Following Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at Fulham on New Year’s Eve, manager Mikel Arteta bullishly claimed they would not need new signings in January.
“We have to do what we did in the previous 19 games,” he told Sky Sports after the loss in their 20th Premier League game of the season. “With the same players.”
But as the transfer window opens, the pressure on Arteta to bolster Arsenal’s faltering Premier League title challenge with new signings will only grow.
Even more so after such a poor performance at Fulham and second loss in four days following Thursday’s 2-0 home defeat by West Ham.
By the evening of 1 January, fourth-placed Arsenal – who led the table on Christmas Day – could be five points behind leaders Liverpool should the Reds beat Newcastle at Anfield.
Not since 1 January 2022 had they lost a Premier League game after scoring the first goal – a run of 48 matches – and Arteta was left to bemoan his side’s worst performance of the campaign.
“Three days ago we lost a game that we completely meant to win. Today was our worst game of the season,” he told BBC Sport.
“The pace, the purpose we have in attack, defensively we were second best, we could not dominate and had issues because of that. We were sloppy with the ball. It wasn’t good enough. We didn’t deserve to win.
“If we play like we played in the other 19 games we will be up there [in the league at the end of the season]. If we play like today we will be nowhere near. It was a really difficult day to swallow.”
Midfielder Declan Rice added: “Very tough to take. Not good enough from us again. We need to demand more from each other.”
Despite his claims, if Arteta does dip into the market in January then he is expected to sign a new striker, a proven goalscorer.
Of the current Premier League top five, who are separated by just three points, Arsenal are the lowest scorers. They have netted eight fewer goals after 20 league games this season than they did in 2022-23, which has played a significant part in the Gunners having won four fewer games and accrued 10 fewer points.
On Sunday at Craven Cottage, Arteta dropped Gabriel Jesus to the bench and started with Eddie Nketiah as his number nine.
Nketiah, as ever, offered industry, but provided no cutting edge and the England forward has failed to score a Premier League away goal in a full calendar year, with his last coming at Brighton on 31 December 2022.
While there are also issues to solve in defence – Arsenal only kept one clean sheet in seven December matches – scoring goals is the more pressing concern.
Who could they sign?
Ivan Toney is the obvious candidate, though concerns exist about his fitness given his lack of football because of a ban in May for breaching betting rules, while Brentford are unlikely to be keen on a sale given their slide into relegation danger.
Victor Osimhen from Napoli has been a long-term target, but would come at a heavy price having signed a new contract in December. He may also be unavailable until February because of Africa Cup of Nations commitments with Nigeria.
Another name in the mix is Dominic Solanke, who has scored 12 league goals this season for Bournemouth and finally looks to be making good on his early career promise – although whether his strong form lasts remains to be seen.
“Arsenal are trying to win the title, so they haven’t got time to wait for anyone to get up to speed,” Premier League-winning striker Chris Sutton told BBC Sport of Toney and Arsenal’s striker quandary.
“If we are looking at the names that are supposedly within their grasp, Solanke stands out as the best candidate.”
Former Everton striker Jermaine Beckford told 5 Live Football Daily: “I think they look much better equipped [than last season]… I’m mainly putting that down to the acquisition of Declan Rice.
“I still think they are a centre-forward short of clinching the title, so January will be interesting. I would say yes [to go for Toney], but not to pin all their hopes on him. He’s been out for an age, so it’s going to take a little while to catch up with the tempo of the Premier League.
“He’s a completely different type of player to what they’ve had for a while. He’s not blessed with pace, but he’s got that physicality.”
Former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp added on Sky Sports: “Arsenal are a bit lost, they need to find their confidence. This is the reality check they need – because they are way off it at the moment. They need a striker but they might need to be creative, maybe get one on loan.”
After a frenetic Christmas period which has got away from Arsenal, Arteta now has time to take stock of what his squad has and needs.
A blockbuster FA Cup third-round meeting with Liverpool aside, Arsenal do not play again until hosting Crystal Palace on 20 January – by which time, far from being league leaders as they were for Christmas, they could be out of the top four entirely.
Whether they have a new centre-forward in place by then, or whether Arteta’s stubborn attitude can persist for another three weeks, remains to be seen.
Dave, Perth: Long-time Arsenal fan here. We can’t be taken as serious title contenders with our striking options. How Arteta continues to fail to address the need for a world-class finisher is beyond me. Great manager, but horribly stubborn and doesn’t seem to admit when he’s wrong.
Ryan, Bedford: I’m an Arsenal fan and can honestly say they lacked energy all season and are very fortunate to be in the top four. Until they add some variance to their play, they will not get close to challenging for title.
Alex, Chertsey: Hurry up and get Toney signed!
Craig, London: Arsenal’s performances have been so far off last season’s it’s almost embarrassing. Arteta’s stubbornness is his major flaw and we will be lucky to finish in the top four at this rate. Need Toney or Osimhen in January desperately.