Mikel Arteta’s revolution at Arsenal has been inching closer and closer to fruition. The purging of peripheral players, the faith in the youth, and the culture shift have all borne fruit as the Gunners have become one of Europe’s most in-form clubs, with a top four finish a very real possibility.
But the puzzle is not quite complete. Arsenal’s needs are well known - a striker and a central midfielder have been obvious points of weakness in an otherwise solid side. With the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Barcelona halfway through the season, striker has become the prime position of emphasis. January saw Arteta and Edu come away empty-handed despite noted interest in the likes of Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Lille’s Jonathan David, Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isaak, and, reportedly, a fruitless pursuit of Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic. Joining the list of potential candidates is one of Primeira Liga’s bright young talents.
Player: Darwin Nuñez (22)
Current Club: Benfica
International: Darwin has featured for Uruguay’s first team since 2020. Playing behind Luis Suarez means that match time is hard to come by, but he has managed 1 goal from 8 appearances and will certainly be a part of their World Cup run. He joins on-loan Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira on the Uruguayan roster.
Position(s): Striker/CF. Benfica has largely used the 4-4-2 with Darwin playing alongside another striker, while also occasionally lining up in a 4-3-3 set up.
Potential Price: Transermarkt has his current value listed as £36m, but some figures are as high as £67m, as big clubs have begun to kick the tires on the striker. West Ham attempted to sign him in January, but Benfica rebuked their offer, opting to wait until summer for a potential bidding war.
Arsenal Positional Depth:
- Alexandre Lacazette (30, contract runs through 2022)
- Eddie Nketiah (22, contract runs through 2022)
- Falorin Balogun (20, contract runs through 2025, on loan with Middlesborough)
Arsenal Need: Extremely high. Even before Auba’s departure, striker was a high priority. His absence has only made the need that much more important. The gap between Laca and Eddie is concerning, both in skill and experience. Neither are going to set the score sheet on fire, and both have serious deficiencies to their game - Laca is slow and prefers to lay the ball off than shoot, while Eddie is raw and excels best as a fox in the box, a style of play that doesn’t mesh with Arteta’s tactics. Balogun tore through the U-23 league before going on loan this season. He has the tools and frame to be a successful top flight striker, but he needs more experience at a more competitive level before he can be counted on as an out-and-out first team player.
Eddie and Laca’s contracts are set to expire this year and neither are expected to re-sign with the Gunners, which leaves Balogun as the lone first team striker. So, yeah. This is not just a need, but an absolute requirement this summer. Even if Gabriel Martinelli starts being converted to a central attacker, which is a possibility, the need for reinforcements at the striker spot is paramount, especially if CL is on the cards.
Verdict: Buy. Nuñez has an ideal profile for what Arteta is building. He is young, talented, and his goal return - 20 goals in 22 league matches - is hard to deny. At 6’2”, he is a good blend of size and speed. Of Arsenal’s current attackers, he compares more favorably to Gabriel Martinelli than Alexandre Lacazette. He is comfortable dribbling and attacking directly and is two-footed. His speed will also give Martin Odegaard an excellent target for his incisive through balls. He progresses the ball with confidence and has a nose for goal, something sorely missing in the center of the attack.
Some might point to the quality of the league he is currently in, but it’s the 4 goals in the Champions League that add intrigue to his appeal. Arsenal’s CL aspirations mean they need a goal scorer who can perform at the biggest stage. With his goals coming against Ajax (1), Bayern Munich (1), and Barcelona (2), Darwin clearly has no fear of playing against the big boys. Considering Arsenal’s historically bad form against Bayern and Barca, a striker who knows how to score against them is pretty nice.
The harsh reality is that the pool for available elite strikers is limited. Sure, no player is ever truly unavailable, but Arsenal simply do not have the cash for a generational game-changing player like Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe. Even someone like Joao Felix, a player Arteta and Edu reportedly have interest in, has a release clause that is hard to justify. Add on to the list the specific style that Arteta has in mind for his attackers, and the list becomes even smaller.
Darwin Nuñez might currently be the best of the bunch of strikers that Arsenal have been linked with. There are serious questions about players like Dominic Calvert-Lewin (injuries), Isaak (PL adaption/slowed production), and David (PL adaption) that could make each a risky signing in their own right. With his current form, he will also most likely be the one with the most interest from other teams, so Arsenal will need to raise the stakes and act aggressively. If Arsenal make CL, it will only help their chances with bagging an elite attacker, hopefully one with Darwin’s upside.