What was predicted to be the most frantic and important January transfer window for a long time has so far been something of a disappointment. One massive deal for Manchester United and a couple of rather routine buys for Chelsea are all we've seen among the top players so far, and with the league title and fourth place still wide open, Arsenal and Liverpool need to take a gamble themselves to try and gain any advantage they can.
Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah are not quite of the calibre of Juan Mata, but in selling the latter and acquiring the Serbian midfielder from Benfica, José Mourinho showed bravery and conviction in re-adjusting his squad structure to address Chelsea's under-reported midfield problem. So far, the only real difference between Chelsea and Manchester City has been that the latter have won convincingly while many of Mourinho's victories have been anything but. It appeared that if nothing changed, Manuel Pellegrini's men would inevitably finish higher, but now there is an element of doubt cast into the mix.
Manchester United, meanwhile, found the kind of game-breaking signing that can define a season. Should United improve in the second half of the season, Juan Mata will likely be cited as the difference, even if his contributions are not immediately obvious, just as Mesut Özil has been for Arsenal. Despite Mata's status as an obvious world-class talent, it remains by far the biggest speculative move taken so far in the window.
True, part of that is because United made such a terrible hash of the summer window. But the fact remains that Mata, if David Moyes and Ed Woodward are to be believed, was an opportunistic, impulsive purchase. The player was available, so a move was made in the knowledge that he could vastly improve the team and provide impetus. United didn't just pluck the money from thin air -- they almost certainly had a set amount earmarked for transfers in the window. But the fact remains that they saw a world-class player available and took the opportunity.
Arsenal are probably better positioned financially to be making big moves than Liverpool, although the only big rumoured signing so far has been Julian Draxler. While the German is undoubtedly a potential world-class talent, there remains the distinct possibility that Arsene Wenger will fail to land his man, leaving them with few alternatives. A similar fee could land the signature of Diego Costa, a player who would improve Arsenal immeasurable and potentially be a decisive influence in the title race.
Liverpool, meanwhile, appear to have putten all their eggs into the basket of Mohamed Salah, taking their time (for whatever reason) over the transfer before eventually being pipped by Chelsea. They've been linked to few other names.
The difficulties of January transfers are often talked up by managers, but the winter window before a World Cup also presents its own unique opportunities, as United showed with their Mata purchase. As well as players who seem clearly available -- those with release clauses like Diego Costa, and those who have indicated being keen to move like Yohan Cabaye and Fabio Coentrao -- there is little doubt that a little extra money to some involved party can help get over the perennial January problem.
Perhaps this is one of the downsides to clubs adopting a long-term vision. If Arsenal and Liverpool are approaching this window with a single-minded view towards players for a long-term project, they're missing the trees for the forest. Everything the two clubs have supposedly been building towards is within their grasp right now, yet neither appears willing to go all-out to snatch it.