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Answers to the January Transfer Window’s 10 Biggest Questions

What’s Arsenal doing? What the hell is Chelsea doing? And more from a wild month.

Michy Batshuayi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Olivier Giroud
Michy Batshuayi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Olivier Giroud
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

That escalated quickly! While the previous few January windows have been quiet, the past month saw each member of the Premier League’s top six make at least one marquee addition. Overall, the league completed a bevy of deals worth £430 million in just 31 days. The window began with Liverpool’s record move for Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and subsequent record sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. And the final day of the window included what was essentially a three-team swap deal among Chelsea, Arsenal, and Borussia Dortmund. Micah Peters, Donnie Kwak, and Ryan O’Hanlon got together to answer some of the biggest lingering questions after a hectic January.


1. Who won the three-way Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang–Olivier Giroud–Michy Batshuayi swap?

Ryan O’Hanlon: As always, the winners are the players and the agents who get to skim fees from their players’ moves. Michy will get to play, first and foremost, and he’ll get to play for one of the best chance-creating teams in the world. Giroud gets a new 18-month deal — and eventually the leverage that comes with being on the last year of a contract. And Aubameyang is getting a big pay raise and a move he’s been hoping for since the summer.

As for the teams, well: Chelsea got one of the best off-the-bench strikers in Premier League history — Giroud’s per-90 goal numbers are better than those of all but 13 players the league has ever seen — and they got rid of a 24-year-old who’s averaged 1.12 goals per 90 in limited time since the start of last season. And while Dortmund got Michy for free, they lost one of the best strikers in the world while they’re in the middle of an eight-team race for three Champions League places. So, uh, good for Arsenal, then? We’ll get to that …

Donnie Kwak: Depends on which metric you prefer. Arsenal reigns supreme in the xG competition. (Hello, Ryan.) Dortmund got the best bantz and Twitter feed. Chelski suddenly became a whole lot handsomer. To me, the winner is the team that got the best player. So: Arsenal.

Micah Peters: Well, let’s take stock. For Dortmund, the waiting around has been killing them. Aubameyang has had one foot in the Westfalenstadion and the other somewhere else for going on two years now, tugging against his seat belt and wanting to be where the culture is. They’ll have a lot of goals to make up for, but in Michy Batshuayi they got someone four years younger who scored a goal per 88.5 minutes in 2017.

In Giroud, Chelsea got a Premier League–proven backup striker over 6-foot-1 that they’ve been looking for since they started asking about Peter Crouch. They also found a temporary home for Batshuayi, who will play basically every match over the next six months.

In a vacuum, Arsenal acquired a fleet-footed, ruthless finisher at a decent price. But it was another club-record signing, five months after the last club-record signing, who plays in the same position. On the other hand, every team that’s done business with Arsenal has lost the following league game, so … check back in with me after Dortmund play Koln on Friday.

2. Can you describe Arsenal’s “plan” in one sentence?

O’Hanlon: They’re giving a 29-year-old Mesut Ozil what is reported to be a club-record three-and-a-half-year contract at £18.2 million per season. They’re paying Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who’s 29 and hasn’t had a good full season since 2015–16, big wages through 2021. And they’ve broken the club’s transfer record on a (very good) player, who plays the same position as and is two years older than the team’s record signing … from six months ago. Oh, and Aubameyang is ineligible for the Europa League, which might be the club’s best route back into the Champions League after Tuesday’s 3–1 loss to Swansea put fourth place eight points out of reach.

So, let’s say: “Throw so much money around that it hopefully distracts our fans from realizing we don’t have a plan for anything beyond today.”

Kwak: Grandpa got a couple of used sports cars, but his house still smells of shit.

Peters: Just keep swimming.

3. What the hell is going on with Chelsea?

O’Hanlon: A few recent headlines from The Guardian:

  • I am overachieving with Chelsea, claims Antonio Conte
  • Chelsea’s Antonio Conte left in confusion over Michy Batshuayi loan
  • Antonio Conte: the transfer market is not simple
  • Antonio Conte suggests being long-term manager at Chelsea is impossible
  • Chelsea’s Antonio Conte frustrated by lack of squad depth

And that’s just from the past week! After essentially winning the title by December last season, Conte’s side sits in fourth thanks to a shocking 3–0 home loss to Bournemouth, and, according to FiveThirtyEight, their chances of making the Champions League next season are just better than a coin flip. Since the summer, the team’s added a number of fringe players and one bona fide starter in striker Álvaro Morata, and Conte has washed his hands of the team’s personnel, saying, “About the transfer market, from the summer, the club decides every single player.” He’s also complained about the effect his team’s lack of depth has on him at night: “For this reason, sometimes I don’t sleep, especially when you have to face difficult situations.”

Conte’s always butted heads with management and refused to expand his pool of players despite the extra games of the Champions League, and, along with Michy, this year he’s frozen out David Luiz, whose adventurous passing from center back was vital to Chelsea’s attack last season. Managing at Stamford Bridge is a temporary gig — Conte’s already the third-longest tenured manager since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003 — so at least both sides got a title out of it. But there’s no way Conte will be in London for much longer.

