By Noah TanFollow @@Noah_Tan
So the highly anticipated January transfer window has come and gone. And with it the chance for clubs to make further additions to their squad as the second half of the Premier League season commences.
There have been several high-profile signings in this window; the transfers of David Beckham to Paris Saint-Germain, Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool and Mario Balotelli to AC Milan.
And of course, left-back Nacho Monreal's last-gasp transfer from Malaga to Arsenal.
It is a brilliant signing by the Gunners and one that was sorely needed. Monreal has been one of the most consistent players in the La Liga for some time now. Arsenal have been in need of a left-back for some time now. A perfect alliance.
But, can anyone tell me with a straight face that Arsenal had no need to further strengthen their squad?
The sad fact is, despite the glimpses of quality this Arsenal team has shown over the first half of the season, the current makeup of the squad is barely strong enough to challenge for a place in the top four, let alone a sustained title charge.
Sure, there are players of genuine talent in the Arsenal dressing room. Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere are all players who could walk into any team in the Premier League and command regular playing time. The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson, amongst many others, have huge potential and could yet blossom into world class players.
However, a closer look beyond Arsenal's first-team will brutally expose the severe lack of depth in the squad.
Don't strike that forward off the list
Wenger may point to the fact that the club managed to persuade Theo Walcott to renew his contract as proof that his side needed no reinforcements up front.
Walcott has evolved into a fine finisher. And Olivier Giroud, who is slowly but surely finding his feet, adds another dimension to the Gunners' attack with his physical prowess.
But Giroud and Walcott, talented as they are, do not yet have the ability to lead the line on a regular basis unlike Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright before them.
In fact, both Walcott and Giroud's profligacy in front of goal has proved costly for the Gunners on a few occasions this season, and the widespread reports of the club being interested in bringing David Villa over to the club this month speaks volumes about Wenger recognising the pressing need for a deadly striker.
The lack of a winger will leave the Gunners grounded
For years, Arsenal have not had a proper wide man on their books, but with the likes of Henry and Robin Van Persie spearheading the attack, along with the Gunners' pass-and-move style of football, it was understandable that Wenger chose not to invest in a winger.
Things have changed drastically over the past few years however.
Opposition teams have figured out how to stifle Arsenal's favoured style of play: put a bank of players behind the ball, allow the Gunners to pass it around in midfield and crowd the middle of the defence, and force them to go wide. Then of course, hit them on the break, or during a set-piece, when the opportunity rises.
Hence, Wenger's purchases of Marouane Chamakh and then Giroud, as he sought in vain to implement a "Plan B" - using the height and aerial prowess of his strikers by sending crosses into the box - when things were not going his way.
Well intentioned though it was, "Plan B" has not exactly materialised for the Gunners.
And the main reason is the lack of a genuine wide player who can deliver accurate crosses into the box. Too often have the crosses from the flanks failed to reach their target (or even get past the first defender!), and as a result, play has naturally drifted back into the middle.
With the hulking 1.97m Giroud proving to be adept in the air, there was never a better time than now for Wenger to invest in a winger. Monreal is a good crosser of the ball, but whether he can keep up with adhering to his defensive duties whilst constantly supporting the attack remains to be seen. It seems like a missed opportunity that Wenger failed to provide a consistent supply chain for his French compatriot.
So what are the possible reasons for the lack of spending?
It is difficult to pinpoint why the club did not spend more, but the most likely explanation would the faith Wenger has in the current squad.
Wenger has always been a firm believer in developing young talent, and whilst he has enjoyed success with the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and more recently, Jack Wilshere, recent performances suggest that the Frenchman may be overestimating the quality of the players he currently has at his disposal.
In particular, Wenger's faith in Abou Diaby seems misplaced. The lanky French international is one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in the league when in full flow.
A spate of injuries, though, has stopped Diaby from fully realising his potential. For far too long now.
Of course, Wenger's reluctance to buy may also stem from his dislike of the January transfer window; admittedly, prices are ridiculously inflated at this time due to the unwillingness of clubs to sell key personnel at such a crucial stage of the season.
"It is a wrong transfer market," Wenger said of the January transfer window.
"The only teams who sell players are teams who are in financial trouble who sell or players who are unhappy where they are."
In addition, despite loud proclamations from the Arsenal board that there will be bagfuls of money to spend, there still remains the possibility that Wenger's hands in the transfer market may have been tied down by certain restrictions imposed on him.
What then are the chances of Arsenal finishing in the top four?
The Gunners may have defied the odds last season to secure qualification for the Champions League, cutting out a massive 10 point lead main rivals Tottenham Hotspur held over them at one stage of the season, but the chances of Spurs collapsing again in the latter stages of the season seem highly unlikely.
Andre Villas-Boas made some astute additions to his squad during the summer, and their recent coup of playmaker Lewis Holtby from Schalke will only serve to strengthen them even more.
Furthermore, Spurs' collapse last season was also largely attributed to the squad having been distracted by the media furore surrounding former manager Harry Redknapp's strong link to the England national team post.
They look much more focused this season and their hunger to get one over arch-rivals Arsenal will have reached a fever pitch after last season's near miss.
Of course, there is still the prospect of both Spurs and Arsenal securing qualification into next season's Champions League, but this would involve the other main contender, Chelsea, dropping out of the top four. While this is by no means improbable, the Blues, inconsistent as they may have been this season, have more than enough quality and depth within their ranks (much more than both Arsenal and Tottenham) to last the distance.
With an upcoming last-16 clash against in-form German powerhouses Bayern Munich in the last-16 of the Champions League, Arsenal's hopes of going all the way in the competition and repeating Chelsea's incredible feat last season, appear very slim, especially given that the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid are still in the running for the biggest prize in European club football.
It certainly does not augur well for Arsenal in the second half of the season. But the chance for the club, and Wenger, to do anything to change their fortunes has passed.
And with that, I fear, so has Arsenal's hope of qualifying for next season's Champions League.