As I’m sure you’ll all be aware from flicking open another cardboard door on your advent calendar this morning to reveal a lump of delicious chocolate, we are now just ten days away from the annual tradition of allowing a chubby, bearded man with a spate of questionable aliases break and enter into our private property at the dead of night – and even leave him out some cookies and alcohol for the privilege.
Indeed, there’s not much time left to make sure you’ve bought enough cards and presents for everybody ahead Saint Nick’s furtive visit on December 25th, which also means there’s not much time left for Premier League managers to get their wish lists sorted. Who, after all, is in need of Christmas magic more than the unfortunate souls plying their trade in our ever-chaotic top flight?
But Arsenal gaffer Arsene Wenger has been a particularly good boy this year. Not only has his behaviour been largely exemplary, but he’s also had his wish list sorted for so long that he’s even given us at Football Fancast a sneak peak. Perhaps due to his unquenchable thirst for diminutive playmakers, it’s La Liga stars who are in Wenger’s Christmas thoughts this year. Here are the FIVE at the top of his wish list.
With Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker both the wrong side of 30, Arsenal need an injection of youth at the heart of their defence.
Fitting the bill perfectly in that regard is Athletic Bilbao’s highly-rated 21-year-old Aymeric Laporte, who has been no stranger to the Premier League’s rumour columns over the past few seasons.
The Frenchman’s experience stands out for a player so young, having already registered 125 appearances at senior level, and he’s amid yet another strong season with averages of 1.7 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3.9 clearances and 2.6 successful aerial duels per match in La Liga.
But it’s the more aesthetic side to Laporte’s game that has gained admiring glances from the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona. He’s in a similar bracket to Everton’s John Stones, with silkiness, pace and agility on the ball, and resultantly seems ideal for Arsenal’s technically-demanding build-up play.
The good news is that Arsene Wenger doesn’t even need Santa’s help with this one, because the 6 foot 2 defender’s contract includes a release clause. The bad news, however, is that it’s set at a whopping £35million.
A signing that would solve Arsenal’s apparent lack of depth out wide and their need for added top-class quality in front of goal.
Indeed, Antoine Griezmann earned his £24million move to Atletico Madrid as Real Sociedad’s talismanic wideman, playing an intrinsic role in their rise from the second tier to the Champions League, but has emerged as one of the most dependable goalscorers in Europe since joining the Vincente Calderon ranks in summer 2014.
Playing almost exclusively as a striker, although often in close tandem with another centre-forward, the France international has bagged 37 goals in 74 outings for the Mattress Makers, including eight in La Liga this season.
Famed for his relentless industry in typical Diego Simeone style, this term averaging 1.9 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per match, the 24-year-old has often been mooted as a good fit for the Premier League and he’d certainly add a new element of tenacity to the Gunners’ forward line.
Unfortunately, however, Griezmann’s €80million release clause is probably a little outside Santa’s budget.
Another winger-forward known to have caught Arsene Wenger’s attention is Celta Vigo star Nolito.
The 29-year-old was always well-regarded throughout prior spells with Barcelona B, Benfica and Granada, but has really come into his own since joining the Balaidos ranks in summer 2013 and particularly this season, with eight goals, five assists and seven Man of the Match awards in 15 La Liga outings.
He’s also averaged a whopping 2.9 created chances and 2.4 successful dribbles per match, and that form has seen Nolito emerge as a recurring fixture in Vincente del Bosque’s plans for the Spanish national team, picking up five caps since his debut last November.
It has likewise led many to believe that Nolito, despite already edging towards his 30th birthday, can ply his trade at a higher level. Arsenal seem a particularly good fit through their brand of technical and offensive football and his £12.6million release clause is well within the club’s financial reach.
A man can dream, can’t he? And I’m sure that if Arsene Wenger was given the chance to sign any player from La Liga (barring Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi), it would be Barcelona’s playmaking anchorman Sergio Busquets.
There has been plenty of debate over Arsenal’s defensive midfield options during the last few seasons but the fact of the matter is that it’s quite a tricky role. On the one hand, the Gunners need defensive nous and physicality; on the other, they don’t want a cumbersome monolith who will slow down their definitive style of play.
Busquets represents the unique kind of player Arsenal crave at the base of their midfield. His 6 foot 2 frame is powerful and aerially effective, his defensive qualities are evident enough through averages of 2.4 tackles and 3.2 interceptions per match in the Champions League this season, yet he’s also blessed with enough technical ability to enjoy an important role in Barca’s build-up play, kick-starting attacks from deep positions and averaging 64 accurate passes per match this term.
Indeed, the World Cup-winning Spain international is the perfect answer to Arsenal’s seemingly never-ending midfield conundrum. But he’s unlikely to leave Barcelona any time soon, especially whilst they’re still making it to the last four of the Champions League every season.
Another La Liga-based midfielder who would immeasurably sure up Arsenal’s midfield is Sevilla star Grzegorz Krychowiak, who has been linked with a move to north London countless times since the end of last season.
That’s in no small part due to the Poland international claiming a place in La Liga’s Team of the Year during his debut campaign at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, whilst helping Unai Emery’s side claim a second consecutive Europa League title.
The 25-year-old is enjoying strong form yet again this term, averaging 2.5 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3.1 successful aerial duels and 2.9 clearances per match from 15 La Liga outings whilst earning rave reviews for his performances in the Champions League – despite Sevilla’s elimination at the group stages.
Considerably more attainable than Busquets, Krychowiak’s contract includes a £32.2million release clause. But the former Reims man could have left Sevilla in the summer and chose otherwise, so it remains to be seen if Saint Nick can break his commitment to the Rojiblancos cause.