Free transfer XI – who could Arsenal snap up for nothing?

Morning and Happy New Year!

The transfer window is now open. I think we all know who our primary targets are!

But also from yesterday, clubs can agree contracts with players whose contracts expire at the end of the season (as long as they are currently playing in a different country).

I remember when the Bosman ruling first came in.

It changed Championship Manager forever and, in the early years of the game, you would basically sign 30 of the best players in the world for nothing and sell most of them straight on. It took them a couple of years to sort that out!

Nearly 30 years on, and what happened in Championship Manager is now happening in real life. You could build a brilliant team from those players whose contracts are expiring.

Goalkepeer – David de Gea

As de Gea plays for Manchester United, Arsenal would be unable to offer him a contract until his current deal actually expires.

This makes very little difference as if a player wants to join a club within the country they play in, they just won’t agree a deal elsewhere.

Being a grown up in football means you realise “tapping up” is part and parcel of the game. Clubs and players agents / intermediaries will speak to each other long before clubs begin negotiations to establish whether there is an interest.

Manchester United do have an option to extend de Gea’s contract by a year. Expect them to enforce that clause before cashing in on him. Probably Juventus bound.

Right back – Hector Bellerin

Arsenal are clearly not in the market for a right back.

Ben White is our break-out player this season and has to now be considered as amongst the best right backs in Europe. We then have Takehiro Tomiyasu backing him up and teenager Brooke Norton-Cuffy out on loan.

Right back is probably the weakest area of the Free Transfer XI, with Wolves’s Nélson Semedo the only man playing consistently for a half-decent top 5 European leage team.

I am going to be loyal to my boy Bellerin though, whose 1-year contract with Barcelona will unlikely get renewed. Expect him to rejoin Real Betis.

Centre back – Milan Skriniar

The Slovakian captain seems to have been linked with Tottenham for an eternity.

Inter have been trying to tie him down to a new deal for a long time, but are unable to meet his financial demands.

He is reportedly on less than £100k a week, and his Italian employers are unable / unwilling to offer him much more than that.

Expect Skriniar to end up at PSG, probably doubling his salary in the process.

Centre back – Evan Ndicka

We recently wrote about how Evan Ndicka is a good outside bet to join Arsenal.

Just 23-years-old, he ticks a lot of boxes that Mikel Arteta demands for a defender. He is also naturally left footed.

Ndicka’s recruitment would see Arteta have the option of William Saliba and Ben White on one side of the defence, and Gabriel and Ndicka on the other side.

The only issue is we will be unable to offer Ndicka guaranteed first team football, whereas a lesser team like Tottenham would.

I think we might pull this one out the bag and Ndicka will be an Arsenal player next year.

Left back – Alejandro Grimaldo

We were first linked with Benfica’s Alex Grimaldo 3 and a half years ago.

Despite further rumoured interest from the likes of Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Napoli and Manchester City over the years, the former Barcelona academy player still plys his trade in Portugal.

We were reportedly offered him last summer as potential cover for the injury-prone Kieran Tierney. Instead we signed Oleksandr Zinchenko.

I have a theory that Arsenal might decide to cash in on Tierney this summer. And if that happens we might decide to return for Grimaldo as cheap (free!) cover as Zinchenko’s cover.

An alternative if Tierney leaves is that Tomiyasu becomes cover at both left and right back. This would worry me considering his (and Zinchenko’s) injury record.

I think Arteta and Edu will go for the later as the solution, with Norton-Cuffy and the highly rates Lino Sousa getting promotions to the first team next year as young, exciting, further cover.

Grimaldo will probably end up in Italy.

Defensive midfielder – Mohamed Elneny

The list of defensive midfielders coming available on a free transfer is basically a list of the best DMs on the 2010s.

N’Golo Kante, Sergio Busquets, Nemanja Matic, Jorginho, Axel Witsel, Steven N’Zonzi and Mohamed Elneny.

Almost every player on that list is a shadow of the man they used to be. The Kante you would be signing in 2023 looks like a horse that should have been put out to stud a few years back. No where near the talent he was when he was named PFA Player of the Year in 2017, and was so key to France winning the World Cup in 2018.

Elneny is the only player mentioned above that still looks to have plenty of miles left on his clock. And he is who I would have wanted us to go for, were he not already an Arsenal player.

