Adrian, Zaha, Henry & Reina top wish-list as Arsenal prepare for busiest ever January
By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
The January transfer window has long been treated with sniffy detachment by some of the big Premier League clubs.
The likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, with established management structures in place, have generally regarded the winter opening as useful for minor squad surgery but tend to leave the major operations for the summer.
Not this time. At least, not for cash-rich Arsenal, who might not be in the title running but face a ding-dong battle with Tottenham, and possibly Everton, for a top-four finish.
For the last four or five windows, Arsenal have created funds by offloading their most valuable assets, but Wenger has responded by dousing the flames from the money burning a hole in his pocket.
That situation is about to change. Speaking to French television station Bein Sport, the Frenchman offered the tantalising possibility to Arsenal supporters weary of the cautiousness of their manager in the transfer market that there will be significant reinforcements arriving in the January window.
“’This winter we will work very hard because we have some funds available,” Wenger said. “It could happen that we buy two players, but I cannot reveal the names.”
Those transfer funds are variously estimated to amount to a war chest of between €43 million and €61m in the forthcoming window – a considerable sum for a club that always figures low down on the list of the league’s big spenders on fees, if not wages.
Not since January 2006, when Arsenal responded to a poor start to the season in the wake of Patrick Vieira’s departure by signing Emmanuel Adebayor, Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott is there likely to be such an influx of new blood.
Goal.com first revealed last Tuesday that the Arsenal manager is also weighing up the possibility of bringing Thierry Henry back to the club for a third spell in January, on loan from New York Red Bulls.
Wenger has made no attempt to hide his continuing admiration for the club’s record goalscorer, even in his mid-30s.
“A loan [for Henry] is still a possibility, but we will still try to strengthen for the long term,” he told reporters.
“Henry is the talent that you dream to have. He has fantastic physique, fantastic technique, a fantastic brain, all built together in one man. At the start he was not confident enough but he has gone on to show what a great player he is.”
Wenger has established a reputation for being an outstanding development manager, who makes stars rather than buys them.
But there was a major shift last summer in the age profile of the squad, with Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla all arriving at Emirates Stadium well into their 20s and with proven track records at club and international level.
This trend of buying ready-made talent is likely to continue. Wenger and his staff have identified the goalkeeper, attacking midfield and centre-forward positions as the key areas to strengthen in the forthcoming window.
As revealed by Goal.com on Wednesday, Arsenal want an experienced Premier League keeper to challenge established No1 Wojciech Szczesny. The three-man shortlist, in order, consists, of Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, Swansea City’s Michel Vorm and Thomas Sorensen of Stoke City.
Although Walcott’s uncertain future adds a fluid element to the forward planning, in both senses, the pursuit of Crystal Palace sensation Wilfried Zaha is not believed to be directly linked to the Arsenal man’s situation.
Andrey Arshavin is expected to be offloaded in January, with Fulham and Zenit St Petersburg leading the chase, while Gervinho could be unavailable for up to six weeks on African Cup of Nations duty.
With forward flop Marouane Chamakh also heading for the exit door, there promises to be a major shake-up of the senior attacking positions.
Despite Palace co-chairman Steve Parish and manager Ian Holloway both saying this week that Zaha will not be sold before the end of the season, Arsenal are increasingly confident of landing Zaha in January and talks to sign him in a deal worth €14.8m have already begun.
There is confidence at Emirates Stadium that Walcott will sign the five-year deal that has been on the table since late August.
The England international has been promised opportunities to play up front by Wenger if he stays, and this could have an impact on whether Arsenal recruit Henry or principal centre-forward target Adrian Lopez – or both.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has been strongly linked with the Gunners, but Goal.com understands that Atletico Madrid’s Adrian is the No.1 striker January target.
Wenger has intensified his interest in the 24-year-old Spain international after failing in a bid to capture him in the summer, although the club’s hope of activating the forward’s €18m release clause in the forward’s contract could be affected by Chelsea’s pursuit of his colleague Radamel Falcao.
Several permutations are possible but, for once, Emirates Stadium promises to be a hive of activity in January.
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