Could the January window be decisive for the title race?

Alex Grimm

The battle for the Premier League title has been highly inconclusive so far, and the January transfer window could hold the key for several teams to seize the initiative.

The reason for this is that so many of the teams participating are deeply flawed. Arsenal lack depth in key positions, Manchester United and Chelsea still lack functional midfields, and even Manchester City don't have anybody to play in front of their defence except Javi Garcia, whose inclusion in the team is like playing with ten men. Then there are the simply not-good-enough Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet these weaknesses are also opportunities, for any club minded to spend in January. The chance to solve an obvious problem and immeasurably improve the team could easily be the gambit that wins the title,

Firstly, Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini is obviously talented, but he has had a poor start to his career at Old Trafford and lacks the pace and imagination in the centre that has plagued his new team for so long. There are other concerns - out-of-form wingers, with departures also possible at the turn of the new year, Patrice Evra and RIo Ferdinand's advanced years - but those can easily be put off. A functional midfield would drastically increase the team's effectiveness in a way no other side could. Quite simply, they have more room to improve than anyone else.

The problem lies in their ability to exploit that fact. Some of the names mooted for January deals range from the unsuitable (Angel di Maria) to the fanciful (Ilkay Gundogan) to both (Marco Reus.) The latter was particularly bizarre, with reports of United's pursuit citing a release clause that doens't activate until 2015, and the fact that Shinji Kagawa would be offered in part-exchange (who, as a human male, rather than a sum of money, cannot activate a clause.) It's all too similar to the delusions and incompetence that appeared to scupper the summer window for the club.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have a plan and a target - a new striker, and Karim Benzema. This has been touted as a potentially game-breaking deal, but there are several hefty caveats. Firstly, defensive injuries (including Mathieu Flamini) have affected Wenger's men more. Secondly, Benzema has been dire for most of the season for club and country, and thirdly, Real Madrid will presumably not sell before acquiring a replacement.

Arsenal's decision to spend almost their entire budget on one player seemed questionable in the summer, but has worked out now thanks to most of their key players being in form. Assuming that state of affairs is the default could be costly, and simpler alternatives to Giroud and Flamini would be more welcome. Nonetheless, Benzema's addition to this squad would undoubtedly give the team another dimension, and if the gamble pays off it could be decisive.

Chelsea are in a similar situation, in dire need of a more disciplined midfielder to take the place of one of Frank Lampard of Ramires in their double pivot. During the summer, only a half-hearted ambitious attempt to steal away Daniele de Rossi appeared to be on the cards. In light of the evidence of this season, when their losses have been surprising defeats to teams that have outplayed them, the club may be forced to act. Yet once again, in the press the only names that are surfacing are those of strikers.

Manchester City are in the most difficult spot of the four - their problems are more nebulous. There is the issue of Javi Garcia - the club have sunk so low as to miss Gareth Barry this season, and since finding an improvement on either he or Garcia would not be difficult, that could solve a large problem. But that alone cannot explain defeats to Cardiff City and Sunderland - there is a deeper spanner in the works here, and without figuring out what it is, the club cannot act decisively.

The league is not as open as it may initially appear, however - it is by the standards of the Sky Four years, but that looks a long time ago now. We can also more or less guarantee that the teams that have performed surprisingly well will not be doing so in a few months time, as happens in every single season and seems to be forgotten every time the next one comes around.

For all that the greed and hypercapitalism of the Premier League era has helped to stymie such fierce competition, it seems that money will be the deciding factor again this year - but not simply who has the most of it, but who is willing to take the gamble in January. Any one of these four clubs, despite the disparities between them in wealth and availability of funds, could be the most successful to do it. If executed properly, it could well be the decisive moment in the title race.

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