It was twelve months ago on the Copacabana, amidst the Samba dancers and Caipirinha-sipping party-goers, that Arsène Wenger found his man.
The Frenchman’s 5,700-mile trip from London to Rio de Janeiro wasn’t just to provide his expertise for TF1 or Eurosport – the wily 65-year old was also in town to meet with Fernando Felicevich; better known as the agent of Alexis Sánchez. “I met him a few times,” Wenger revealed in December, ahead of the clash with Liverpool, who Alexis rejected to join The Gunners. The Chilean was one of five first-team additions last summer, though none have shone this season quite like the former Barcelona forward.
A year on from those secretive meetings in Brazil and the attention is on the Arsenal manager once more. Whilst there is arguably less pressure on Wenger now, following back-to-back FA Cup successes, there is a real sense amongst media and fans that if the club can identify the right talent in the next three months, the 2015/16 Premier League title might not be beyond the realms of possibility.
It’s never quite clear at the start of a transfer window whom the north Londoners will bring into their squad – who expected Mesut Özil to pop up two years ago on deadline day or Kim Källström to arrive on loan with a broken back six months later – but there are strong indications of who might be near the top of Wenger’s shortlist at the moment. Petr Čech and Morgan Schneiderlin may well be the first two names on the manager’s mind as he departs his Totteridge home for his summer holidays. The best part of £35 million would be needed to convince Chelsea and Southampton to part with two of their most loyal servants, though, there can be little doubt that both would strengthen Arsenal considerably.
“I am not in a buying mood – I will buy drinks for my players,” Wenger joked after the 4-0 FA Cup Final victory against Aston Villa last weekend. Despite continuing to insist he isn’t thinking about new signings, it’s difficult to imagine that Wenger, the club’s chief negotiator Dick Law and chief executive Ivan Gazidis haven’t mustered up a list of names.
Did you see? Petr Cech could join Arsenal next week
The annual links with Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín have resurfaced this week; either would be an upgrade on the admirable, yet unpredictable, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck. Theo Walcott’s flurry of goals in the final two games of the campaign provide confidence that the Englishman can play a big role in the centre-forward position next season, but whether a trio of Walcott, Welbeck and Giroud have enough to fire Arsenal to a first League title since 2004 is another matter.
Whilst Wenger aims to improve his squad ahead of his 20th season in charge, of course, so are Arsenal’s rivals. Manchester United have already added Dutch wonderkid Memphis Depay and Liverpool have brought in the under-appreciated James Milner. You can be sure champions Chelsea and Manchester City will be busy, too.
As Wenger, and most managers, constantly point out, the transfer window is about finding players that are better than the ones you have. A top-class goalkeeper, midfielder and striker must be a priority for Arsenal this summer. If the club can bring in three world-class additions who adapt half as quick as Alexis has this season, then a strong title challenge is the very minimum gooners can expect.
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