Arsenal transfer policy in the last few windows has been clear and obvious.
Sign younger players who are hungry to learn.
There are plenty of wide-men out there that fit that criteria – Mykhailo Mudryk, Rafael Leao, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Cody Gakpo. But should Arsenal depart from their current policy and sign Wilfried Zaha in January.
Let’s see if we can make a case for his recruitment.
We are in the title race.
A smart signing in January could be the difference between finishing first and second.
The issue with going for a younger player, playing abroad, is you might end up writing the first 6 months of their career as they settle. This would basically be the second half of this season.
In Zaha, we would be getting someone who is Premier League ready. Who would not need to adapt to a new country. A man who already has 6 goals in 13 games this season. A player that has averaged 10 Premier League goals a season for the last 5 years.
He would make an impact from day one.
The style of winger is so important to us.
Nicolas Pepe was never a bad player. He just did not suit our system.
He relied on their being space in behind his opponent, and Rennes built a team around getting the best out of this – defending deep and looking to counter attack. At Arsenal, he struggled.
We play a more possession based game, with our defenders starting position being further up the field. We look to dominate play and often face teams who play the “low block” and put 8 outfield players behind the ball.
This restricted Pepe’s space, and as a result his influence.
Whilst Crystal Palace have often played counter attacking football, Zaha has shown time and again that he can operate in little space.
He is very good when being stood up by an opponent. He has that trick, the pace and power to beat the full back. To find the space and create or score from nothing.
Coming off the bench when leading, he would be an excellent option as we look to defend deeper and hit the opponents on the counter.
Cool and calm in front of goal, he would be the man to turn 1-nil into 2.
Zaha has that something special to unlock a defence, regardless of how they are set up.
Age is not a concern
“But he is 30” is a genuine concern.
I can understand why fans would not want him due to his age. But as a free transfer, we would not be investing a huge transfer fee into him with no chance of selling on.
If we could get him in January on a 3 and a half year deal, we would expect to get at least 18 months of top level football out of him before he begins to decline.
That 18 months could see us won the league this season as well as free up more money to invest elsewhere in the summer.
It could even allow us to go big for Mudryk in the summer of 2023 and allow him a season to adapt with little pressure.
I would be surprised if Zaha would command much more than £150k a week.
A 3.5 year contract would cost us around £27.3million. Even if we throw in a £10m signing on fee, the total investment on wages and fees would be less than £40m. That is not a huge figure and less than just the transfer fee of being touted about for the likes of Mudryk and Leao.
We have discussed before how we need to sign someone who can cover both flanks and up top. Zaha can do just that.
The ultimate cover
During his career, he has mainly played right wing – 43% of his game time has come on the right flank.
37% of his career has been spent playing left wing, whilst 20% has come through the middle.
I would be surprised if any other of our targets have similar game time playing across the front 3 positions.
He is Premier League-ready cover for Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus. The ultimate cover man.
But would he want to join?
Now 30-years-old, he will never have another chance to play for a top team.
This January will be 10 years since he joined Manchester United.
That move never worked out for him for one reason or another and he has since spent 9 years back at Crystal Palace.
During that 9 years, he has looked to move on to a higher level a couple of times, often finding his exit blocked by Place demanding huge transfer fees. Now the ball is in his court with his contract expiring in the summer.
At 30, he can not expect to be a week in, week out regular at a top.
Arsenal have Saka and Martinelli, Liverpool have Salah and Diaz, Tottenham Son and Kuluveski. Manchester United have Rashford, Sancho, Martial and Garancho, whilst Chelsea have Sterling, Pulisic and Ziyech.
Manchester City have Foden, Grealish, Mahrez, Silva and Alvarez.
At all of the “traditional top 6” clubs, he would be part of a group of players competing to player, rather than the guaranteed starter he is at Palace.
Any player joining one of these top teams will know they are not guaranteed a starting spot. They are going to compete and challenge to play.
Zaha would know he would get plenty of game time joining Arsenal.
He would only really be competing with Jesus, Martinelli and Saka to start. It will be 4 into 3 – with Nketiah and Smith Rowe offering further cover.
Due to the current make up of our squad, he would probably get the most game time were he to join Arsenal.
The fly in the ointment could be Newcastle – Zaha would walk into their team and the North-East side would likely be able to offer him Champions League football.
But it could take Newcastle another 2 or 3 years to become properly competitive. Would Zaha want to join that, knowing he what’s such little time left in his career? By the time the Geordie’s are challenging for the league, they would probably be looking to upgrade on Zaha.
We suit Zaha, and Zaha suits us. Would it be worthwhile departing from our current transfer policy to sign him?
Zaha: Would we select him over Martinelli or Smith-Rowe? If we bought him as a 1st choice pick, we have echoes of Marsh to MCity and Asprilla to Newcastle in similar circumstances. I would prefer an experienced 33, 34 year old or loanee thinking Davor Suker, did a great turn, The Beast from Real Madrid was Ok. If we buy/loan-in a player with zero sell-on value do we want to pay a big fee? Zaha will not come on a free!