This summer Wilfried Zaha will likely be available, having been close to leaving Crystal Palace for both Everton and Arsenal last summer.
Arsenal should not longer be in the running for him.
For a start, we have recruited Nicolas Pepe. We also have Bukayo Saka on the left wing. We do not really need to go big for a winger when we have so many issues throughout the middle of the park – a defender, central midfielder and creative central midfielder as much more important.
But Arsenal’s recruitment team also need to ensure that we do not end up with too many African’s in the squad.
Now before you all start labelling me “racist” or whatever, there is plenty of logic behind keeping the amount of African players to a minimum.
The next African Cup of Nations is in 2022.
It was originally scheduled for January – February 2021, but due to the Covid19 outbreak has been delayed for 12 months.
Any player that is selected for their nation can expect to be unavailable for their club for around 6 weeks – 4 weeks for the tournament itself and 2 weeks for preparation.
Clubs will also be acutely aware of players returning from the continental tournament out of shape, over weight, and not ready to be thrown straight back into European football.
If you end up with a squad with too many African players in it, you could find yourself without some key players for nearly 2 months.
Taking a look at Arsenal, we currently have 2 key players who are African:
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)
If Aubameyang is still with us in 2022, and we signed Zaha, there would be a high chance that we would be losing our entire front 3 for 2 months come the tournament.
This would kill any chance Arsenal have of being competitive in 2022.
The club will also be keeping an eye of Bukayo Saka.
The Ealing born England youth international is of Nigerian heritage.
Whilst the youngsters preference is to play for England, and the Super Eagles recently announced that they would not “chase Saka”, a lot can happen in the next 18 months.
If Saka continues his current form, and is ignored by England (highly unlikely), he may well decide to make the switch from England to Nigeria in the same way Zaha switched from England to Ivory Coast.
That would potentially leave Arsenal without Aubameyang, Pepe, Zaha and Saka.
It would be a terrible position for the club to be in and questions would have to be asked as to why the recruitment team have amassed 4 players in similar attacking positions that could leave for 2 months.
Thomas Partey is Ghanaian and would also likely play in the tournament.
Were we to sign him as well, that would potentially be 20% of our squad unavailable in January 2022. By the time you add in the usual injuries from a tough winter period, Arsenal’s squad would be depelted.
The difference between Partey and Zaha, however, is position.
As a winger / forward, Arsenal will already be losing 2, maybe 3, players for the tournament. In the middle of the park we do not have other players likely to play in Cameroon.
If we signed Partey and lost him, we would have the squad depth to cover as we would have 3 or 4 other central midfielders.
As for Zaha, there would not be the cover. Even if Saka remains with the England set-up instead of changing his allegiance.
You need to build a balanced squad, and part of that balanced squad is ensuring that you do not lose too many players over the January period to the African Cup of Nations.
Likewise, teams keep an eye on South American players – as the Copa America tends to be played in odd numbered years; either the year before and World Cup or year after. This results in South American players playing for 3 straight seasons without a summer break (arguably what led to Alexis Sanchez’s loss of explosiveness).
The time to sign Zaha would have been last summer, but we ended up plumping for Nicolas Pepe.
Arsenal’s recruitment team will be focusing on non-African attacking options this summer to offset the potential departures of Aubameyang, Pepe and Saka in 2022.
Everton face a similar dilemma having signed Nigerian Alex Iwobi from Arsenal last summer. Would they really want to lose their left and right wingers for 2 months in 2022?