As Arsène Wenger is fond of saying when he addresses the scepticism at his lack of signings in the transfer market, he has the money to buy a player and he has the willingness to do so, what he lacks is the individual that he feels is good enough to fit into his Arsenal team.
That was until yesterday when Wenger admitted for the first time that the circumstances have changed. Nicklas Bendtner could be out injured for a further two months if he requires another groin operation, which means that Arsenal will be without him and Robin van Persie for the decisive part of the season, in which case even Wenger admitted he would have to act.
Bendtner will be tested again on Friday and if the news is bad – and the Denmark international is out for two months – then Wenger said that he would have to buy a striker this month. "If he is out for two months, there is no way," he said yesterday, "we will need someone, absolutely."
It places Wenger in a curious position and one he has resisted since the summer – being forced into the transfer market against his will. Neither the sale of Emmanuel Adebayor in the close season, nor the injury to Van Persie that rules him out for virtually the entire season have convinced him that he should buy in a market he says does not have the value for money he usually looks for.
If the league title race really does start in earnest tonight against Bolton Wanderers, as Wenger claimed that it will yesterday, then much will depend on whether the Arsenal manager can find a striker to carry some of the goalscoring burden until the end of the season. In other words, if Bendtner is out and Wenger says that Arsenal's need is serious, then it really must be serious.
Having scored more goals than any other team in the division this season, it has been hard to argue recently with Wenger's assertion that he does not need to buy a striker when the goals are coming from all over his team. In fact, only Tottenham Hotspur have had more individual goalscorers than Arsenal this season. Yet the striker situation must be on Wenger's mind because he keeps bringing up the subject himself.
After the win at Portsmouth, he said: "Everybody wants me to buy strikers but nobody has scored more goals than us." He had a point but his admission yesterday suggested that trying to win the league without a recognised striker would undermine, rather than strengthen, the young players in whom he has shown so much faith. No one is questioning Wenger's judgement – he has proved us all wrong far too many times for that. In the past he regarded the signing of a high-profile player as potentially blocking the path of one of his young protégées. Nothing wrong in that. But signing a centre-forward this January will not block anyone's path, because if Bendtner does not recover this week the club will not have a centre-forward.
In recent weeks Eduardo da Silva has shown that, despite a decent run of goals, he is not up to the task of playing in the central position in the forward line of Wenger's 4-3-3 system. Andrei Arshavin scored twice against Liverpool at Anfield in that position but no one seriously thinks that he is a long-term solution.
There are players available this month, and it will be curious to see who Wenger settles for if he finds himself without Bendtner. He was never prepared to go beyond his valuation of Marouane Chamakh in the summer and the likes of Edin Dzeko will probably be priced much higher than Wenger is prepared to pay. Young English players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, who fit Arsenal's prototype, will be virtually impossible to sign.
Wenger does not do attritional, nasty signings when a player is bought against the wishes of his club. He also does not pay extortionate fees. So presumably he has someone cheap and talented in mind who can be signed within the next month. It is a tall order given how little interest Wenger has shown in the transfer market so far but if there was one person you would trust to come up with the right name, it would be him.
All-round effort: Arsenal's goalscorers
* Only 17 of Arsenal's 51 league goals this season have been scored by their strikers – 15 players have scored.
* The midfield have contributed 24 of the goals, captain Cesc Fabregas hitting nine, Abou Diaby five, Aaron Ramsey three and Denilson two, while Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Alexandre Song and Emmanuel Eboué have a goal each.
* Central defenders William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen have weighed in with seven goals between them. The other three goals scored have been own goals.