Gunners set sights on Villa in bid to fix crisis of belief
ARSENAL want to make two major signings before the transfer window closes, with Arsene Wenger concerned both by the squad's self-belief and whether they have enough strength in depth to catch Tottenham if there are injuries to key players.
A holding midfielder, a striker and possibly a goalkeeper are the priorities, with the shortage in central midfield certain to be apparent tonight against West Ham when Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta are both unavailable through injury.
Wenger must now consider whether to ask a defender to play in a holding role or task Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play in a deeper-lying midfield position.
Asked if he felt his squad was good enough to qualify for the Champions League without reinforcements, he said: "If we have no injuries we are alright. If we have big injuries we are a bit short."
Wenger confirmed that he wants to add two more "quality" players and, having acknowledged that he was vulnerable in the holding midfield position, said that the club were working hard on making those signings before the transfer window closes in eight days' time.
In attack, Arsenal retain hope that either a loan or permanent deal can be done for Barcelona's David Villa, with Atletico Madrid forward Adrian Lopez also of interest.
Wenger is also seriously considering a bid for Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama, West Ham's Mohamed Diame or even renewing interest in France international Yann M'Vila.
Arsenal's transfer fund stands at around £40m, although Wenger is wary of the value and quality on offer in January and is likely to wait until late in the window before making formal bids.
Consecutive defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea have left Arsenal in sixth place, seven points adrift of Tottenham and four points behind Everton. Arsenal have never finished beneath Spurs or out of the top four in Wenger's 16 years at the club but he acknowledged it would be a "tough" challenge to now maintain their Champions League status.
"You have plenty of candidates," he said. "Tottenham and Everton, who are fighting in there as well... I think we will do it but we cannot waste any points now.
"Last season we came from further behind. That gives me confidence, but it is also frustrating as we don't want to be in this position. It should not be different this season, but it will be tough."
Theo Walcott pinpointed a collective lack of belief this week as an explanation for a points tally which has never been lower under Wenger at this stage of a season.
"I agree with him," Wenger said. "The players come out (after the Chelsea game) and think 'we could have done better'.
"When you look at the first half we lost goals we shouldn't lose, 50-50s you cannot lose in big games. You have to go with a mentality in big games based on belief and total commitment. What is worrying is just that we're not winning the big games. That is more worrying than the difference of points.
"When you see us in the first half and the second half, it's difficult to believe it's the same team. That is more worrying for me."
Asked if this was becoming a trend, Wenger said: "This season you have to say yes. If you want to win your big games, you must turn up with a committed attitude.
"I don't question the players' character. They want to do well and are focused but maybe a bit too respectful in the big games of other teams.
"Every time we start to show what we can do, it is when the game is already lost. That is what we have to change. There is no untouchable team in the country at the moment."
Wenger also addressed reports that he held a team meeting on Monday in which he warned the players of the danger of missing out on Champions League qualification.
"I don't talk about what's happened inside. We live in a world where you do not have to come into our sleeping room to know exactly what happens.
"It becomes a little bit ridiculous now that every single moment of a football club has to be absolutely public and explained.
"We have to stand up for our bad performances but not for everything we do inside the club."
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce, who has yet to register an away league win against Arsenal as a manager, puts the Gunners' troubles down to the fact they failed to fill the void left by the departure of Robin van Persie.
"The players who have come in are very good players but are they better than the ones they have sold? Selling players for £24m means it's a big ask, even for Arsene Wenger with his huge recruitment policy. That's why they've suffered in terms of results they've been getting," he said.
"The football is still very good but you can't afford to lose the amount of amount of goals Van Persie provided." (© Daily Telegraph, London)