Each press conference, Arsene Wenger is asked if he expects a new signing to arrive before the transfer deadline, and each press conference he responds unequivocally in the affirmative. But what if he isn't trying to sign new players? What if this season's Arsenal transfer strategy, which has so befuddled the world, is actually a grand experiment testing the necessity of signing anyone at all?
Who doesn't love new signings? The team gets to show to the fans how resolved they are to improve the squad by investing in the club. The players are motivated because their place in the starting eleven is now under threat. The media gets to speculate wantonly.
But new players also have to adjust to their new teams, to their new leagues, and to their new cities where they have to buy housing and find schools for their children. Even among those in awe of Tottenham's kamikaze summer spending spree there is a feeling that the new Spurs won't reach their best until a few months down the road.
To avoid this sometimes awkward transition, why not sign no one? Once Arsenal's 12/13 signings gelled halfway through the season their form was as good as any in the Premier League. Their finish in 11/12 was almost as impressive. Why not give that team a run out? Instead of bringing in another first team player and starting the cycle of tactical realignment all over again? There's a sense (even among some Arsenal fans) that this Arsenal team isn't good enough to compete for the Premier League title, but this Arsenal team hasn't even really been a true team for a full season yet.
What about injuries? Wenger has admitted publicly that his squad is thin, and I think you'd struggle to find anyone who would argue with that sentiment. In the first four matches of the season, Arsenal haven't once filled their squad with 18 first-team players. Early season injuries to Arteta, Chamberlain, Vermaelen, Diaby (inclusion optional), and most recently Podolski have assured this. The sheer volume of injuries indeed likely precipitated the signing of Flamini, a low risk option to be sure, but a signing that will not require a great deal of time to acclimate to the club's culture. But potential for injury will remain unavoidable for a club with so few players.
The benefit of a small squad, however, is fewer marginalized players. The risk with larger squads is of players becoming unsettled by a lack of playing time, leading to potential rifts between players, managers, and owners. Will Arsenal's first-team players be unhappy that they have to play too much?
Perhaps Wenger will still make a few major signings before the deadline. He seemed to be pursuing a similar "experiment" at the beginning of the 11/12 season, before a famous 8-2 drubbing led to him abandoning those plans and forcing him to "panic buy", among others, Arsenal's statistical MVP for the past two seasons, Mikel Arteta. Will a similar loss to Spurs on Sunday lead to a similar splash of signings? Or will we finally get to watch Wenger's great experiment play out for a full season? Well, at least until January.