Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Arsenal transfer window priorities: Latest reports on Gabriel Jesus, Youri Tielemans and William Saliba

Arsenal’s season may have ended in the bruising disappointment of falling short to Tottenham at the last hurdle, but Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu Gaspar are at least able to head into this summer acutely aware of what they need to address. They need goals, particularly from the center forward position. Last season’s top scorer in that spot (Eddie Nketiah) scored five goals from his eight starts. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was bombed out in midseason after falling foul of his manager and Alexandre Lacazette ran out of steam long before May. They serve as a reminder that even $60 million strikers are no sure thing, but Arsenal still need one of them.

Even without a top tier forward, Arsenal might have got across the line if not for injuries to key players, exposing a lack of depth that they thought might have been hidden by a season without European football. That will change in the Europa League and the Gunners are aiming to secure at least three new additions with further flexibility in the market if they can clear out some high-earning fringe players. 

Arsenal goalkeeper outlook

  • Staying: Aaron Ramsdale
  • Joining: Matt Turner
  • Uncertain future: Bernd Leno, Runar Alex Runarsson

Ramsdale might have wobbled in the latter weeks of the season, but he has still been a huge success since arriving from Sheffield United for what at the time was viewed as a hefty price tag. The England international brings a confidence on and off the ball that is infectious and has swiftly built the tightest of bonds with the Emirates Stadium. It will take quite the performance to usurp him.

Turner is coming to London believing he can do exactly that. Signed on the recommendation of goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña, the U.S. international will finalize his transfer on the week of June 20, when he is due at London Colney to complete his medical. Caña and Arteta have offered no guarantees but Turner will arrive as the No. 2 and should get regular minutes, likely in the Europa League and cup competitions. He will hope it is enough to allow him to earn the USMNT starting spot in Qatar.

The only potential complication in Arsenal’s plan is Leno’s future. The German is wanted by Hertha Berlin and two other Bundesliga clubs as he heads into the final year of his contract. The Gunners want in excess of $10 million to sell Leno, but having already secured their planned No. 2 for next season gives precious little leverage to push for a sizeable fee and may be forced to accept significantly less.

Ideal moves: In this position at least Arsenal can feel that their business is done. Getting a sizeable fee for Leno, finding a new home for Alex Runarsson and a landing spot on loan for the highly rated Arthur Okonkwo would make for a successful summer.

Arsenal defender outlook

  • Staying: Kieran Tierney, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Rob Holding, Cedric, Takehiro Tomiyasu
  • Uncertain future: Hector Bellerin, William Saliba, Pablo Mari
  • Loan option: Nuno Tavares, Auston Trusty

He may never have played a game for the club he joined for nearly $35 million three years ago, but it is Saliba who is the talk of the town in north London. An outstanding loan spell at Marseille that saw him named Ligue 1 young player of the year has increased his value and dispelled any doubts as to his readiness to contribute at Arsenal. The mood music coming from all parties is encouraging after a year in which the center back’s every comment was parsed for hidden meaning. Saliba wants to show supporters “his true face.” Arteta says “he has to come back.”

If there is a fly in the ointment, it is Saliba’s contractual situation. He is out of contract in two year’s time; if he cannot be tied down to fresh terms, the 21-year-old would doubtless fetch a high price with Real Madrid counting among his admirers. Gabriel is also catching the eye of top teams, but Arsenal are determined to retain the Brazilian; CBS Sports first revealed in April that they are considering an improved contract for their left-sided center back

Sources close to Bellerin, meanwhile, have confirmed that the Arsenal vice captain does not want to return to the club next season after a successful year on loan at Real Betis. It is not certain he will remain with the Seville club, but he has made peace with leaving north London. Getting a fee back for a player on big wages in the final year of his contract will be a challenge for Arsenal, especially when buying clubs are acutely aware of the precedence Edu has set by paying up the contracts of a string of high earners over recent years. Pablo Mari would also be allowed to leave if Arsenal can find the money and space in the squad to add a left-footed center back. Auston Trusty is arriving from Colorado Rapids but will be loaned out to Europe.