Kwak: Doesn’t matter, a league title entitles you a year of mild unrest.

Peters: Whatever the opposite of communication is. Look at Roman Abramovich. This is taking years off his life.

4. What’s the first word that comes to mind when you see Daniel Sturridge holding a West Brom shirt?

O’Hanlon: Is there a German word for “it feels like all of my blood is slowly turning into cement”? If so, that.

Kwak: DANCE-OFF!!!

Peters: Is there a word in German for that feeling where you’re not home to accept a package and then, through a series of missed connections, you never get what you ordered?

5. Why didn’t Leicester sell Riyad Mahrez?

O’Hanlon: It seems like Mahrez’s price probably peaked in this window: He’s still 26, and one of the world’s richest teams got desperate and was willing to pay the premium that comes with most January moves. Yet, Leicester said no — and reportedly weren’t willing to budge for anything below £95 million. That’s not gonna happen — he scored six goals and had three assists last year — and the ideal world is one where Leicester cashes in and nails the handful of guys they buy with the Mahrez money. But he’s their best player, and he’s having a bounce-back year, resembling something closer to the guy who tiptoed the Premier League to shreds in 2015–16. Even if the team’s ceiling is no higher than seventh, can you fault the club for for not thinking with their balance sheet?

Kwak: Because they’d rather City win the league by 15 points, not 20? He’ll be at City next summer anyway.

Peters: I can’t think of any reasons that make sense. Leicester City aren’t in danger of European qualification, and they’re not close to the drop either. It’s not as if they need Mahrez. What’s more, I can’t imagine he’ll improve in value if he doesn’t want to be there and everyone knows he wants to leave, so …

6. Why did Manchester City try to buy Riyad Mahrez?

O’Hanlon: When you’re the house, the same rules don’t apply. If you can afford to spend £60 million on a backup winger to replace a short-term injury to Leroy Sane, who cares if it’s competitively unnecessary since you’ve already built up a double-digit points lead on the rest of the competition and therefore playing a teenager wouldn’t affect anything? As one of my colleagues likes to say, it’s not my money.

Kwak: He’s an incredible player with proven Premier League talent and the ambition to get better on a bigger stage. A perfect Pep project.

Peters:

7. Is buying PSG cast-offs the new market inefficiency?

O’Hanlon: It’s the budget version of Arsenal buying Ozil and Alexis Sanchez after they fell out of favor at Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively. For Tottenham to continue competing with five other teams that make more money than they do, they’re going to have to keep finding bargains — in addition to, you know, paying all of their star players well below what they could make elsewhere. They landed fullback Serge Aurier from PSG over the summer, and now comes Lucas Moura, the hyper-quick and actually-pretty-productive winger who was The Next Big Thing at PSG, 15 Big Things ago.

He’s played only 72 league minutes this season after the arrival of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, but he fits Tottenham’s need for another ball-carrying winger. Plus, he’s only 25 years old, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s “just” £25 million. At the very least, he’ll be an upgrade from — shield your eyes, Tottenham fans — Moussa Sissoko.

Peters: It might be. The next one up has to be Julian Draxler, right?

Kwak: Appears so. I guess they’re the opposite of Monaco want-aways? Still boggles the mind that Juventus paid PSG £10 million less for Blaise Matuidi than Arsenal paid Borussia Gladbach for Granit Xhaka, even if the Frenchman is five years older.

8. Best under-the-radar move?

O’Hanlon: The evil part of me wishes we got to see what Rafa Benitez would’ve done if this deal fell through at the last minute — and it almost did! — but grabbing Islam Slimani from Leicester on loan was a nice little move. The Magpies have scored four goals in their past six Premier League games, and Slimani’s averaging 0.78 goals plus assists per 90 minutes since coming to the Premier League last season. The Joselu Experiment needs to be put out of its misery.

Kwak: Dude who wore the shortest shorts and lowest socks in the Premier League is headed on loan to Barnsley. Take care of yourself, Oli.

9. What rumored move should have happened?

O’Hanlon: Jonny Evans to [enter top-six team of choice]. A lot of what’s happened in the window can be explained away — everyone’s making so much money now, the Neymar transfer made teams gun shy for a bit, and players are gaining some bargaining power — but if a 30-year-old Manchester United washout moved to a big team for big money, the market would’ve officially been broken.

Kwak: Luiz to the Arsenal would have been utter Lulz.

Shambolic defending is always better with funny hair.

Peters: My selfish answer is Nice’s Jean Seri to United. My other selfish answer is Mauro Icardi to Madrid, because think about how fun having him on a team with Ronaldo would be.

10. Did the window tell us anything we didn’t already know?

O’Hanlon: Nope. It’s Manchester City’s world, and we’re all just cycling through pretty good but ultimately irrelevant players who won’t make a difference.

Kwak: The huge amount of money exchanging hands could be a World Cup–year anomaly but I tend to think the big six are just looking at January as the first month of summer and already putting rebuilds in motion that will be concluded come August.

Low-key I think Everton did good business: Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott up front, and Eliaquim Mangala on loan in the back. He could hardly put a foot right at City but he’ll mostly be asked to be strong and clear the ball away at Merseyside. The Toffees will finish seventh.