Arsenal are interested in signing Sergej Milinkovic-Savic this summer as Mikel Arteta bids to improve his midfield, which would make the Lazio star just the seventh Balkan talent to join the Gunners to date.
The hierarchy in north London have rarely sought to sign players from the Balkan peninsula over the years. But Arsenal have long admired what Milinkovic-Savic could bring to the Emirates Stadium after lighting up Serie A in the Biancocelesti’s engine room since the Serbian moved to Italy in 2015.
Milinkovic-Savic earning fresh Arsenal interest but Manchester United want Lazio ace
Lazio signed Milinkovic-Savic from KRC Genk a year after the 33-cap technician left his native Serbia for Belgium in 2014. The last seven years have since seen the 27-year-old score 58 goals and create 51 over 294 appearances in all competitions, including 11 of each over 37 Serie A games this season.
Milinkovic-Savic’s performances this term have forced the Lleida, Spain-born star onto the radars of Premier League clubs. La Repubblica, via GIFN, report Manchester United have offered £47m via the midfielder’s agent, Mateja Kezman, as Erik ten Hag attempts to make his mark at Old Trafford early.
Now, Corriere dello Sport claim Arsenal and Newcastle United are also interested in Milinkovic-Savic and are ready to make Lazio rich offers. But the midfielder does not consider St James’ Park to be an attractive destination. The Gunners’ offer has also failed to persuade the Biancocelesti to cash in yet.
Edu facing costly decision over Arsenal’s interest in Lazio’s Milinkovic-Savic
Arsenal are prepared to pay Lazio more than £42m for Milinkovic-Savic if Arteta’s interest in the Serb eclipses alternative targets. But Stadio Olimpico president Claudio Lotito is demanding at least £55m to deprive Biancocelesti head coach Maurizio Sarri of his top playmaker and second-best goal threat.
Technical director Edu improving Arsenal’s offer to eclipse Manchester United and Newcastle in any bidding war would make Milinkovic-Savic the seventh star from the Balkan peninsula to play for the Gunners. So, with that in mind, how have Balkan talents fared during their careers in north London?
Kolasinac only Bosnia and Herzegovinian star to feature for Arsenal
Sead Kolasinac is the only Bosnia and Herzegovinian talent to play for Arsenal after his four years in north London. Arsene Wenger signed the full-back in a free transfer after leaving Schalke at the end of his contract in 2017. But the left-back would fail to hold down the first-choice role over his 118 games.
Arteta would eventually release Kolasinac this January to join Marseille in a free transfer after only featuring five times this season. The 28-year-old would go on to play 17 times for Les Phoceens, yet Foot Mercato already report Jorge Sampaoli has told his Ligue 1 outfit to try and sell the defender.
Iliev spent 10 years as Arsenal’s sole North Macedonian star
Dejan Iliev is the only player from North Macedonia to play for Arsenal so far after spending 10 years at the Emirates Stadium. The goalkeeper joined the Gunners during his youth after leaving Belasica Strumica in 2012. But he would never make a senior appearance before joining Trencin in February.
Dragomir failed to show what Romanians can offer during north London career
Only one player from Romania has been contracted to Arsenal, but Vlad Dragomir failed to make any first-team appearances. He joined the club’s U18s from ACS Poli in 2015 and played regularly for the U23s from 2016 to 2018 before joining Perugia in Italy, with whom he remained with for three years.
Milinkovic-Savic could be second Serbian to play for Arsenal after Petrovic amid interest
Arsenal signed the club’s first and, so far, only Serbian player in 1982 when Vladimir Petrovic left Red Star Belgrade. Terry Neill paid £45k to sign the midfielder who was twice named Yugoslav Footballer of the Year in 1980 and 1981. But Petrovic would only play 22 games before being released in 1983.
Arteta would, no doubt, hope to see Milinkovic-Savic enjoy a more productive career with Arsenal, amid his interest in the Lazio star potentially becoming the second Serbian to play for the Gunners.
Eduardo and Suker sole Croatians to play for Arsenal after leading Wenger’s attacks
Eduardo and Davor Suker are the sole Croatians to feature for Arsenal to date during their respective careers leading Wenger’s attacks. The Gunners paid Real Madrid £3.5m to sign a 31-year-old Suker in 1999 to replace Nicolas Anelka, who had moved to the Santiago Bernabeu for £22m, at Highbury.
Suker would only enjoy a season with the club, however, before joining West Ham United following 11 goals in 37 games. The forward offered eight of his goals across 22 Premier League appearances, but Wenger only started him eight times having also signed Thierry Henry for the 1999/2000 season.
Eduardo later followed Suker in becoming a Croatian to play for Arsenal when he left Dinamo Zagreb in 2007 for £16.25m. The 62-cap star would enjoy a prolific start to his career at the Emirates, but a mistimed tackle from Birmingham’s Martin Taylor in February 2008 left him with a horrific leg break.
Eduardo would spend a year on the sidelines as he rehabilitated from an injury that caused fears he may never play again. But he could not recapture the form that had earned Wenger’s adoring praise before joining Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010 then spells at Flamengo, Athletico Paranaense and Legia Warszawa.
“Look at the numbers he has: 14 starts, 11 goals,” Wenger enthused, via quotes by the Daily Star, in January 2008. “That is top, top numbers for any striker anywhere in the world. It is exceptional.
“What struck me against Burnley is not the goal he did score, but the one he didn’t score. That shows you how big an improvement he has made because every time he is in front of the ‘keeper you expect him to score.”