Ideal moves: Arsenal are looking for a left back to rival Kieran Tierney, who has battled with injuries throughout his career in London. His fellow Scot Aaron Hickey has impressed with Bologna and is being tracked while signing Oleksandr Zinchenko ahead of Everton would give Arteta options in midfield and at left back.

Then, and this will be a recurrent theme throughout the summer, getting good money for Bellerin and Mari would be a welcome fillip that would allow for further strengthening of defense. The best deal of all, however, might be a new contract for Saliba.

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Arsenal midfielder outlook

  • Staying: Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Charlie Patino
  • Uncertain future: Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Elneny’s hastily signed contract on the final day of the season offered an indication that Arsenal would likely only be looking for one new body in midfield, with the Egyptian so impressive late in the season, hanging around to shepherd the youngsters through the Europa League. The identity of their primary target in that position is no great surprise: Youri Tielemans of Leicester City. 

Arsenal spoke to Tielemans’ representatives at the turn of the year and have been at the front of the queue for him ever since; they are confident that they will be able to swiftly accelerate his signing once he returns from international duty from Belgium and expect to pay around $31.5 million for his services. If that has a knock on impact that might concern Arsenal, it is whether Granit Xhaka would then be prepared to drop out of the first XI to make way for a new signing.

The 29-year-old has a contract until 2024, which Arsenal have the option to extend by a further 12 months. Meanwhile, Roma, the club who were most keen on him last summer, appear to have moved on with the signing of Nemanja Matic. Still, it is not implausible that Xhaka would be keen to ride off into the sunset after several years in which he has enhanced his reputation in north London.

If he left, he would likely be following Lucas Torreira; though Fiorentina have not activated the loan option in their deal with Arsenal, they are eager to bring him back. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is also available.

Ideal moves: Wrapping up Tielemans’ signing in time for him to play a full part in preseason would make for a welcome change at a club who completed much of their summer business last year when the season had already begun. One does wonder if there is a higher class of midfielder that might be available to them, but gone are the days when they might be able to claim a Barcelona outcast like Frenkie De Jong. Losing Xhaka would not be ideal, but if he were to go, Zinchenko might prove to be a welcome utility option and one Arteta knows well from his time at City.

Arsenal forward outlook

  • Staying: Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah
  • Uncertain future: Nicolas Pepe, Reiss Nelson
  • Loan option: Folarin Balogun
  • Leaving: Alexandre Lacazette

The missing piece in this Arsenal side. They were crying out for a top tier striker last season. Is Gabriel Jesus the man to solve that now that he has slipped down the pecking order at Manchester City? Of players with more than 2,000 minutes of football in Europe’s big five leagues over the last three seasons, only 16 players average more non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes than the Brazilian’s 0.55. He always gets into shooting positions.

That has not gone unnoticed by other clubs in Europe’s elite, but Arsenal have long been optimistic that they can win out in a beauty pageant that includes Tottenham and is also said to involve Real Madrid and the Milan clubs. They can offer cast-iron guarantees of a starting role that few others can. If that deal falls through, there are numerous other irons in the fire. Several scouts and agents have noted to CBS Sports how exhaustive Arsenal’s tracking of center forwards was right through until the final days of the 2021-22 season. Victor Osimhen of Napoli and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez are also on their list of targets.

Had Champions League qualification been secured, then Arsenal’s pursuit of another forward — an all-rounder who could split time between the flanks and through the middle — would have been more aggressive. It may be again if they can find a permanent taker for Nicolas Pepe, but that’s easier said than done with no club having yet indicated an interest in the $100 million club record signing. Reiss Nelson could also depart after a successful season on loan at Feyenoord. Sources close to the England youth international have told CBS Sports he would be keen to return to the continent, preferably to a club who could offer Champions League or Europa League football.

Ideal moves: Winning the race for Jesus and swapping out for Pepe for a wide forward who better fits into Arteta’s plans would both be good moves, but the best of all might be agreeing a new contract with Saka, linked to Manchester City as he enters the final two years of his deal. The England international relishes the responsibility he has at his boyhood club and is settled at Arsenal, but eventually they will have to prove they can grow into a Champions League club, able to provide the stage at which their young superstar can flourish.

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