The Arsenal compromise that could deliver unlikely Premier League title

Second-choice signings are not supposed to take a side first in the league and not just because one of the perks of being top of the table ought to be a greater sway in the transfer market. When Liverpool won first the Champions League and then the Premier League, part of the winning formula involved wanting Virgil van Dijk and Alisson so much that they waited for each and paid a record fee. They would not compromise. They got their prime targets in each position.

Arsenal could not wait. They had to compromise. An unexpected title charge afforded an opportunity. A club revived by long-term planning ended up with changing tack for the short-term task of winning the title. Had they got their way, Mykhailo Mudryk might have been in the forward line at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, Moises Caicedo in the midfield.

Instead, they ended up with cheaper, older alternatives, each in part because their previous club was willing sellers. For those who engage in the futile pursuit of determining who ‘won’ the transfer window, Arsenal looked losers in their duels with Brighton and Chelsea. Albion would not let Caicedo go but did part with Leandro Trossard, who had fallen out with Roberto de Zerbi. Chelsea happily sold Jorginho, but only after gazumping Arsenal for Mudryk.

Chelsea got January’s glamour buys, Arsenal the men for the meantime. They have had an immediate impact. “The signings we’ve done have been great additions to the squad,” said captain Martin Odegaard. “You see the impact they have.” Since Trossard debuted, Arsenal have got four positive results. A newcomer has made a telling contribution in each. The Belgian came off the bench to help set up Eddie Nketiah’s late winner against Manchester United.


Trossard then scored his first Arsenal goal in the draw with Brentford. Officially, Jorginho has not opened his account but, when they were drawing 2-2 with Aston Villa, his injury-time howitzer struck the post and Emi Martinez’s head to put Arsenal in the lead. Then Trossard, after his own wonderful strike had been disallowed, showed the precision to nutmeg Harry Souttar and set up Gabriel Martinelli’s decider in the 1-0 win against Leicester. It amounts to an extra seven points: it would be an exaggeration to say they only came courtesy of the January buys, but there is no guarantee that, with injuries starting to affect their strongest side and some of the early season stars’ form flagging, that Arsenal would have got them otherwise. Or, indeed, that their initial targets would have begun so auspiciously.

Caicedo offers more athleticism and defensive protection than Jorginho but he is not a technician in the same class; he might not have conjured a shot of such brilliance. Mudryk is far quicker than Trossard but might not have forged the same understanding with new teammates. His mixed start at Stamford Bridge may be more of a reflection of Chelsea than the Ukrainian but Trossard has slotted straight in for Arsenal. So has Jorginho.

They are two players that already have experience in our league that have really well fitted to our way of playing,” said Arteta. “They are really intelligent to understand what we demand, to execute certain things and they have the personality to play the way we played. This is what’s required at this level.” They are battle-hardened and Premier League ready.

Saturday was a game to suit a regista. Take out James Maddison, and a bug did, and Jorginho did not have to defend against one of the most creative No. 10s in the league. Instead, his passing was prominent. “He brings a lot of quality, he’s very calm on the ball, finds the right passes and dictates the game,” Odegaard said. Some of his 95 touches were serenaded with chants of his name, borrowed from Stamford Bridge, chorused in a rapid shift in opinion after some Arsenal fans initially deemed him a Chelsea reject.

His past, however, is more a boon than a burden. “Jorginho especially has a lot of experience,” Odegaard added. “He’s won a lot of things and brings that mentality.” He is a Champions League and Euro 2020 winner and occupier of the podium in the Ballon d’Or, but there is a gap in his medal collection and Arsenal afford him the chance to win the Premier League.

Jorginho can only occupy one position. Part of the value of Trossard lies in his versatility; he played two in one on Saturday, both striker and false nine. When, after his goals dried up, Nketiah dropped to the bench at Leicester, Arteta reflected: “We had the option to play Gabi as a No. 9 and Leo on the left.” But there is the sense that he is reluctant to use Martinelli in the middle and picked him on the wing with Trossard in a central role. Mudryk, a pure winger, might not have offered that possibility.

If Gabriel Jesus was Plan A as a striker for Arsenal this season and Nketiah his understudy, Trossard is at best Plan C. Yet nor was he Plan A in the winter market. He has nevertheless added an element of inventiveness after Arsenal had to get creative when premier targets eluded them. “We had to adapt,” Arteta said. “You have to do that in the window. Don’t feel sorry for ourselves.” Which Arsenal have not. Second choice does not necessarily mean second rate or second place.

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