I hope Arsene Wenger wasn’t planning on a nice, quiet January. While the newspapers have continued to credit any club with a few quid to spend as having interest in every half-decent player this season, Arsenal fans have been busy calling on their manager to end the dawdling and make significant additions this January. After Sunday’s FA Cup embarrassment, where the Gunners crashed out of their first match of the competition against Nottingham Forest, even Wenger has had to admit that changes should be arriving. Some big-name players have been linked to North London, but their current place in the Europa League has apparently forced the papers and the internet to attribute all of the rumours formerly reserved for Arsenal to Liverpool. Indeed, if the Merseyside club pull off one-tenth of what they are credited with being interested in, they will undoubtedly be the biggest “madness” club of the window. However, even with fan morale at an all-time low in the Gunnersphere, it is far to early to write Arsenal, and their talented new backroom staff, off just yet. With one deal already completed and more promised, the Gunners could yet find someone to help them find their way back into the top 4.
A Signing? Already?!
Fans received a shock on just the 4th day of the transfer window when word started coming through that the club were suddenly on the verge of signing a player already. You could almost hear the collective drawing of breath as headlines were clicked on, followed by exasperation and derision when it was learned that the player was Konstantinos Mavropanos, a young Greek defender with a rising profile having just recently broken into the Greek first division for PAS Giannina. It was plain to see, based on Arsene Wenger’s comments and the fact he was pictured with the signing as it was announced, that Sven Mislintat was the driving force behind the move.
Though he is unknown in the UK, Mavropanos is considered one of Greece’s brightest young talents having made it into the top division in Greece as a teenager. At 6’4, he has the stature of a proper Premier League defender, but his style is far more than just taking up space in front of the goal. In fact, Mavropanos has good feet for his height, and uses his anticipation to step forward to snuff out attacks from his position in the backline. In that regard, he fits in a similar mould as Shkodran Mustafi, who is also an instinctual defender that isn’t afraid to step up and stick a foot in. His tackling technique looks solid for such a young player, and despite Arsene Wenger’s apparent indifference (perhaps due to his lack of involvement in the deal), he looks as though he could be a handy player for the Gunners in the future. The consensus is that he will likely be loaned out for the rest of the season to a club in Germany to gain some more playing time than would be on offer if he stayed in North London.
The Sanchez Saga Drawing To A Close?
Amid much posturing for a foothold in negotiations, Arsenal and Manchester City are finally approaching a deal to send Alexis Sanchez north to reunite with his former manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. Reports indicate City continued with their low-ball tactics from the summer, opening their bid at £18 million with Arsenal wanting £35 million. Indications are that the fee will be a compromise in the middle, but interestingly, City are trying to force Wenger’s hand by claiming they aren’t willing to wait for Arsenal to sign a replacement. In truth, neither club has much negotiating strength, as the fee is not so significant to Arsenal that they have their hands tied, while City (who perhaps won’t admit that FFP regulations might be playing a factor in their smaller offers) will just claim they could wait until the summer and get him for free. However, with Gabriel Jesus’ MCL injury likely to keep him out for at least a month or two, City are desperate for reinforcements to keep their dream of landing trophies in 4 competitions this season alive.
As you might expect, all of the usual suspects are being touted as replacements for the Chilean, with Thomas Lemar the current name at the top of lists (this hour anyway), but names such as Yannick Carrasco, Hirving Lozano, Julian Draxler and Leon Bailey have been mentioned as replacements. Based on the comments by Arsene Wenger so far in January, it appears the club are being active this transfer window, and should Sanchez be sold, he will almost certainly be replaced by a younger signing. With Sanchez approaching 30, perhaps it is a blessing in disguise for the Gunners, who probably would not be seeing a good return on their investment in 3-4 years time when Alexis’ physical skills have diminished. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented players to wear the red and white shirt in this decade, but the club never quite reached the heights expected of them with Sanchez in the team.
It’s looking like defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin is finally going to be on his way out in search of playing time. Though initially last season he looked to be very much in Arsene Wenger’s plans, the injury to his midfield partner Santi Cazorla severely affected his role and importance in the squad. Factor in the ever-present danger that playing him longer than 40 minutes or so could lead to a spectacular hamstring injury (with a lot of flailing and pouting cheeks), and his place in the side just cannot be guaranteed going forward, despite fellow central midfielder Mohammed Elneny failing to impress himself.
The good news for the Gunners is that their worst technical midfielder looks pretty tantalising to several other clubs in the Premier League, especially those that could make good use of his active defensive contributions. Rumours going around today initially said he was probably on his way to West Ham for £10 million, but he is apparently also in “advanced talks” with Valencia to head to Spain. I suppose that would be a good place for him, as he and Gabriel Paulista could bond again over their shared time in North London and the fans’ general disdain for the pair. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to him, as he undoubtedly has a lot of the qualities Arsenal don’t have enough of like tackling ability and a willingness to sacrifice the body to stop an opponent. However, with further reports suggesting the French clubs might want a crack at the 26-year-old as well, it seems clear the only certainty in the Frenchman’s future is that it isn’t going to be at the Emirates Stadium
It should come as no surprise to fans when Arsene Wenger bemoans the club’s lack of financial muscle in relation to Manchester City, because frankly they are in a class of their own at the moment in England when it comes to spending money. However, fans today will be spitting their breakfast through their noses when they see the player about which Wenger is referring: 30-year-old West Brom defender Jonny Evans. Yes, you heard that correctly, the former United cast-off turned reliable, above average defender apparently exists in a realm somewhere beyond Arsenal’s means to pay his wage demands if City get involved. Uhh…really Arsene?
His comments are a bit tone deaf coming so quickly on the heels of the Soccerex Football 100 financial report that ranked Arsenal as the second most powerful club in the world behind their sky blue rivals from the north. While it does corroborate his claims about his rival’s wealth, it does not adequately explain why Evans’ wages would be unmatchable by Arsenal should City present him with an offer. The defender is a quality, reliable veteran (enough to fetch a boatload of cash on the market these days), and his addition would be a welcome one in such a struggling defence, but to already be acting like you’ve missed out on the player is a bit concerning coming from the Arsenal manager.
Wishful Thinking: Why Not Griezmann?
Sometimes it seems like every half-decent player available is linked to multiple top Premier League clubs, but one name that never seems to come with a diverse group credited with interest is Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann. The French attacker has garnered a reputation as one of the more versatile and lethal attackers across Europe in Diego Simeone’s high-energy Atleti side, and with a release clause now valued at around £88 million, he is (as absurd as it sounds) affordable in today’s absurd market. Instead, Manchester United seem to steal the bulk of the credited interest in England, while Barcelona was also thought to be interested before they opted to sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool instead.
While United have had a marginally more successful campaign in the league than have the Gunners, at Arsenal he would be far more likely to find a freer, more attack-oriented role than at United, where we would likely be stuck out on the wing in Jose Mourinho’s restrictive system. Griezmann would also be united with two of his fellow attackers from the French national team at Arsenal, Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud, two players with whom he has developed good chemistry while playing for Les Bleus. On the surface, a move to Arsenal neither seems like a step up from Atletico Madrid nor preferable to United, but it would be irresponsible for both parties to not at least explore the option before he takes the path most travelled and signs with Manchester United.