on the face of it, Arsenal have had a pretty good January transfer window. Although the departure of Alexis Sánchez is an obvious blow for the Gunners, by serendipity they have inherited two cracking signings in ex-Borussia Dortmund duo, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Not to mention finally tying Mesut Özil down for another three-and-a-half years. But while the transfer window has inspired a new wave of optimism from Arsenal supporters, I cannot help noticing some striking similarities between their side and Liverpool.
First of all, recent seasons have seen the scousers struggle to hold onto key players. With the notable exception of Steven Gerrard, they have been unable to retain the services of world-class players when other top-level clubs have come in for them. Whether it be Fernando Torres, Luis Suárez, or Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool have found it difficult to convince their star men to remain at Anfield for more than a few seasons when they find themselves in demand from the world’s biggest clubs.
Stuck in limbo
Now Arsenal have seen their most valuable asset leave for Premier League rivals Manchester United, rather than show loyalty by remaining at the Emirates. The decision to offload Sánchez was more than understandable considering the circumstances — he clearly did not want to be at Arsenal and his attitude had significantly deteriorated in the final weeks of his time there. However, it must be concerning for Gooners that the club seems unable to hold onto their best players. Hopefully, Özil will represent a turning point in Arsenal’s fortunes, or the Gunners may find themselves stuck in limbo in the same way that Liverpool have been in recent years, remaining tantalisingly close to the Premier League title without being able to take the final step.
The second similarity between Arsenal and Liverpool, especially given the way the transfer window has gone, is that they now both have offensively weighted squads. Liverpool’s attacking trio of Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have carried the side so far this season, along with Coutinho, and the defence has become something of a laughing stock. The £75 million signing of Virgin Van Dijk aimed to shore up their back four, but some would argue that even more is needed in order to bring them up to the level required for a Champions League side.
Inexperience at the back
Now Arsenal seem to be going the same way. So far this season they have conceded more goals than basement boys West Bromwich Albion, and their squad seems to be very much weighted at the top end of the pitch. Their attack now consists of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Özil and Lacazette, whereas their defence regularly features the likes of Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. It looks as if their star-studded attack may need to shoulder responsibility for the Gunners’ push for top four, as it seems unlikely that their defence will be able to bail the team out on too many occasions. Arguably, the single factor which has prevented Liverpool from converting top-four finishes into titles is the fact that they cannot rely on their defence to keep clean sheets. Relying on their forwards to score several goals per game has highlighted their obvious weaknesses.
Arsenal’s recruitment does seem to echo that of Liverpool in recent seasons, and it will be interesting to see how the two clubs compare in the near future. Arsenal fans will be hoping the Emirates will play host to the same brand of exciting football that Liverpool fans have become accustomed to, especially with the signings of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan. Wenger will now have to decide whether to play with a gung-ho attitude — with all four of his attacking talents leading the line — or opt for a more conservative approach, possibly leaving a star player on the bench. It will also be fascinating to see whether the Gunners can hold onto their best players in future transfer windows, or whether they will face the same problems as Liverpool when it comes to retaining star men.
Only time will tell whether they will be able to go one better than Liverpool and secure the Premier League title in the next few years or whether they will be afflicted by the same troubles. However, it cannot be denied that the Gunners’ new signings are a statement of intent, and have given Arsenal fans a reason to be optimistic for the first time in a while.