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Jan 14, 2014

Cazorla and Podolski as crucial as any transfer

Football fans love transfers, we all know that. January is like a month-long Christmas Eve: the anticipation, the possibility, that a club might unveil a shiny new player really does get people excited.

A German wonderkid? A Spanish starlet? A grizzled old loan signing? It doesn't matter, once something happens. Yet for Arsenal, as much as they might need to add to the squad this January, the focus must be on the players they have rather than ones they don't, and might not ever have.

- Cross: Mertesacker a legend in the making - Report: Podolski confident ahead of Bayern

Arsene Wenger's team have exceeded expectations this season and sit deliciously atop the league table. They've shown quality, resilience, character and spirit to get there and there's every reason to be encouraged.

But with everyone's eyes trained on the transfer market, a quick look at the current squad suggests there's plenty of potential there, too. Take, for example, Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard was easily Arsenal's most exciting and creative attacking player last season, scoring 12 times and making 13 assists.

With over 50% of this season gone already, this season's stats stand at two and two. He's been struggling since an early season injury, and one of the most important aspects of Arsenal's title challenge could be for him to regain some of last season's form. The pre-season prospect of Cazorla and Mesut Ozil linking up was mouthwatering, but it doesn't quite look as if they've found each other's wavelength just yet.

They're trying, combining 41 times in the Aston Villa game, but it hasn't yet clicked as well as Wenger might have liked. And even Ozil himself has been peripheral in games as he still adapts to English football, its unique physical demands and to new teammates. It's not a coincidence that Olivier Giroud's fantastic early season was form was attributed to better relationships with those around him after a year in the team.

Then there's the case of Lukas Podolski. Wenger described him as "certainly one of the best finishers I've ever seen", but seems reluctant to use him. The Arsenal manager has hinted that it's a fitness issue. "He will of course help us... when he's completely fit". But the German is struggling to get back into the team since his return from the hamstring injury he suffered in August.

However, he went through last season without being 100% fit either, revealing in the summer he'd been carrying an ankle injury for most of the campaign, but he still contributed 16 goals and 11 assists. At this point, even 50% of that between now and May would be hugely beneficial to Arsenal.

It might well be that Wenger is deliberately holding him back to push the player to give more in terms of training and his overall condition, but both player and manager need to find a way to make it work again for the benefit of the team. As form ebbs and flows, getting two of last season's best performers back on track would be a massive boost -- especially with a daunting run of fixtures on the horizon.

Arsenal may well do business this month, and the shiny new thing, or the grizzled old thing, could be a key part of their title challenge, but what's already there is more important right now than what's not.