Arsene Wenger hasn’t exactly forged a strong reputation as being a gambler in the transfer market during his 19 years on English soil. His biggest purchases to date are Mesut Ozil (£42.5m from Real Madrid) and Alexis Sanchez (£31m from Barcelona), both established international forwards who had demonstrated their class at the highest level in club football.
Conversely, there’s an argument to be made that Wenger has more often than not gambled by not being active in the transfer market, with some of his critics over the years focusing on his preference for nurturing youth, rather than splashing the cash.
But given that Arsenal’s five biggest outlays have all come within the last three summers, the signs are that Wenger is becoming a little looser with his wallet. And, following recent comments made by the Frenchman in the Evening Standard over the weekend, he could well be ready to continue the trend:
“There is always time to take a gamble and we are not against taking a gamble. But what you want is to take a gamble in a market where the opportunity is there.”
So given that Arsenal’s only significant addition this summer has been Petr Cech from Chelsea for just under £10m, what opportunities could Wenger be hinting at with only a week of the transfer window remaining? We take a look at three that might well be filed away in the “worth a punt” draw of Arsene’s in-tray.
Almost as night follows day, a rumour of Karim Benzema joining Arsenal follows the opening of the transfer window. But, despite endless reports by “in the know” journalists from Spain, France and Italy, Benzema remains firmly in Madrid. It means Wenger’s desire for another physical centre forward to rival Olivier Giroud remains unfulfilled, leaving him to consider other potential targets.
Cavani is one such option, and on the face of it the man with over 70 caps for Uruguay and more than 15 league goals a season in France and Italy since signing for Napoli in 2010 should not represent too much of a risk. But the striker will not come cheap, with Arsenal’s transfer record likely to be broken, while his well-publicised spat with teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic suggests at temperament issues that could threaten to undermine a squad harmony that Wenger prizes so highly.
Francis Coquelin must rival with full back Hector Bellerin as Arsenal’s standout young star of the last year, and given how much pleasure Wenger gets out of seeing his faith in youngsters restored, it’s no surprise that Coquelin has been trusted with the crucial role of marshalling in front of the back four. But should the 24-year-old get injured or suffer a dip in form, the injury-prone Mikel Arteta and out of favour Mathieu Flamini are Arsenal’s only suitable stand ins. With that in mind, Wenger might see defensive midfield as a position he can strengthen, allowing for more of a cut-price gamble.
Enter Asier Illarramendi, the Real Madrid midfielder who is finding himself to be the latest in a long line of promising talents struggling to squeeze his way into the first team. The former Real Sociedad defensive midfielder made just ten starts last term and hasn’t been able to replicate the form that saw the Bernabeau bosses shell out over €30m for him. Illarramendi has been linked to a return to his former side, but with Madrid willing to listen to offers of around £10m, he could prove the perfect competition for Coquelin.
Now this one is a gamble. Despite Liverpool’s seeming need for a player of Leiva’s discipline and composure, boss Brendan Rodgers appears happier trying to convert the more attack-inclined Jordan Henderson to fill the holding role, rather than use the natural talents at his disposal. It leaves Leiva – a man who with 592 successful tackles in his Premier League career puts him ahead of any other player during that period – looking for a new club, with Besiktas linked.
Given the animosity that exists between the two clubs following Arsenal’s cheeky bid for Luis Suarez a few seasons back, Liverpool may simply laugh down the phone at any attempt by Wenger to negotiate a deal. But if the Gunners are a little more forthcoming with their bid than last time round, the Brazilian could fill the role as Coquelin’s mentor perfectly.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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