When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid in 2013, it was billed as a major signal of intent.
Forking out £42.5million to bring in the Germany international on a mammoth salary, the deal was finalised on summer transfer deadline day and blew all other business out of the water.
On the same day, Manchester United were scoffed at for paying £27.5m for Marouane Fellaini while Liverpool spent £25m on the double signing of Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori as Premier League clubs set a then-record spending total of £630m in one window.
In the intervening years, Fellaini, Sakho and Ilori – who made just three appearances for the Reds and ended up being sold to Reading – all underwhelmed at their new clubs, while Ozil has continued to divide opinion in his seven years at the Emirates.
Now aged 31 and with one season left on his lucrative deal, Ozil is out-of-favour with Gunners boss Mikel Arteta but appears content with running down his contract before becoming a free agent in 2021.
For all his talent, Ozil has proven to be untrustworthy at a club desperate for reliability, and as such Arteta is in the market for a new lease of life in his attack having inherited Unai Emery’s broken squad last December.
Earlier this month, Paddy Power identified two short-priced transfer targets they believe Arsenal could realistically sign this summer, and either one of them would be on par with how the capture of Ozil was perceived in 2013.
The two players named by the bookmakers were Barcelona superstars Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, who they gave respective odds of 11/10 and 3/1 to join Arsenal this summer.
Although both have failed to set the Nou Camp alight, either one of these signings would be welcomed by most Arsenal fans.
Battle With Barca
But instead of raiding Barcelona of their talented outcasts, Paddy Power actually make Atletico Madrid’s central midfielder Thomas Partey their most likely summer signing at 4/11, though the Gunners reportedly face stiff competition from Barcelona themselves.
Despite the two clubs heading in opposite directions – Barcelona aiming to regroup from their humiliating end to last season while Arsenal are looking to build on their latest FA Cup success – Barcelona will always carry a special kind of lure.
“I’m always a little bit worried when the likes of Barcelona are also interested in your target – even when they’re in disarray – because they’re a huge club and you don’t want to be fighting them for a player, because most clubs would lose out in that situation,” former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn told bookmakers.co.uk.
“From my point of view, I’ve always said the structure right through the centre of the team is so pivotal to how a team plays.
“You need strong players straight through the middle – centre-halves, central midfielders and your centre-forwards – they really need to be of a very high standard at this level.
“Arsenal need to look at those areas and Thomas Partey has been linked with a host of clubs, including Arsenal. If Barcelona’s interest is genuine, then I think it was always going to be very difficult for Arsenal to sign him.”
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Apparently Partey’s release clause is only €50m, but that has also alerted Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain, making that 4/11 on Arsenal signing the Ghana international looking a little short.
The truth is, despite an FA Cup final win over Chelsea and a notable upturn in performances in the Premier League, if not results, Arsenal are still some way off boasting the pulling power they once had when recruiting Ozil from Real Madrid seven years ago.
Centre-half is probably the priority position for Arteta to improve on, and former full-back Winterburn has been doing his homework on £27m-rated Gabriel Magalhaes, who looks set to join from Lille this week.
“When someone gets linked with Arsenal I tend to do a bit of research on them and have a look at what they’re about,” he said.
“For me, it’s all about the type of personnel you’re getting as much as the ability. But he’s highly regarded, a left-sided centre-half who is supposed to be very powerful.
“Arsenal have got problems at centre-half and they can’t seem to get a consistent pairing together with the players they already have in that position, so it’s quite obvious that that’s a position Arteta feels he must strengthen.
“It looks like a really positive signing, if Arsenal can get it done. The one slight worry I have is that it seems to be taking a very long time, even though he’s been linked for a while and Arsenal seem to be the main contenders for his signature, but I’m always a bit weary of Arsenal signings when they don’t get done quickly. But I still hope he signs for the club in the next few days.”
Arsenal Must Sell Too
The expected signing of Gabriel will likely see some departures in defence, with the Gunners stacked in quantity if not quality at the back. The futures of Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis are all in doubt, with Winterburn expecting to see an exit or two.
He said: “I think there’ll be more than one of them going, because Arsenal have got a host of centre-halves and it may come down to which players are going to be limited in appearances going forward.
“Age may come in to it too – all of those players will be looking at the situation and wondering how often they’re going to be playing and what their chances of being a first choice are.
“And if not, are they happy to sit on the bench and wait for opportunities? The one player out of the four that I think might be worth holding on to is Rob Holding.
“Up until his injury I would have said he was Arsenal’s most consistent defender, but he’s struggled to get back to full fitness and get that consistency back.
“I don’t know whether there’s a slight doubt that he’s going to ever get that consistency back, but before his injury he’s the one centre-half I felt was able to offer that.
“So it would be a bit of a surprise if Holding was to leave, but then you have to consider Arsenal’s financial situation. They might feel as though he’s the one they might be able to get the most money for, so in terms of the club trying to balance the books it might be a good option for them to sell.
“But with the amount of games Arsenal are going to be playing next season it makes sense to retain at least two of them.”
Arsenal will look to do business this week as their competitive season begins on Saturday when the FA Cup winners face Premier League champions Liverpool, with the Gunners a huge price of 4/1 to win inside 90 minutes, despite beating Jurgen Klopp’s side 2-1 as recently as July.
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