Everybody nice and incensed? Thought so.
There is a reason that Arsenal didn’t sign Wilfried Zaha last season. Well, there are a few, actually.
He was Unai Emery’s dream signing. Made the number one target in the 2019 summer window, the interest in him was genuine, backed up by a quite pitiful offer made that would be paid over 18 years with 180 different clauses attached. It didn’t come off – not surprising considering that Crystal Palace wanted £70m-£80m – yet there was still intent from the Gunners to persist until the end.
Zaha, an Arsenal fan, has been angling for European football and the chance to prove himself at a club with bigger ambitions than the Eagles. He’s publicly stated his wish to move on for a number of years, hence why an opportunity arose.
As we all know, Arsenal didn’t get him. One of the main reasons for that was the sky-high valuation, but other than that, it was with a project and a strategy in place. Raul Sanllehi’s contacts put the club in a position to sign Nicolas Pepe on a deal staggered over multiple payments – this is a very common trait and not an ‘Arsenal’ thing – but the first up front payment was one that could be afforded, thus the decision was made.
It wasn’t just financial, though. Just shy of three years younger than Zaha, the fellow Ivorian offers much greater scope for development and improvement, with potential sell-on value added to that should be become a world-beater.
After time to consider, it was deemed the wiser alternative and one that would profit the Gunners more in the future.
Last summer, given the option of either, the majority would’ve stumped for the player who’s been there, seen it and done it in the Premier League. One who obviously speaks fluent English, would need little to no time adjusting to, well, the same city, and supported the club growing up.
I can’t sit here and deny my tastebuds tingled at the mouthwatering prospect of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Zaha lining up in the same front three. He could have provided the wow-factor to our attacks. As seen against Manchester United at Old Trafford recently, he has internal reserves of match-winning displays.
Moving for Zaha this window? That’s a step in the wrong direction.
It’s natural that when a player performs well, they’re ascended into this aesthetically more alluring prospect. Zaha has scored three goals in two matches, put himself about well in both, thus is suddenly a world beater again.
Getting caught up in hype is part and parcel of being a football fan. Every young starlet is the ‘next [insert player]’ when they’ve broken into any given senior fold, while one poor performance suddenly constitutes ‘[insert player] should be sold’.
In Zaha’s case, the legitimisation for signing him is heightened by the rumoured price tag Palace are after. Depending which part of the deep, dark web of supposed ITKs you read, he could even be available for £30m. Some, unnamed, sources claim a Reiss Nelson swap deal is on the cards.
I must answer one question. One that is the main source of argument for those caught up in this sudden gold rush. Yes, Zaha would add something different to the forward line.
Yet I can’t sit and applaud a player, who does have quality, when it isn’t as forthcoming as some suggest. Zaha is not an outstanding winger every week. If he was, he wouldn’t have had half (nine) the amount of goal involvements that Pepe had last season (18).
You can throw a caveat in there that Palace have a much weaker squad than Arsenal which stunts his capabilities – which is true – but let’s not forget how abysmal the Gunners were for so much of last season. The only reason the Eagles finished 13 points lower down the table is because they stopped caring for the final eight matches of the season and picked up just one point.
But above all to try and validate the point is that the strategy Arsenal have in place has no room for Zaha. What use is there in spending £72m last summer on Pepe to then put his development back a few years by going out to sign the other forward the club opted against bringing in?
Zaha won’t come in as a squad player, and Pepe will never become the Pepe we hope he can be if he’s playing second/third fiddle in the forward line. Suggestions have emerged that Zaha could play as a centre forwad, but that would disrupt the balance of the team and be a risk to take.
By trade he’s a left-winger, but he’s not taking Aubameyang’s place and we won’t see the captain move into centre-forward for the reason listed above. Thus. he’d have to play on the right where Willian has been brought in on big wages, with Pepe and Reiss Nelson waiting in the wings.
There is also Gabriel Martinelli, who was utterly superb last term, and Bukayo Saka – whose entire career from the academy up will be stunted if he’s forced to change position – as forward options.
A good player, yes, Zaha certainly is. But at a time where the obvious leaks on this newly-steadied ship are in midfield, spending big on a forward who the club actively moved away from just 12 months ago would be a senseless decision. Our issues lie elsewhere. The club can’t be forced into a knee-jerk reaction after two rounds of league fixtures.
Stick to the plan. Maintain course on the strategic setup. Don’t go blowing the budget on Zaha.