Why it’s ‘Higuain or bust’ for Arsenal this summer

Gonzalo Higuain

In recent years, Arsenal have lost out on copious opportunities to progress their starting XI via the transfer market. Arsene Wenger spent two years closely pursuing Phil Jagielka, but the Everton defender failed to reciprocate the Gunners gaffer’s interest, whilst Juan Mata was deemed too much of a risk following the expiration of a minimum release clause in his contract set at £18million, only for the Spaniard to sign for Chelsea not long after for just £5million more, and has since become one of the Premier League‘s most prominent attacking midfielders.

Even this summer, the Gunners have already let the chance to sign David Villa pass by, as Spain’s all-time leading goal-scorer opts for a move to Atletico Madrid despite heavy interest from both sides of North London for most of last season, and additionally, QPR’s Julio Cesar, touted as quick fix between the sticks for Arsenal at an impressively low cost, has his heart set on signing for Napoli.

But no missed opportunity could be so detrimental to Arsenal’s cause as the failed Gonzalo Higuain deal, which appears to be slipping out of Wenger’s grasp by the day. A few weeks ago, there were reports that the Argentine was on his way to London to discuss contractual arrangements, but since, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has claimed that he is yet to receive an official bid, and even more recently, the tabloids have linked the Gunners’ strike target with a move to Napoli, like some sort of recurring Italian nightmare.

In more ways than one, it really is ‘Higuain or bust’ for Arsenal this summer, to paraphrase the soundbite that emerged from Jose Mourinho’s press conference yesterday as he continually pursues Wayne Rooney.

Unlike the Blues however, the current transfer window represents a cross-roads for the North Londoners, and so far, Wenger has been looking back towards the way he came, rather than envisaging the potential of alternative paths. The first team are in need of desperate improvement after years of constant stagnation, and with the Arsenal boss doing what he can to alleviate fans’ concerns by announcing a £70million summer kitty for new players earlier in the season – a striker, a defensive midfielder and a goalkeeper being the most required – many, including myself, expected some movement by now.

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We may still be only a few weeks into the transfer window, but the Manchester City blueprint for next season is already emerging following the acquisitions of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo (still yet to be officially confirmed), Chelsea have brought back their young cast of loanees, added to it with Andre Schurrle, and are now pursuing one of the Premier League’s most qualified forwards in Wayne Rooney, Manchester United have made bids for Leighton Baines and Cesc Fabregas, and even rivals Tottenham have spent £17million on Paulinho, a sum that betters Arsenal’s current transfer record by £1million.

The Gunners are seriously lagging behind their divisional counterparts, and the opportunity to catch up is rapidly passing them by. All of Europe’s leading strikers who are knowingly available have already jumped ship – Ramadel Falcao to Monaco, Edinson Cavani to PSG, Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich in a year’s time – and although all three always remained out Arsenal’s reach,  they now have to compete with other continental clubs who missed out on the classy trio, for forwards of lesser stature.

Stevan Jovetic is in Manchester City’s crosshairs, with rumours of a £28million bid in the pipeline, Wayne Rooney is being continually courted by Jose Mourinho, whilst the likes of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Mario Gomez, Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente, David Villa and Wilfried Bony, who could all have seriously bolstered Arsenal’s strike force next season, have already been claimed by other clubs.

If the Higuain deal falls through, which it looks set to at this moment in time, there are few alternatives out there that don’t fall into the same category of quality as Olivier Giroud. Even Christian Benteke appears more likely to sign for Spurs than Arsenal due to his inflated price-tag, whilst even the most optimistic of Gunners fans will admit that the club’s pursuit of Luis Suarez is little more than a PR stunt to imply Arsenal are still capable of competing.

More than just a club in desperate need of a talented front man ahead of next season however and with few viable options on the horizon, the symbolic implications of Arsenal’s failure to sign Higuain are vast.

Despite having considerable finance available, in terms of transfer transactions and succeeding salaries, it will illustrate how Arsenal’s quick decline now makes a move to the Emirates a much less enticing prospect than it used to be. Ten years ago, the majority of players in Europe would have dreamed of a phone call from Arsene Wenger, but now the Gunners remain an option to consider rather than an offer too good to refuse, on par with the likes of Napoli, Atletico Madrid and Spurs.

It’s not necessarily about the club’s final league standings – although you can only attract a certain calibre of player at a certain point in their career if you can guarantee them Champions League football and little else – but more the fact Arsenal are a side moving backwards, or at best sideways, rather than forwards.

The integral question however, and why it’s simply ‘Higuain or bust’ this summer, is where do Arsenal go from here, should the Argentine opt for a switch elsewhere? Higuain has undoubted quality, being his country’s first choice striker despite heavy competition for places and also claiming a record of 122 goals and 46 assists in 266 appearances since moving to La Liga in January 2007, but he is still by description and reputation Real Madrid’s second string striker.

It shouldn’t be that difficult to lure him away from the Spanish sun upon the promise of a starring role at a Champions League club, and if the Gunners can’t manage to persuade Higuain with such a tempting carrot, it doesn’t suggest that other European standard players will come calling to the Emirates any time soon.

Similarly, the proposed £23million capture was meant to be a signal to the fans that the North London club was finally turning things around, and abandoning their fatally flawed transfer policy in the process. The Emirates faithful spent all season begging Arsene Wenger to make a marquee signing, and in trying and failing to do so, it’s difficult to suggest the next ten years of transactions in the transfer market will be any different from the decade previous, with the club continually rejecting top talent with big price tags for the sake of purchasing those deemed more cost-effective. The only difference now will be that Wenger’s approach of avoiding big names will be compulsory and forced, rather than voluntary or by design.

The Higuain deal really is boom or bust for the Gunners; it’s D-Day, it’s all or nothing, it’s the last throw of the dice with the family savings, the mortgage and the car bet on a double six.

Bringing him to the Emirates not only suggests the North London outfit are finally moving in the right direction whilst also putting them in good stead to make up ground in the Premier League title race next season, but could also pave the way for signings of a similar calibre, with the Argentine as a beacon of progress and ambition for other continental stars to be attracted to.

But failing to do so spells a rather dim situation for the Gunners. Even with a £70million transfer fund, Europe’s elite remain uninterested, suggesting a negative stigmatism of stagnation and mediocrity attached to the club, rather than success. It’s hard to tell where Arsenal can go from here, should a Real Madrid rotation player, reportedly unhappy in the Spanish capital, turn them down, and it’s unlikely other footballers of European standard will opt to venture where Higuain would not. It could be the final nail in the coffin for Arsenal, condemning them to an eternal battle for fourth spot.

Is it a case of ‘Higuain or bust’ for Arsenal this summer?

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