It has been a busy- and mixed- January transfer window for Arsenal. In January 2022, Arsenal signed three players- Rafaelle, Stina Blackstenius and Laura Wienroither- all of whom have become mainstays in the starting line-up. This month, Arsenal have effectively made 3.5 new signings. With Canadian goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo (29) coming in from Vittsjö, attacking midfielder Victoria Pelova (23) signing from Ajax, Danish creative midfielder Katherine Kuhl (19) joining from Nordsjælland.
On top of this, Brazilian winger Gio (19) was recalled from her loan spell at Everton. Back in September, Jonas Eidevall told Arseblog News that having only added Swedish forward Lina Hurtig and American goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese during the summer that January was going to be busy. ACL injuries to Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema created extra urgency in the market.
However, Arsenal did not get everything they wanted in the window. They seriously targeted Brazilian forward Debinha, who instead opted to stay in the NWSL with Kansas City Current. They also targeted Canadian striker Cloe Lacasse, who scored five goals in the Champions League group stages for Benfica but found the Portuguese club unwilling sellers. They made two world record bids for Alessia Russo on deadline day and also tried to sign Lyon striker Signe Bruun. Let’s take the new additions in sections.
The 29-year-old Canadian joined from Vittsjö and given Eidevall’s knowledge of the Damallsvenskan, we can assume he has been a long time admirer of D’Angelo. It is a signing that has raised some eyebrows because current goalie Manu Zinsberger has been a firm first choice under Eidevall and American Kaylan Marckese joined during the summer to replace Lydia Williams as back-up.
D’Angelo is 29 and competing heavily for Canada’s number 1 shirt in a World Cup year. In my experience, that profile of player does not come to sit on the bench. Zinsberger’s contract expires in the summer, though there is an option for a further year. Zinsberger herself sounded a little non-committal on the prospect of extending her deal with Arsenal when interviewed in the Austrian press earlier this month.
My opinion is that the writing is very much on the wall here and that Zinsberger will probably leave in the summer. I sincerely doubt Sabrina has come to Arsenal to play second fiddle. D’Angelo is a different type of goalkeeper, perhaps more aerially dominant than Manu and while Zinsberger is one of the best short distribution goalkeepers in the world, D’Angelo tends to distribute longer and more quickly, which ought to add a new dimension to Arsenal’s build-up play. You can listen to Swedish football expert Amanda Zaza talk to the Arsenal Women Arsecast about D’Angelo below.
New: Arsenal Women Arsecast Episode 56: SabrinaCast https://t.co/gECORbRQGQ #arsenal #afc pic.twitter.com/wEVn57kGxj
— arseblognews (@arseblognews) January 13, 2023
This is a far simpler equation to parse, Mana Iwabuchi and Jordan Nobbs left the club during January and Victoria Pelova and Katherine Kuhl joined. I think you can consider those like-for-like replacements. Nobbs and particularly Iwabuchi were clearly not fully trusted by Eidevall and while Pelova and Kuhl probably won’t expect to walk into the starting line-up straight away, I am sure both will get proportionately more minutes than Nobbs and Iwabuchi did.
Kuhl is more of a creative number 8 while Pelova is more of an 8/10 who can also play wide. I am expecting the trio of Wälti, Little and Maanum to start most games in midfield but with five substitutions permitted and both domestic cup competitions kicking off in this segment of the season, I envisage plenty of minutes for both players.
At the moment, Arsenal’s front four is very physical and direct but perhaps lacks that little touch of cuteness on the ball and Pelova and Kuhl can offer this. However, both are powerful off the ball too and look as though they can adapt to Eidevall’s counterpressing game in a way that Iwabuchi really struggled with.
The additions of Pelova, Kuhl and Gio also bring the age profile of the squad, which was heading towards an average of 30, down a little. Eidevall says this is a symptom of Arsenal having to be smarter in an ever more competitive market where the supply and demand between big players and big clubs is becoming ever more stretched.
You can listen to Danish football expert Amalie Bremer talk to us about Katherine Kuhl here and Dutch football expert Annemarie Postma talk to us about Victoria Pelova here.
This is where things get messier. Arsenal lost Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema to ACL injuries in November and December. Together, they either assisted or scored in 66% of Arsenal’s goals last season. That is an enormous amount of end-product to lose. The additions of Gio, Pelova and Kuhl go some way to amending the creative deficit, though it remains to be seen how often those players will start for the rest of this season.
What Arsenal have not been able to do is add another reliable goal scorer. They wanted Debinha and then they wanted Cloe Lacasse and then they pivoted to Alessia Russo and Signe Bruun on deadline day did not end up with any of them.
Jonas Eidevall was very forward about his need for a goal scorer when he spoke to Arseblog News earlier in January, “That should be a really important priority for us in this window with the number and the level of games we are playing.” Currently, Arsenal’s top scorers in the WSL are Vivianne Miedema, Stina Blackstenius and Frida Maanum, all of whom have four goals, which puts them equal eighth in the overall Golden Boot rankings.
Caitlin Foord and Katie McCabe have one WSL goal each with Lina Hurtig yet to score in the league (and in fairness to her, she was injured for a sustained period in the autumn). For all of the attacking quality those players add, you can see why Eidevall wanted more penalty box punch. Having not been able to import it, some attacking players are going to have to step up to the plate and deliver personal best seasons in front of goal.
Frida Maanum seems the most likely to manage this, in all competitions she is the top scorer with 10 goals. Caitlin Foord hit double figures in the league in 2020-21 playing off Vivianne Miedema and Foord and Blackstenius will need to really cement a similarly fruitful partnership. Last season she scored four WSL goals. Stina Blackstenius will need to deliver a far better ratio than the four goals in 10 WSL starts she has so far this season.
Likewise, now fit again Lina Hurtig is going to need to find her feet and contribute in front of goal. Mead and Miedema have been absolute mainstays in the attack for the last five and a half years now so this is a very new look attack learning to play together on the fly. It’s not going to be easy for each of them to produce big seasons in front of goal while still learning to play together but that is the challenge now.
Gio is an incredibly exciting forward, by my estimation, in Kuhl and Gio, Arsenal have brought in two of the top five teenage footballers in Europe right now. However, Gio’s loan move to Everton was hampered by injury and she will need to acclimatise for the remainder of the season. She can be a potent weapon from the bench, however, not least because of her lightning pace on and off the ball.
Gio is also very strong in transitions, as she showed with this outstanding assist in the Merseyside derby in September. Jonas Eidevall urged patience with the Brazilian as she is still developing and her recall is about adding depth to the attack in the short-term given the injury situation. But Gio scored 11 times in Spain last season on loan at Levante, she is raw but exceptionally talented.
🇧🇷 Ótima pressão exercida pela Gio Queiroz que resultou no 3° gol do Everton! 👏pic.twitter.com/FzsnWxpaFL
— Gunners Brazil (@gunners_brazil) September 25, 2022
That said, it is difficult not to be pessimistic about the impact of losing Mead and Miedema without a prolific striker coming into the squad. It’s very rare that teams lose their two most consistent sources of goals and come out unscathed. Pelova, Kuhl and Gio add depth and quality in the short-term and create excitement for the future.
I am very much assuming that D’Angelo will be Arsenal’s number 1 goalkeeper before long and her ability to dominate her area and to start attacks early should add a new attacking dimension to a team that is becoming increasingly muscular and direct. But there is just no getting away from the failure to land another reliable goal scorer as a significant blow.