I imagine we will see us spend a bit of money in this area, recruiting someone who is young and can potentially replace Thomas Partey long term.

Elneny is clearly settled in London. Do not be surprised to see him join Watford or Fulham.

Central midfielder – Youri Tielemans

Probably the stand out man for many fan looking at the expired list.

Clearly a talent and a lot has been written on him over the last few months. Arsenal have a long standing interest but with Granit Xhaka’s renaissance we potentially no longer require another “8”.

There will be a lot of interest in Tielemans and the ball will be in his court as to who he joins. I think that will be whatever “Big 7” side he thinks he will most regularly play at.

My gut is Newcastle will offer him huge money and that starting place he demands.

Central midfielder – Houssem Aouar

For teams that miss out on Tielemans, there are plenty of other options.

Adrien Rabiot is a fantastic player, but you have to deal with his mother.
Thomas Lemar has never really fulfilled his potential.
Ilkay Gunodgan provides a good short term option.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric both have contracts expiring at Real Madrid.
Naby Kieta has had his injury issues with Liverpool.
Houssem Aouar is still only 24.

Houssem Aouar is an outstanding talent and the only one on the list who is “yet to get a crack at the highest level”.

Someone will take the risk this summer. Just not sure it will be Arsenal.

Real Betis could be the ones if Nabil Fekir departs.

Right winger – Lionel Messi

Might next season be the year Messi finally decides to prove he can do it on a wet and windy Tuesday night in Stoke? Probably not.

I imagine prior to his World Cup winning performances, he was considering the MLS as his semi-retirement home.

But he showed on the international stage that he is still one of the best players in the world.

With Cristiano Ronaldo getting lots of flak for his impending move to the Middle-East, I think Messi will decide to remain at PSG for at least one more season. It will be another nail in the coffin of the Ronaldo v Messi debate if he continues to perform in the Champions League whilst Ronaldo becomes a billionaire Sheikh’s play thing.

Left winger – Wilfried Zaha

I recently wrote a blog trying to make the case for us to sign Wilfried Zaha.

I think if a January deal for Mykhailo Mudryk falls through, Zaha could be a good option.

He would provide solid cover and competition in all 3 attacking positions, behind Gabriel’s Jesus and Martinelli, and Bukayo Saka.

I think Zaha is on his way out of Crystal Palace, but doors are continually closing.

Cody Gakpo has shut the Liverpool door, and Mudryk would kill any move to Arsenal. Tottenham or Newcastle could be his destination.

Striker – Marcus Thuram

Eddie Nketiah splits opinion.

He is a decent striker, but you probably would not be able to mount a title challenge for 38 games with him upfront.

The issue is there are not too many top forwards in world football, and even less that are happy being second choice.

With so many teams now playing just one upfront, gone are the days you could have Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Kanu and Syvian Wiltored and keep them all happy.

Manchester City lose their second choice striker (Jesus) last summer as he wanted first team football. You have to wonder how long they will keep hold of Julian Alvarez.

Tottenham have struggled for a decade to sign cover for Harry Kane. They have ended up with the hybrid striker / winger option in Richarlison.

Liverpool have spent big on Diego Jota, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz and now Gakpo in an attempt to replace (or improve on) Sadio Mane and Firminho. Whilst Chelsea have signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner i nthe last 3 years.

Christopher Nkunku will be their 5th new striker in 4 seasons when he joins in the summer.

Maybe with Eddie (and Martinelli), it might be “better the devil you know” rather than looking to sign someone to cover Jesus?

Marcus Thuram would be an option if we want to go down the route of Jesus’s replacement being able to play across the front 3.

There are also the likes of Memphis Depay, Roberto Firminho and Moussa Dembele coming available on a free. All 3 can do that role of covering down the middle and both flanks.

Youssoufa Moukoko is certainly one to keep an eye on; still jsut 18 he has been hyped as “Dortmund’s next big thing” for a couple of years. Would not be surprised if he joined Chelsea, making it 6 strikers in 3 years.

Thuram would certainly be a good option if we were to go into the market.

If I were to have a “top 3” realistic free transfers for Arsenal this summer, it would be (in order): Ndicka, Thuram, Tielemans.

Let us know your thoughts.

Keenos

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