On a day when Arsenal were again heavily linked with a big-money move for PSG striker Edison Cavani, it certainly didn’t look as though a striker should be the priority — but neither should three welcome points, and a clear rise in team morale, hide the fact that other areas of the squad still need strengthening.
Cavani, rumoured to be unhappy in the French capital, is available in January for €60m and, of course, comes with an impressive pedigree after previous success at Napoli and with Uruguay, averaging a goal every other game across his career.
But Arsenal’s performance at West Ham — even with Olivier Giroud suspended — 111provided plenty of hints he may not be needed.
Certainly Arsenal fans don’t feel a striker is a priority; and even in what was a largely impressive battling display three points in a tough London derby aren’t quite enough to suggest the Frenchman can sit back and relax in the transfer window.
In defence it is clear his team needs help; because even with Laurent Koscielny back from injury at Upton Park to partner Per Mertesacker — and despite standing up well to an aerial bombardment from West Ham in the final stages — there were still times of panic and uncertainty in the visitors’ back four that better teams in this league will punish more harshly.
West Ham’s goal, bundled home from a corner by Kouyate when the score was still 2-0, set up a nerve-ridden second-half and typified the kind of situation Arsenal have found difficult to deal with this season, particularly when Wojciech Szczesny fails to command his penalty box.
There is a lack of defensive solidity in midfield too, because even though Francis Coquelin had a largely positive influence in that position against West Ham, you have to wonder if he — or those ahead of him in the peking order such as Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta — have what it takes to push Arsenal to the next level where supporters feel they belong.
But there are also positive reasons why Cavani is not needed at the Emirates thanks to the growing influence of Danny Welbeck, the outstanding form of Alexis Sanchez, and the glittering recent performances of Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
All four of those players performed strongly at Upton Park in a match Arsenal had to play without the suspended Giroud, who has also been in good form of late.
So do Arsenal really need another striker?
It would be a shame in particular to see the development of Welbeck restricted by the arrival of a big-name rival, particularly after the former Manchester United man scored his seventh goal of the season here, timing his run perfectly to slide home a low cross from Chamberlain.
He also wasted an excellent chance for 3-1 with 14 minutes to go before limping off late on; but Welbeck — capable of playing anywhere across the front line — provides far more than just goals.
His workrate, link-up play and clever touches make a big difference — in fact he often seems like the creative glue that keeps his team’s attacking unit together, even in a match like this where opportunities are limited to chances on the break.
A quick look at the other players linked with Arsenal this month suggests that Wenger, too, has different priorities when the window opens on New Year’s Day.
After the St Stephen’s Day victory over QPR he made light of rumours about Cavani’s predicted arrival in north London (although stopped short of denying them), and fans hope the focus instead will be on a holding midfielder and a centre-half.
Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho and Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk remain the most persistently linked in those categories, although St Etienne’s experienced holding midfielder Loic Perrin has emerged as a dark horse, while rumours of interest in Morgan Scheiderlin, despite Southampton’s refusal to do business, continue to rear their head, along with a pre-contract move for Manchester City midfielder James Milner.
Judging by this united and characterful display, there should be hope for Arsenal that a top four finish is still achieveable, especially when injured players return in the coming weeks.
But the potential impact that players such Carvalho and Van Dijk could make on the second half of the season is considerable — and could even provide hope that the club can look higher to the top two in future. Things are certainly looking up for Arsenal after a positive Christmas; but now is not the time to lose focus.
Especially not in the transfer market.