Don’t look now, but the title hype for Arsenal has reached a critical mass following the Gunners’ 2-0 win away to Spurs on Sunday. The win was not just important in furthering the distance between them and 2nd place Manchester City, but also in washing the bad taste out of the mouths of the fanbase following the absurd Mudryk saga over the weekend.
Win aside, the Gunners now have to go back to the drawing board for their quest for depth in the attack after wasting precious time and energy only to see Chelsea bully their way to the Shakhtar player’s signature. Last season’s failure to secure reinforcements in the winter window all but torpedoed Arsenal’s push for a top four spot, a mistake that Mikel Arteta surely does not want to repeat, not with a potential title run on the line.
So with Mudryk officially off the table, the question remains - who now? Arteta has been vocal about the need for an extra attacker, especially as Gabriel Jesus remains out until March at the earliest and the depth up front remains thin at best. So, who could the Gunners target for crucial depth?
Despite seeming lack of available options, that hasn’t stopped a few names from floating around - some realistic, others not as much. But for the sake of the discussion of potential targets and their fit at Arsenal, we’ll be looking at two camps: the known entities with Premier League experience, and the ones from outside of the PL that have been linked to the Gunners.
To start, we will look at the group of PL veterans that Arsenal could potentially turn their sights to bolster the side during the second half of the season.
Current Club: Barcelona
This is deja vu all over again. While Chelsea successfully gazumped Arsenal for Mudryk, Raphina was the proto-Mudryk saga over the summer, with Chelsea attempting to sign him from Leeds out from under Arsenal. However, the Brazilian winger eventually got the move he wanted, leaving both Arsenal and Chelsea empty handed as he took his talents to Barcelona.
Well now the rumor mill has reignited this potential move. Barcelona find themselves facing tremendous (and hilarious) financial trouble, which is reportedly forcing them to have to offload players to balance the books, with Raphina allegedly one of the players available.
The upside is obvious, and his talent is apparent - the Gunners wouldn’t have attempted to buy him in the summer if it wasn’t. He is a known entity with Premier League experience, a direct dribbler with speed for days and an aggressive style of play, and he is in his prime. The big issue is whether or not he would be willing to split time with the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
Complicating things is his quote following Barcelona’s Super Cup victory over Real Madrid over the weekend, where he stated that, “This is my first trophy with this giant club, this enormous shirt of FC Barcelona - it’s incredible. And so now we go for more trophies.” Not exactly a quote that instills confidence that Arsenal can entice him away.
It would probably take a hefty sum and a guarantee of playing time to get him back to England. Arsenal’s willingness to spend up to €80m+ for Mudryk means they could certainly pony up the necessary sum to sign Raphina (whose market value is €50m). But, whether or not he would even consider the move remains to be seen, and it may not be worth the time or effort considering his apparent happiness at Barca and their own league leading campaign.
Current Club: Crystal Palace
Mudryk’s blatant fanboying over Arsenal isn’t the first time a player has made their affection for the Gunners known. Few current players have waxed poetically about their love of Arsenal quite like Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha (remember his birthday party banner?). With Arsenal in need of depth, the Ivorian’s name has come up in several discussions as a potential target.
The first issue that could could dampen this this rumor is his age. At 30, he doesn’t fit the current profile that Arteta and Edu are focusing on. Arsenal’s move away from players over the age of 30 has been working well, so it begs the question whether it benefits the club to deviate from that plan.
He is absolutely skilled enough to be a key contributor for Arsenal. His skills on the front foot are well known and is probably the best finisher of the group, but his defensive work rate is dodgy. Both Saka and Martinelli put in shifts at both ends of the pitch, which Arteta demands of his players. He can dribble with the best, but can Arsenal really afford to target a one-dimensional player.
The biggest road block is whether Palace would sell their most important attacking player during the middle of the season. They are not quite facing a relegation fight, but sitting 12th with only 22 points, they can’t very well afford to sell such an important figure with half of a season to play. That is, unless the price is right.
Few players linked with the Gunners are as PL-ready as Zaha. He has played exclusively in the Premier League for the entirety of his career, which is exceedingly important when adding a player mid-season. Arsenal have a huge opportunity in the league, but will still have Europa League and the FA Cup on their plate come late January on. They do not have the luxury of bedding a player in over time. They need plug-and-play from day one, which Zaha provides.
This isn’t the first time Zaha has been linked with Arsenal. In 2019, it was reportedly between he and Nicolas Pepe for Arsenal’s big summer move, and we all know how that panned out. Zaha is out of contract in the summer, which might incentivize a winter move if Palace wants to cash in, but the sum would almost certainly be north of €50m. If it helps propel the Gunners to their first title in 19 years, it could be money well spent.
Current Club: Brighton & Hove Albion
Of the three potential transfers involving current or former PL players, this one seems to have the most promise. Trossard, who has been one of Brighton’s most successful attackers since joining the club in 2019, appears to be on the market. The Belgian international has reportedly fallen out with Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi, causing him to look for a new club in January.
Besides availability, Trossard’s versatility makes him a very intriguing option. He is a talented dribbler, quick on the ball, who can play across the midfield and even as a striker. With Arsenal’s need for depth at the wing and through the middle, it’s hard to find a player with Trossard’s versatile skill set right now in the window.
At 28, he is not an ideal long term target, but this could be a very successful 2+1 contract type of scenario. The Gunners, though, could face competition form the likes of Tottenham, who are looking to add the attacker in hopes of improving their frustrating form in the attack. If I’m Trossard, though, the choice seems clear.
None of the previously mentioned candidates are perfect matches for Arsenal’s style, but they all bring proven talent and Premier League experience to the table, two traits that can’t be overlooked with two weeks left in the window. Whether or not Mikel Arteta sees it that way, though, remains to be seen.
Are there any players outside of this list you think Arsenal should kick the tires on? Let us hear in the comments.
Stay tuned for the second part of this series where we will be looking at the younger, long-term targets Arsenal could target in the winter window.