Arsenal finish January short on transfers, long on potential

Despite a quiet transfer window, Arsenal have given fans plenty to consider in early 2024
Nottingham Forest v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Nottingham Forest v Arsenal FC - Premier League / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Fresh off two convincing wins against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, Arsenal are set to close the January transfer window with no incoming players, and only a few outgoings on the margins. 

Marquinhos was recalled from his loan at Nantes amidst rumours of a return to Brazil. Lino Sousa is set for a move to Aston Villa, and Bradley Ibrahim is reportedly headed to Hertha Berlin on a permanent move. Of course, these moves are of little consequence for Arsenal’s title and Champions League pushes. Even Cedric Soares, who might have been in more transfer rumours than he has had playing minutes this season, is not leaving Arsenal this winter.

In choosing to execute only these fringe moves, Arsenal have followed through on their messaging that started as long ago as August, when they indicated that there were few remaining funds for transfers. Nonetheless, in its public messaging and three matches, the team has given fans clues as to how the rest of their season will play out.

Lessons learned from Arsenal in the January transfer window

1. Emile Smith Rowe is part of Arteta’s plans

Long gone are the days of the Emirates Stadium serenading its young starlets Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe with “Rockin’ All Over the World.” Smith Rowe’s extended absences, both of the injury and tactical varieties, have left supporters unwilling to sing the duo’s song.

But in January, the midfielder/winger caught the manager’s eye during their training trip in Dubai. Since Smith Rowe’s groin surgery in 2022, Arteta’s comments about him have been seen as a challenge. After Dubai, Arteta noted a shift, saying that Smith Rowe has “incredible qualities … and what he needs now is chances to put all those desired qualities on the pitch. To do that, we have to give him minutes." 

Since those comments, Arteta has done just that. After a 22-minute substitute appearance against Palace, Smith Rowe earned just his second Premier League start in the past two seasons. During the 77-minute start, Smith Rowe connected the team in the tricky left-eight role, and, notably, showed tactical awareness off the ball and in the press. 

After the match, the manager shared his assessment of Smith Rowe’s performance. Per, he enjoyed that Smith Rowe “went for it, that he was free, he was flowing, he was moving, he was participating, his body language was good - he’s just a beautiful footballer to watch.” With no winger or midfielder joining the team, Smith Rowe looks primed for a major role in the run-in. 

2. There is value in rotation

Though Arteta has lamented the related thinness of his squad, Arsenal have quite a deep roster of quality players, and in these two matches, he has shown a willingness to make use of his full options. 

First, Arteta dipped into his depth by using different options on the left side of his attack and midfield, starting Leandro Trossard for Gabriel Martinelli against Palace and Smith Rowe for Kai Havertz against Forest. Coming off the bench, both Martinelli and Havertz made impacts on the games, Martinelli with a scintillating pair of late goals against Palace, and Havertz with a key-headed clearance that led to Arsenal’s winning goal against Forest.

Second, Arteta used all five of his substitutes in both matches, trusting that his full squad could contribute to the title push. Per the Athletic, Arsenal are firmly in the middle of the Premier League in terms of substitute usage, but they lead the league in goal contributions from the bench. 

These two games could be an indication that Arteta sees rotation and heavy substitute usage as a way to get more out of his full squad and a way to avoid the injury woes that curbed Arsenal’s title run last season. 

Whether these January learnings will continue into February is yet to be seen, but there is plenty of new information for fans to learn about the team even with no new players joining the squad.