Oh hello there Gooners! Have you been well? It’s been a few months, but you see, this Monger needs a break every now and then. Deriding rumours started by others that avoid facts to an almost comical degree is harder work than it looks, you know. It is clear that the current football media landscape is geared far more toward generating clicks and website traffic than delivering accurate information and, increasingly, these sites are incorporating partnerships with sports betting services, which only muddies the truth further. So here I am, on a thankless yet noble (or so I like to think) crusade to separate the wheat from the chaff; the truth from the ‘Benzema to Arsenal’ rumours. You’re welcome.
As you well know, it’s that time of year again; time for fans to resume dreaming of big name signings as the January transfer window (or just plain “January” to those less optimistic Arsenal fans) is nearly here! I know, I know, this is Arsenal, so why should we get our hopes up for another window that will only enrich our rivals while our dear club treads water? Why should we believe that Arsene Wenger will show the mettle necessary to land the sort of player to send fans into ecstasy, if only for a moment?
For once, this question comes with a caveat-free answer. As some people are aware, while many fans and members of the media snickered into their palms at Ivan Gazidis’ insistence that Arsene Wenger could be a “catalyst for change”, the club was busy well…making changes. Even after the summer, work continued behind the scenes to right the wrongs of previous season’s’ failures on the player market. As a result, the Gunners have added 3 new faces to the backroom staff that will undoubtedly improve the club’s work during future transfer windows: Head of Football Operations Raul Sanllehi (formerly of Barcelona), Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat (formerly of Borussia Dortmund, nicknamed ‘Diamond Eyes’ for his ability to spot young talent from anywhere) and expert in contract negotiations from Team Sky, Huss Fahmy.
Between the 3 of them, Arsenal have renovated their player acquisition process at every level from discovery, to recruitment, to the signing of the contract. It may be popular among fans these days to paint the club as lacking any ambition to improve in the market, but one must then ask why they would go through the trouble of hiring such respected men for important roles only to once again stand pat? To put it simply, they wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t. For those that have been following the restructure of the backroom staff closely, there is a quiet optimism that this January will be an exciting one.
In Departure Lies Opportunity
Let’s get something out of the way from the off Gooners; Alexis Sanchez suddenly finding the onion bag twice against Crystal Palace is no coincidence. The Chilean is desperate to leave by all indications, and he might have just realised that his recent form was not likely to have Pep Guardiola baying at the gates of the Emirates to bring him North to Manchester City for the end of this season. However, the eventuality of his departure only adds to the urgency with which the club’s new backroom talent must get to work. His departure will leave a gaping hole on the Gunners’ attacking flanks, and despite his lacklustre goal return this season to date, there isn’t a player in the squad that has proven capable of replacing his output.
While this could be seen as a drawback to some, with Sanchez nearing 30 and still reliant on his incredible short area quickness, the club would be right to expect a drop off from him in the not too distant future. There is an incredible amount of emergent talent in Europe, particularly in attacking positions. This could be the perfect opportunity for Mislintat and Sanllehi to identify a young target that could really grow under Arsene Wenger (and likely, his successor) to become as vital to the club as Sanchez has been. This is not at an age that most clubs are interested in essentially doubling his wages, particularly a wage structured team like Arsenal, so perhaps it truly could be in the club’s best interest to identify and recruit his replacement. Luckily, the internet is not short on rumours as clubs head into the transfer window, and some of them aren’t totally moronic…
The Somewhat Plausible
Ok, I understand this is all subjective, but not all rumours are created equal. Some out there just sound like a fit the instant you hear them; the age, price, skill set and nationality can all contribute to this feeling. These rumours are generally well sourced, with specific journalists or respected publications often cited.
There is much about this move that still makes sense, despite his rejection of the club at the end of the summer window. In a statement about his decision to reject the move, he cited the lack of time to make the decision as his primary concern. This was largely caused by Manchester City trying to handcuff Arsenal by waiting until the last day of the window to offer a legitimate bid for Alexis Sanchez. Should Arsenal lose their star man again, they could be back in for Lemar once again.
From there, the news only gets better for Arsene Wenger, as Lemar has not had quite the same statistical season as he did last season. He was the beneficiary of a squad hitting the form of its life seemingly all at the same time, and an abnormally high proportion of his final passes and shots last season found the back of the net. He is still an important player at Monaco, and is also improving as a player, but Arsenal may get away with an offer somewhat short of the £92 million one that was accepted by the Riviera club in the summer.
