Rejuvenated Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is fast-approaching the most significant transfer window of his illustrious career.
Sure, there have been watershed moments in the past. The acquisitions of Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires had massive implications for the team’s fortunes.
However, this is a new climate. There is a different kind of pressure on the Frenchman to deliver, not so much from the ever-patient board but from supporters who sense their beloved Gunners are finally narrowing the gap on London rivals Chelsea.
The spending restrictions attributed to stadium repayments between 2008 and 2013 are long gone, as the big-money arrivals of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have demonstrated. The silverware drought finally ended after eight long years almost 12 months ago, courtesy of that barmy FA Cup final victory over Hull City.
Had Arsenal not made such a stuttering start to the current campaign they could be level with Chelsea (or even ahead!), rather than embarking on a title challenge which comes a bit too late, and relies almost entirely on Jose Mourinho’s men crumbling in the final few weeks.
However, the signs are good. Stellar triumphs away to Manchester City and at home to Liverpool, either side of the FA Cup quarter-final win at Manchester United, point to a new-found resilience in the big matches, in stark contrast to the infamous 6-0 loss at Chelsea, 6-3 at City and, going back a few more years, the 8-2 Old Trafford mauling.
Now the fans are desperate to know whether it is yet another false dawn, or if in fact the Gunners have genuinely turned a corner in their attempts to return to the glory days when teams – all teams – were afraid of being blown away by Wenger’s charges.
A top-four finish is pretty much guaranteed – perhaps even second place this time, assuming Chelsea do hold their nerve. Throw in another FA Cup and this can be deemed a good campaign, although questions continue to be asked about the Champions League surrender to Monaco.
Next comes the summer transfer window. If Wenger and the board get this one right, they have every chance of going the distance next term, regardless of what Chelsea and the rest of the chasing pack do.
Wenger must add sufficient cover in key areas, especially with Arsenal’s ridiculously frequent amount of injuries throughout the squad. Lack of quality replacements at the heart of the defence cost them dearly in the early weeks of this campaign, when Thomas Vermaelen was sold to Barcelona. It took five months to add Gabriel to the squad, signed from Villarreal in January.
As for the first team, the jury remains out on goalkeepers David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny, so an established number one would be a wise acquisition.
Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin have performed manfully in the midfield engine room but this area has needed attention for a number of years. One or ideally two fresh faces are required to do the ugly stuff and let the vast array of ball players do their thing.
Olivier Giroud has reached another level this season, certainly enough to justify his place in the side, while Sanchez has been sublime save for his recent dip. If Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott remain fit – that is a big if, of course – the forward options look strong.
If Wenger can finally add some steel to the flair in the middle of his defence and the heart of his midfield, Arsenal will be pursuing more than the FA Cup and qualification for the Champions League this time next year.
If he gets it wrong, the fans will not hesitate to let him know.