Resilient Arsenal need deadline day depth to survive this season’s war of attrition

Mikel Arteta’s side are mastering the art of winning ugly but, without added depth, the wear and tear of a gruelling season will inevitably start to take its toll

Héctor Bellerín: We are building an identity at Arsenal

On a weekend of unadulterated chaos, astonishing scorelines and rain-drenched madness, perhaps, the greatest surprise was that Arsenal were unhitched from it all.  The sober manner of their victory, a gritty 2-1 win, born out of resilience rather than beauty, was admittedly not without its nerves and hiccups. But Mikel Arteta’s side are achieving the previously unthinkable and repeatedly finding ways to win ugly, even boring - and it’s proving a perfect antidote to the anarchy elsewhere.

It’s not to say Arsenal are by any means a finished article. The old scars still rear their head intermittently, be it through David Luiz’s penchant for catastrophe or the void of creativity long since abandoned by Mesut Ozil, which saw them endure 28 painful minutes without a shot against Sheffield United. But increasingly they are managing to mask and plaster their flaws in games they used to near-religiously throw away.

When their backs have been against the wall, like against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup in midweek or in the final 10 minutes on a miserable afternoon yesterday, the inevitable unravelling, that morbid feeling of suspense that smothered the Emirates for so many years now, seems to have been ushered away. Arsenal have bitten down through fatigue, clenched their teeth under pressure, and finally found a balance between winning points and pursuing perfection.

The pivotal question, then, is can they withstand the wear and tear of a gruelling season, or will the mental and physical strain inevitably start to take its toll. After Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s ankle was bayoneted by Sander Berge in the first half, causing the agonised captain to receive lengthy treatment, the immediate sense of dread was telling of how all Arsenal’s hard work could so easily be wrecked by misfortune.

The obvious remedy is squad depth, not just to give the manager options, but to alleviate the pressure the players are putting on themselves. And while Arteta has been able to rely on the club’s academy to an extent, with the ever-impressive Bukayo Saka piercing through the gloom yesterday, it would be naive to ignore Arsenal’s urgent need for outside reinforcement. The glaring shortage in central midfield, in particular, with Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Mohammed Elneny and Joe Willock currently set to be Arteta’s only four natural options, feels like a clear vulnerability at the very heart of the team.

And if Arsenal feel a little lightweight, it’s because the club have so far failed to move on its deadweight. Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira are both set to move on loan rather than permanent deals. Sead Kolasinac’s proposed move to Bayer Leverkusen hangs in the balance, while Sokratis seems set to remain at the club, and that’s before broaching the Mesut Ozil hornet’s nest. Only Emiliano Martinez, a player who Arsenal initially wanted to keep, has been sold. It is, of course, a diminished transfer market, but that inaction is preventing Arsenal’s evolution from truly emerging from its primal stages.

Houssem Aouar, Arsenal’s No 1 target, publicly committed his future to Lyon last night after Arsenal fell short of the French club’s valuation. Meanwhile, Thomas Partey’s £46m release clause has been considered infeasible without a raft of exits. It leaves Arsenal in an awkward position, craving solidity in the short-term, but without jeopardising the pursuit of long-term targets. 

Can Arsenal survive a season of attrition?

“What I can guarantee is that we are doing our maximum for that to happen, whether we will achieve it I don't know,” Arteta said, when asked about potential incomings. “I cannot discuss the players that we want but we recognise certain positions that we believe we are short. First of all in numbers and then adding different qualities to compliment each other and this is what we are trying to do.

“I always think I try to be, even when I’m here, really honest and clear. Believe me, believe me, the ownership, the board, Edu and myself are doing everything we can to maximise the resources we have to improve the team and sustain and keep the players that are in this club and make this club successful.”

It would be crude to suggest that these final few hysterical hours of the transfer window will define Arsenal’s season. But strongly underpinning the squad, in case of injury or sheer exhaustion, will provide the greatest defence against the toil to come. Arsenal and Arteta have already fought so hard to separate themselves from the pandemonium. Today could go a long way to ensuring they don’t get dragged back in.

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