Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to admit that Santi Cazorla will be offered a new deal with Arsenal surely points to the exit door for the Spaniard.
With Cazorla’s departure imminent in the summer, Wenger’s search for a replacement has surely gotten underway.
We’ve tried out hand at scouring the globe for the best talent that would fit Arsenal’s ethos as well as successfully fill the large hole left by Cazorla’s impending goodbye to five years in London.
Vincent Koziello, Nice
At the halfway stage of the Ligue 1 season, Nice are top, and they look more than convincing. Onlookers observe the goalscoring exploits of the reinvigorated Mario Balotelli, or the creative qualities of 21-year-old starlet Wylan Cyprien as the prime factors for Lucien Favre’s side’s incredible title push, but for others it is the spectacular composure and cohesion brought to the team by Vincent Koziello that allows Les Aiglons to tick on the pitch.
Koziello may not appear to be an intimidating figure on the pitch – he stands at just 5ft 6in – but the illusion of the midfielder as a insignificant contributor to Nice’s success allows the France U21 international to thrive.
His low centre of gravity makes it difficult to wrestle the ball off the diminutive talent – he has a 100 percent success rate when it comes to take-ons.
Koziello has made twelve interceptions as well as eight blocks or clearances. He is not just utilised as a defensive minded player – 47 percent of his successful passes are aimed higher up the pitch, and his deployment as a box-to-box midfielder has seen critics draw comparisons to the Frenchman and Cazorla.
Although Nice adore their little magician, a fee around the £25 million mark may persuade the Ligue 1 leaders to part with Koziello.
Naby Keita, RB Leipzig
Having only signed from Red Bull Salzburg this summer, Keita has been a surging talent in the Bundesliga, establishing himself as one of the German top flight’s most commanding players on and off the ball.
He had offers from Premier League outfits such as Liverpool to join Jürgen Klopp’s rebuilding of the Merseyside club, as well as a number of sides participating in the Champions League, but Keita declined a transfer to a bigger club, instead opting to become a key cog in the ever growing machine that is Leipzig.
His work ethic and energy enables him to be used in a double pivot, so the 21-year-old would fit in perfectly alongside current Arsenal star Granit Xhaka.
His nickname of ‘Deco’ on the pitch has been well-earned due to a similar playing style to the former Chelsea and Barcelona star.
Although Arsenal could turn Keita’s head with the promise of lucrative wages and Champions League football, he may not want to depart the project at Leipzig just yet.
Marco Verratti, Paris Saint-Germain
Juventus, Inter Milan and Chelsea have all been linked to the club with Antonio Conte’s team favourites to sign fierce Italian battler from PSG, making him an unlikely acquisition for the Gunners, but he is a man that is a worthy replacement for Cazorla.
Notoriously known for his aggressive playing style, Verratti has said that it is stronger than him and that he would rather not play football than change the way he operates. There is something admirable about the 24-year-old’s bullish desire to remain true to the way he has always played, and it has clearly been effective for him.
Quick, agile and creative, Verratti is a dynamic instrument that can be used to mass effect in any team. Wenger would have to persuade the Arsenal board to part with a fortune to potentially acquire the midfielder.
His already large transfer fee could also be massively inflated in a bidding war with Chelsea.
Corentin Tolisso, Lyon
Tolisso emerged from Lyon’s youth academy in a time of crisis due to injuries to key first-teamers Clement Grenier and Gueida Fofana, and came through that baptism of fire with flying colours.
Tolisso’s style is embodied through his pure assurance on the ball, and there is not a worried face in the Lyon section when their young French maestro is orchestrating play.
The 21-year-old can be deployed in numerous positions, appearing at centre midfield, defensive midfield and even right-back for Lyon since his breakthrough.
Tolisso’s numbers this season are arguably more impressive than those of Nice’s Koziello, too. His 83 percent pass success rate is slightly lower than Koziello’s, but he has created 24 chances coupled by his 20 interceptions, 5 blocks and 24 clearances.
That’s not to forget his direct involvement in six goals for Lyon during the 2016/17 campaign as well.
There will be heavy competition for his signature, but we see the Arsenal signing of Tolisso as a very likely transfer.
Axel Witsel, Zenit St-Petersburg
The final man to make our five-man shortlist is perhaps the unlikeliest move for the Gunners but nonetheless, he would be a fine purchase.
Having spent four years in Russia with Zenit following his 2012 move from Benfica, it was presumed that Juventus would complete their fine summer in the transfer market with the signing of Witsel, but they missed the deadline.
His transfer to Turin could yet proceed next month, but it would hardly be a bizarre scenario if Arsenal were to swoop in for the Belgium international – take Chelsea’s late steal of Willian from Tottenham as a quite recent example.
An accomplished midfielder with a wide variety of skills at his disposal, Witsel is a strong and threatening presence to any opposition and would be a welcome addition to Arsenal’s midfield.
However, given how close negotiations came to being completed in early September, it seems that Witsel’s future lies in Italy rather than England.
Callum Connolly, Pundit Arena.