Since he is a good player being linked to Arsenal, naturally every other top team in England has been linked to him in recent weeks, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. However, United are linked with a host of players, so they may not pursue him as ferociously as the Gunners. Liverpool is already spending over £70 million on a defender, and may not have the transfer funds left to buy another top player during the window. Chelsea have a chance at the 22-year-old, but only if they lose Willian as some are predicting. The Blues are not known for letting key contributors leave mid-season, especially ones as talented as Willian, so as of now, the Gunners still have to be considered the leaders for Lemar’s signature.
In many ways, Carrasco makes a lot of sense. A talented and tricky attacker, the 24 year old Belgian has been an important part of a resurgent Atletico Madrid side under Diego Simeone since he moved over from Monaco in 2015. However, his lack of defensive contribution and the emergence of others have seen Carrasco fall out of favour with his manager, who values hard work for the team above almost anything else in his players. Needless to say, his experience would be very different at Arsenal playing under Wenger, a man known for his attention to player happiness and attacking Football. He would almost certainly cushion the blow to the attack that Sanchez’ departure would leave, but with Mesut Ozil already on the other side (provided he stays), the defence could suffer potentially suffer even further than it has at times this season.
Since Carrasco is a skillful goal creator, he naturally has a lot of reported interest from other clubs in the Premier League, including Chelsea and Tottenham. Given that Atleti will be welcoming both Diego Costa and young Las Palmas attacker Vitolo in January, his place in the team looks even less secure. He is shaping up to be quite the potential target, save for one tiny little detail: price. The Rojiblancos are thought to value him around €96 million, which I think most people would agree is absurd for an out of favour player. Such is the post-Neymar to the Qatar-ahem-PSG world that we live in…
I Can’t Prove It, But I Know You’re Wrong
It wouldn’t be another transfer window if the football press, in their endless quest to throw as many names against the wall as possible, didn’t go back and revive previous (and obviously unfulfilled) rumours from windows past. When it comes to Arsenal, no player has come to represent this thoughtless approach more than Karim Benzema (you thought that was just a joke about the past earlier, didn’t you?). Yes Gooners, Don Balon is back at it again, still desperately trying to convince the world that Benzema is coveted by almost every club in Europe, but especially that pokey little club in North London with the bumbling old Frenchman at the helm. Or so I must assume that is how they view the club; what other reason could there be for the reported £36 million offer Arsenal have presented? The absurdity of the claim is apparently lost on Don Balon, who go on to claim that the offer infuriated Real Madrid, who believe him to be worth closer to £50 million. No word on whether the writer of that particular rumour is aware that it is no longer 2013…
Everyone likes a story with winners and losers, and it apparently has become the mission of every news outlet to turn transfers into a cage fight between clubs over the last piece of meat, where the choice of one club or another by a player is an omen of things to come for both clubs. The agents are all too happy to let this play out, as perceived interest in their clients by one or more big teams can only drive the price- and their fee -up. And so we have Arsenal in a fight to the death over what seems like every player in Europe under 25 that can kick a ball. Having already been “beaten to the punch” by Liverpool for Van Dijk, Arsenal are reportedly turning to Riyad Mahrez once again, unless that move is “hijacked” by one of their rivals. Of course, then they might turn to Bayer Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey, but yes, Chelsea and Liverpool also “wait in the wings”. Leverkusen manager Jonas Boldt has claimed that they haven’t received any offers, but that won’t stop a rumour for catching on, will it? Not to be left out, Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha is apparently a target for Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City (no word on whether this will be before or after they nick Alexis from the Gunners)
Should Arsenal get tired of fighting with their rivals over forwards, they could switch their focus to defenders and midfielders, specifically Basel defender Manuel Akanji, who apparently has impressed Arsenal scouts…as well as scouts from Liverpool, naturally. Steven N’Zonzi was already packing his bags according to many sources before Manager Eduardo Berizzo was fired. Now, amid interest from Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Everton, he could remain in Spain, leaving half of the Premier League fighting over thin air. Of course, there are others that Arsenal and Chelsea will have their big fight over CSKA Moscow midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, a classy but raw young playmaker being touted as a potential Mesut Ozil replacement. That’s an awful lot of “fighting” considering the window hasn’t opened yet.
And so we shall expect more of the same this January from all corners of the internet and in the papers. Sadly, the standard of truth does not seem to be getting any better, so expect another window full of stories with all of the subtlety and depth of thought as a Michael Bay directed film. Sure, some of these rumours might turn out to be true, but experience tells us that the majority of them are forgotten almost as quickly as they were written. I am a bit jealous really. I marvel at a world where an article blaring “Alexis Sanchez Spotted In Paris!” in its title will contain no other bits of factual information, save what was in the title itself. I want a job like that…