Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is frantically scouring the the transfer market for the commanding central defender he failed to sign last summer, but under no circumstances should he revive interest in Manchester United misfit Chris Smalling.
Wenger quite inexplicably sold former club captain Thomas Vermaelen and neglected to bring a recognised replacement, a mistake he’s now paying a very heavy price for thanks to the chronic tendinitis in Laurent Koscielny’s Achilles tendons.
The Gunners still desperately need cover in that pivotal position they can trust to deliver, but if Wenger thinks he’ll appease frustrated fans with a cut-price move for Smalling than he’s living in a dreamworld.
SMALLING HAS FAILED TO CONVINCE AT UNITED
Wenger did of course try and sign Smalling once before, but lost out to Man United legend Sir Alex Ferguson when Fulham reluctantly decided to cash in on a rising star back in 2010.
Smalling arrived at Old Trafford with all the raw attributes to become one of the Premier League’s top centre-backs, blessed with pace, power and the physical presence to impose himself on any forward he’s assigned to mark. That status as a starlet is long gone though, with the England international now 24 and still looking to truly establish himself as a key figure at United.
ARSENAL CAN’T AFFORD TO TAKE FURTHER GAMBLES
In one sense you can defend Wenger’s decision to simply add a defender to his squad purely for the sake of it, particularly in a centre-back position which is alarmingly short of quality across the continent, not just the Emirates.
To preach that message and then bid for Smalling in January would be almost unforgivable though, because the athletic defender has failed to convince at a time when United are crying out for a new linchpin to fill the void left by Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Wenger has made a concerted move to build his current crop around an English core and has no fewer than six stars in Roy Hodgson’s latest squad, but he can’t afford to take a gamble on making the £50,000-a-week Man United flop number seven at this stage.
IF NOT SMALLING THEN WHO?
Arsenal fans are perfectly entitled to ask just who they should sign if Smalling’s ruled out, although I’m sure they’ll likely agree to swerve that deal following his brainless effort in the Manchester derby.
Wenger reportedly has Dutch duo Virgil van Dijk and Ron Vlaar on a shortlist of January transfer targets, in truth neither of them are particularly convincing but have at least proved they can provide reliable resistance against top opposition, in the Champions League and World Cup respectively.
The Frenchman’s reluctance to meddle with a first-choice defensive pairing of Koscielny and Per Mertesacker makes things difficult, but Kostas Manolas would have been a worthwhile addition if he’d been willing to contemplate providing that pair with genuine competition for their starting spots.
Arsenal’s painful flaws are there for all to see nearly a third of the way through the season, but Smalling’s not the answer.
The Gunners need a concerted transfer strategy that gives them a solid spine form which to build a team which has so many exciting attacking options, trying to pinch a player who can’t even get in the United side on current form would represent a sideways step towards that familiar fight to finish fourth at the very least.