With four days left of the window, Arsenal remain in the hunt for a seventh – and final – signing of the summer after Pablo Mari, Cedric Soares, Willian, Gabriel Magalhaes, Dani Ceballos and Runar Alex Runarsson. The Gunners are in talks with Lyon for the French youth midfielder Houssem Aouar, who Mikel Arteta is enamoured with.
The Spanish coach wants Aouar to inject creativity and vision into his midfield, which doesn’t currently have enough of it in the go-to partnership of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos.
With a switch away from the 3-4-3 he has deployed since the Premier League restart to a 4-3-3 expected, Aouar would be deployed as an attack-minded No 8.
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Signing the 22-year-old would be a huge coup for Arsenal given their continued lack of Champions League football, which has not been seen at the Emirates since March 2017 and a 5-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich.
A future full France international, Aouar is a high-level creative midfielder already, having produced nine goals and 10 assists in 41 games last term, and would only excel further under Arteta.
But having had a bid of around £30million rejected for Aouar by Lyon, Arsenal are seemingly reliant on player sales to raise the cash for a last-minute bid that the French outfit would deem acceptable.
ESPN claim that while Lyon think Aouar is a £55m player – they are willing to accept £41m with the rest in performance-related add-ons.
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Arsenal are said to be optimistic of agreeing a deal as they prepare to submit an improved bid.
And the fact Lyon have signed 23-year-old playmaker Lucas Paqueta from AC Milan, seemingly as a direct replacement, will be welcome news to Arsenal as they seek a deal.
But Lyon will not let their star midfielder go on the cheap and it is up to Arsenal to find the funds, having long been unable to meet the £45m release clause in other midfield target Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid due to financial constraints.
While Lucas Torreira is headed to Atletico on loan – Los Rojiblancos only have the option to sign the Uruguayan for £22m next summer, not an obligation to sign him.
Bayer Leverkusen meanwhile want to sign Bayer Leverkusen on loan rather than permanently, Sokratis’ move to Napoli is up in the air and no bids have yet transpired for Shkodran Mustafi.
No bids have emerged from Matteo Guendouzi and Calum Chambers either and that leaves Arsenal with limited options to bring in more cash – and quickly.
Lyon also upped the pressure on Arsenal this week with Aulas declaring that all outgoings would be concluded by today – not by 11pm on Monday when the window actually shuts.
“We will tell the players that whatever will not be settled in terms of departures before Friday, there will be no more departures,” he said. “So for us the [closing] date of the transfer window will be Friday.”
He added of Aouar the next day: “We know that three big clubs are interested in him.
“Two in the short-term, one in the long-term. Not much has happened. All the clubs can’t give us financially what Lyon wants.”
And so with time rapidly running out for Arsenal to broker a deal with Lyon, perhaps they ought to take a trick out of the book of Liverpool, who they defeated in the Carabao Cup fourth round on Thursday night.
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Back in the summer of 2017, the Reds’ interest in Naby Keita was clear but negotiations dragged on and on. Eventually, Liverpool agreed to meet the £48m release clause in the Guinean’s RB Leipzig deal while paying an undisclosed premium on top.
The crucial aspect of the agreement was that Keita would not move to Anfield for another 12 months because his clause did not become active until 2018.
It later came to light that the full cost of the deal was around £52.75m after Leipzig qualified for the Europa League, rather than the Champions League, in the 2017-18 season.
Leipzig even turned down a bid of around £70m for Keita from Liverpool in the summer of 2018 however, accepting a lower offer in order to keep hold of his talents for another year.
While Lyon are more willing to sell Aouar than Leipzig were Keita and there is no such release clause in the Frenchman’s terms, Arsenal may simply struggle to put together a package that the Ligue 1 side will accept.
And so a compromise deal could come into play, particularly given Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus are also thought to be keen on Aouar and both have Champions League football to offer.
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French outlet L’Equipe say PSG are already weighing up a move that would see them guarantee to pay Lyon a specified price – perhaps the £55m they want with add-ons included – for Aouar next summer, to ensure they beat the competition for his signature.
If the threat of PSG’s interest in doing a deal this summer that will become active next year is real, Arsenal could perhaps push for a verbal agreement themselves.
Like PSG, they will hope to have greater financial freedom in 2021, when it is hoped the long-term financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be better understood.
For starters, Mesut Ozil’s £350,000-a-week wages will be off the books by then and Arsenal will also be optimistic of clinching Champions League football to give them a huge revenue boost.
Such a deal would also give them time to offload more players, freeing up more room on the wage bill and balancing the books after the £27m spend on Gabriel and £14m paid to sign Mari permanently.
Arsenal, ideally, need Aouar’s talents with immediate effect. He would add a lot to Arteta’s current side and significantly improve their chances of a top-four finish.
But if Arteta is as in love with the player as it is believed, maybe he’ll be willing to agree a deal that forces him to wait 12 another months to bring Aouar to north London – especially if it prevents PSG beating them to his signature.
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