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What to look for as Arsenal enter the second half of the season

A busy calendar, a chance at something special—and a need to strengthen the squad.

Arsenal Training Session Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

After the drama of the World Cup, the Premier League is going to have its work cut out. Luckily for the Premier League, teams playing every three days with players who spent 6 weeks in Qatar for the World Cup should allow for maximum Barclays, especially once Arsenal and the other Premier League teams return to European action. For Arsenal, who won their group, the Europa League resumes at the beginning of March—right before the March international break, and in a stretch of winnable fixtures: Bournemouth (h), Fulham (a), and Crystal Palace (h).

Before then, though, Arsenal have several things to navigate. First, and foremost, Arsenal have to make one addition to their attacking players, if not two. The injury suffered by Gabriel Jesus has made that a necessity, but even without injury to Jesus, Arsenal needed another wide attacking player to lessen the load on Martinelli and Saka. Only Aaron Ramsdale, Gabriel, William Saliba, and Gabriel Jesus have played more Premier League minutes than Saka and Martinelli, and when all competitions are taken into account, Martinelli has played the third most minutes. Emile Smith Rowe’s eventual return should lessen some of the load, but Arsenal also need a stylistic analogue. In a best world, Arsenal would get a wide forward who could play through the middle, but if they are unable to, Arsenal might have to get a center forward.

Eddie Nketiah will get a chance to impress. With the FA Cup offering Arsenal Oxford United, Arsenal’s new attacking signing doesn’t need to be brought in on January 1, though that would be preferential. But with Spurs and Manchester United in consecutive weeks, and Arsenal still likely to have a short bench, new firepower will be required by then.

Indeed, the end of January should give Arsenal a good idea of where they stand. The next five games in the league are good tests: West Ham were a European team last season, Brighton at the Amex are always difficult, and Newcastle have perhaps improved ahead of schedule, with Newcastle in definite contention for a European place, if not a Champions League place. With Spurs and Manchester United to follow, January will test Arsenal’s title credentials.

If Arsenal are still top of the league or in striking distance by the end of January, then Manchester City on February 15 is a stand out fixture. A home match that was rescheduled because of the various machination’s surrounding the Queen’s death, it will be a real inflection point for Arsenal, and go some ways to deciding if Arsenal will be in the title race in the spring, or if Champions League will be the only goal.