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Does Wilfred Zaha make sense for Arsenal?

Monday 8th July 2019
Wilfred Zaha is heavily linked to Arsenal.
Wilfred Zaha is heavily linked to Arsenal.

Not that they aren't accustomed to it, but people mocked Arsenal's initial offer for Wilfred Zaha. Crystal Palace rebuffed the opening £40 million bid. The Selhurst Park outfit value the player at twice that, minimum. In all honesty, however, this wouldn't be an issue if Unai Emery looked elsewhere. Zaha isn't the right fit for the Gunners.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League leaves the Spaniard with a much smaller transfer budget than he would have liked. Unless current players on the books are sold, reports claim there will only be around £40m to spend.

That's nearly half the £75 million the former Paris Saint-Germain boss was provided in his first season. The club also sent Arsene Wenger out in style, spending £104 million in the Frenchman's final summer window.

Rash, impulsive purchases aren't the issue. Both managers boast a reputation for shrewd buys in the transfer market. Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were bought last summer. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Denis Suarez arrived on free transfers. In Le Professeur's final windows, Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived.

If both men were sage judges of talent, you might wonder why I said Zaha isn't a fit for Arsenal. It isn't the player. The winger developed into a consistent performer in the Premier League at Palace. In the past four seasons, the 26-year-old single-handedly carried the Eagles on his wings. He improves every campaign. His first season wasn't much to shout about. Two goals represented 6% of the club's output. That increased to seven goals out of 44 (16 per cent) in 2016/17, then nine from 36 in '17/18. His ten goals last term accounted for 29% of the team's offence. Excluding penalties, nobody struck more times for the club. Goal aside, he was also instrumental in Palace's all-round attacking play. Zaha possesses the skills, power and dribbling ability to unlock defences.  His quick feet mean defenders must be wary of diving into tackles. 

While he would be a splendid addition at the Emirates, the deal makes no sense given Arsenal's apparent budget. Other positions require strengthening as well. Nacho Monreal is 33. Another left-back is needed to cover Kolasinac. On the far side of the pitch, Stephan Lichsteiner is 35, Hector Bellerin is coming off a serious knee injury and Ainsley Maitland-Niles isn't a natural right-back. There remain questions whether Konstantinos Mavrapanos and Rob Holding [also recovering from a serious knock] are ready to step in for the ageing Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis and the inconsistent Shkodran Mustafi.In goal, Bernd Leno needs a reliable backup with David Ospina leaving the club and Petr Cech retiring. In midfield, Aaron Ramsey is gone and Mesut Ozil might not be far behind. Is Denis Suarez going to step into the role? He barely played last season despite Ramsey's injury and Emery's lack of confidence in Ozil. How can Arsenal blow their entire wad on another scorer when that is their strongest area?

Zaha can ghost past rearguards then lay off for a teammate or bury the ball himself. The 26-year-old topped the charts for the most dribbles, ahead of ex-Chelsea winger Eden Hazard. Of players who started 20 or more league matches for Palace, nobody averaged more dribbles per 90 minutes or made more progressive runs [taking the ball forward 10 or more yards] per 90 minutes. The Ivorian international's numbers thrust him up there with the very best. The problem is the club already have a Golden Boot winner in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the Gabonese is partnered by Lacazette who contributed 19 goals across all competitions. 

The move would ultimately benefit Zaha, a known Arsenal fan. The 26-year-old is not the glamour kind of arrival many faithful expect, especially with Manchester City and Tottenham making strong statements in the marketplace. Spurs already captured Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon. The highly-rated midfielder with Champions League experience joined the Lilywhites for £63 million, a bargain compared to Palace's asking price for Zaha. City spent roughly the same amount on Atletico Madrid d-mid Rodri to be Fernandino's understudy.

Zaha and Palace is a case of a big fish in a small pond but he could be swallowed by bigger fishes at Arsenal. Throughout last season, Emery didn't quite conjure a perfect system to accommodate Lacazette and Aubameyang despite their success. Ozil isn't a solution he's willing to adopt. Chucking Zaha into the mix only complicates the problem.

Given playing time, the Palace winger ought to improve again next season. Regardless, Arsenal coughing up close anything near £80 million for a supplementary scorer whose best return is 10 goals and five assists is absurd when there are serious holes in the defence that need filling. 

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Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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