Arsenal will need to play at a very high level throughout the rest of the Premier League season if the club expect to qualify for Champions League in 2012-2013.
Over the past three Premier League seasons, fourth-place clubs finished with an average of 70 points. The competition to reach, or surpass, that 70-point mark should be fierce.
With 28 matches remaining, evenly split between home and away, the Gunners would need 56 points to reach 74, which would basically assure Arsenal of finishing in the top four, as the north London club have 18 points in 10 matches.
Though things rarely go as planned, Arsene Wenger's squad would reach the 74-point mark should they win all of their home matches, and draw every away match.
Before the January transfer period opens, Arsenal have home matches against West Bromwich, Fulham, Everton, Wolverhampton, and Queens Park Rangers, and away matches at Norwich, Wigan, Manchester City, and Aston Villa. The most glaring of those matches will certainly be Manchester City, as Roberto Mancini's club have been exceptional this season.
The outcome of the nine matches in the next two months will likely determine what areas the club will have to address on the transfer market.
Will Arsenal need to add high-profile players to keep pace with the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, or simply bolster the squad with a few minor additions?
Though Arsenal appear to be moving in the right direction, they may be in need of serious reinforcements.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere isn't expected back until February, and right back Bacary Sagna won't be back until at least January. Arsenal were dependant on both players last season, and can't expect reserves to maintain the same standard in the coming months.
Of the additions made over the summer, Chu Young Park and Yossi Benayoun have made almost no impact. However, Per Mertesacker, who has been the key centre back in Thomas Vermaelen's absence, and Mikel Arteta, who has done a decent job filling the void of Wilshere, have seen significant playing time. Andre Santos has given a rather uneven performance so far this season, while Gervinho has done a more than serviceable job on the wing.
Arsenal could use steady production from injury-prone defenders Kieran Gibbs and Vermaelen going forward. Wenger recently stated that he is worried about the injury setbacks to Abou Diaby, who hasn't played this season and is still three weeks away from being fit.
With injuries, and more continued uninspired performances from other players like Andrei Arshavin, Laurent Koscielny, and Marouane Chamakh, Wenger should be cautious of Arsenal faltering as they did in late February and March last season.
In the past two months, several players have been mentioned as possible additions to the club when the January transfer period opens.
Defenders Jan Vertonghen, Gary Cahill, Kolo Toure, midfielders Mario Gotze, Esteban Granero, Marko Marin, Alan Dzagoev, along with forwards Stevan Jovetic and Lukas Podoloski, are just some of the names that have been mentioned.
Arsenal have never spent £20 million on a player, though Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas both departed for over that amount. Considering Wenger has a war chest of about £50 million, it will be interesting to see how much Arsenal spend this January should the club not gain ground in the Premier League, and if they decide to make a record transfer.
Many critics believed that Arsenal had a golden opportunity to add players like Juan Mata, who went to Chelsea, and Stewart Downing, who went to Liverpool, but the club refused to spend. Should Arsenal struggle in the second half of the season, and only make conservative moves in January, Wenger can expect considerable scorn from his doubters.
The Gunners are currently in seventh place, and Wenger may have no choice but to pursue a player like Gotze, who is likely to be valued at over £20 million. From January to the middle of May, Arsenal will have matches against Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and surprise challenger Newcastle. They will need their best players against those clubs, and not like the makeshift lineup the club put on the pitch against Manchester United on Aug. 28, that resembled an early-round Carling Cup match.
With the victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, demanding Gunner fans finally received the performance they had been waiting for. It would be a tremendous disappointment for Arsenal to not build off that victory, and a possible November and December run against mainly lesser talented clubs, by not upgrading the squad in January.
Over the summer, Arsenal added eight players and only spent about £50 million, while the club received roughly £75 million from departures. The most that was spent on one player last summer was £12 million on teen-ager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been used sparingly.
Faced with the possibility of missing the Champions League next season, Arsenal may finally have to break from their philosophy of grooming young talent and add an established player that will help them in the final months of the season.
If not, the club will have a lot of explaining to do to their fans if they fall short of fourth place.