Liverpool vs Arsenal preview: Anfield flashback prompts Arsene Wenger to move for defender

Wenger says he will only sign the 'right' player in January

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The Independent Football

Ahead of a fixture with a richer history than most, from final-minute title winners to 4-4 scorelines, Arsène Wenger was asked an old question.

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It is all the more relevant given the context of Arsenal’s trip to Anfield this season, and Liverpool’s own problems. Will the Gunners finally be signing a centre-half in January? “If we find the right player, we will do it,” Wenger said. “Without any doubt.”

The doubt, however, has tended to arise because, with the exception of Alexis Sanchez last summer, Wenger has so rarely found the right player compared to when he arrived at the club and brought in brilliant recruits.

He doesn’t seem to spend in certain areas at all. Look at the last few transfer windows and you see how gaps in the Arsenal squad have been left unfilled.

It is an issue that puts a specific spin on today’s meeting at Anfield, not least because failures in the market have left both sides unable to build on last season. Liverpool have spent so much without reward, Arsenal have seemingly not spent enough.

Wenger continues to deny stridently accusations he is tight with the club’s money. “There is a huge difference between the perception that people have of me and [the reality]. I’m not scared to spend. If you go out with me one night, you will understand that!

“There were periods when we did not have the money. What I don’t like is to spend money that I don’t have. Now I have money, so no problem spending it at all. What I fought against was spending money that would have put the club in danger.”

Sanchez, at £35m, is perhaps proof of the change, not least because Arsenal beat Liverpool to him. The Chilean also reflects the main difference between the teams this season: scoring power. Wenger believes Sanchez has proved as good a signing as Chelsea’s Diego Costa. “Yes, in the buys of the season he would be very high,” he agreed.

Alexis Sanchez has been excellent but Arsenal are still not challenging for the title

However, as exceptional as Sanchez has been, he hasn’t been able to take Arsenal any higher as a side. On the contrary, it’s tempting to wonder how low they would be without the Chilean. That is where the real doubt about Wenger’s transfer approach lies. It is not that he refuses to spend, it is that he is not spending in the areas of most need. Jamie Carragher was forensic in a way Wenger hasn’t been when citing on Sky how Chelsea calculatingly fixed their problems in the summer, whereas Arsenal didn’t.

Arsenal’s problems were  starkly exposed by Liverpool in last season’s stunning 5-1 win on 8 February. It was as if that game fatally sapped Arsenal’s belief. Before then, they had averaged 2.29 points from 24 games while scoring almost two goals a match and conceding less than one. From 8 February to now, they have managed 1.67 points a game, have scored 1.63 goals a match and conceded 1.3.

This is why they needed more than forwards in the summer. The structural problems stayed and were brutally revealed again by Stoke City just two weeks ago.

That 3-2 defeat threatened to be embarrassing. Wenger still believes that it can serve as a reality check to improve rather than a sign of more serious issues.

“I think we have responded well because we scored eight goals in two games since,” he said. “That shows that the group is healthy because it can respond to disappointment and has good unity. Also we have learned. We’re getting better but without defensive solidity we have no future.”

It is something that’s been said so many times in the past. Arsenal could do with correcting that and resetting their path from last season’s trip to Anfield.