Arsenal’s January transfer window quandary: Vieira and Lokonga’s struggles raise concerns about depth.
The Gunners are flying high at the top of the Premier League, but do they have a strong enough squad to compete for the title?
It’s always easy to focus on the negatives and look for ways to improve things after a defeat.
And that’s exactly what happened after Arsenal were defeated 3-1 by Brighton in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night.
Arsenal’s first game of the season at Emirates Stadium immediately raised concerns about the strength of Mikel Arteta’s squad.
“We know where we are,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “We knew as soon as we had certain injuries that the squad was going to be very, very short.” We attempted to manage it as best as we could.
“I’ve always said from the beginning that we have a small squad. This is nothing new. I said it the day after the transfer window opened for the summer.”
Arsenal’s early-season success has been built around a starting lineup that rarely changes.
Arteta has had to deal with some injuries, such as the one that kept Oleksandr Zinchenko out for over a month, but he has not had to make too many changes to the team he has to field in the Premier League.
And it has contributed to Arsenal having the best start to a league season in club history, with 11 wins from their first 13 games.
However, when Arteta shifted things around in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup, things did not go as smoothly.
The Gunners did top their European group and only lost once, 2-0 to PSV Eindhoven, but the drop in quality in certain areas has been noticeable.
And that was evident once more on Wednesday, when Brighton triumphed at Emirates Stadium.
While Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson stood out, others struggled, with summer signing Fabio Vieira standing out as the most notable underperformer.
Following his £34 million ($40 million) move from Porto, the Portuguese playmaker made an immediate impact at Arsenal, scoring against Brentford on his full Premier League debut and catching the eye in his early Europa League appearances.
However, he has looked sluggish of late, and he had a miserable night against Brighton before being replaced midway through the second half.
“I think he’s been a little bit unlucky in front of goal because he could have scored a few times in the last two games,” Arteta said.
“Every new player requires time to adjust and play. Obviously, it was easier for him when he played against Brentford and was surrounded by players he was more familiar with.
“Because of the needs in the squad, we’ve asked him to play in different positions as well.” “I’m not concerned at all.”
Arteta is correct in not being concerned about Vieira.
It’s far too early to dismiss the 22-year-old, who has shown enough quality in his early appearances to suggest he can make the cut in north London.
Arteta also believes that the upcoming World Cup break will shape his young playmaker.
“I think that period is going to make him very good,” the Gunners manager said, referring to Arsenal’s upcoming warm-weather training camp in Dubai next month.
The problem arises if Vieira does not find his best form and his adaptation period lasts longer than expected.
If this is the case, Arsenal’s chances of making a strong push in the second half of the season may suffer.
With the fixture list following the World Cup being as demanding as it is, Arteta will need his squad players to step up and provide real competition for his regular starters.
Last summer, Vieira was very expensive. He must establish himself as a viable alternative to Martin Odegaard or Granit Xhaka.
Sambi Lokonga, who joined from Anderlecht for £18 million ($21 million) in 2021, is in the same boat.
Arsenal are thus in a difficult situation.
They have made significant investments in players such as Vieira and Lokonga in recent years, and while young players must be given time to develop, they must also demonstrate that they are progressing and are deserving of their place in the squad – because Arteta needs players he can rely on to step in when needed.
Arsenal will have another chance to strengthen in January, which could be the most important winter window in years.
Arsenal will enter it as a title contender with a strong chance of qualifying for the Champions League. With such a lengthy and crowded schedule ahead of them, they must decide whether to stick or twist with their squad.
Will the likes of Vieira, Lokonga, and Marquinhos be enough to propel them to victory?
Or should they push the boat out and try to sign long-term targets like Danilo of Palmeiras, Youri Tielemans of Leicester, or Mykhailo Mudryk of Shakhtar Donetsk?
Arsenal will go into the transfer window with “all options open,” according to Arteta, in terms of strengthening their squad.
“As a club, we will always be looking to improve the team,” he said on Friday afternoon.
With January fast approaching, there is no doubt that some major decisions must be made at Arsenal.
And whatever decision is made will have a significant impact on how the second half of the campaign plays out in north London.