By Drew Farmer
The 2017-18 Premier League season has just concluded and Arsenal have already turned their attention to the transfer market. The Gunners may not have a new manager in place, but the club is lining up potential players for the new boss.
Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly is a top Arsenal’s transfer wish list. The Senegalese international is being linked with a £53 million transfer to the Emirates. If Koulibaly signs, it will be a coup for whichever manager joins the club. Leading sportsbooks, including online-betting.org, has placed Mikel Arteta as the favourite to get the job. Koulibaly could be his first signing.
Koulibaly joined Napoli in the summer of 2014 from Belgium’s Genk for a fee of £6.98m. In his four years in Serie A, Koulibaly has developed into a complete player capable of playing the ball out from the back with his feet or out muscling forwards. The centre-back has also become a potent set-piece threat. Koulibaly tallied five goals for Napoli in Serie A. The club will finish in second place this season as Serie A has one more week to run.
The defender is also extremely durable and played in 34 of Napoli’s 37 matches thus far in 2017-18. Mustafi led Arsenal’s centre-backs in Premier League appearance this term with 27. His defensive partner Koscielny appeared in 25 games. Koulibaly’s addition could give the Gunners’ more dependability, especially as the club go into a new era.
Per Mertesacker, so often maligned by pundits since he arrived at the Emirates, has officially retired. Just 33, Mertesacker has taken the manager position at Arsenal’s academy. The need for fresh central defenders is now Arsenal’s most urgent position to fill.
In four years at the Stadio San Paolo, Koulibaly missed just five matches due to injury. December 2016 was the last time he suffered an injury and within days he was back in the Napoli starting XI.
Arsenal’s need for defensive reinforcements isn’t simply down to Mustafi and Koscielny missing a combined 24 Premier League matches. The Gunners conceded 51 goals, which set a mark for the most the club had allowed since 1983-84. Napoli’s defence with Koulibaly at the centre has given up just 28 goals, second to Serie A champions Juventus.
Koulibaly isn’t the only defender on Arsenal’s radar. The club is also looking into the signing of Jonny Evans. The former Manchester United defender was relegated with West Brom Albion this term, and the Baggies will be desperate to get his wages off the books. Evans is West Brom’s highest earner on a permanent contract. The defender’s salary is worth £65,000-per-week. It looks like Arsenal could sign him for a mere £3m, which is a small price compared to Koulibaly’s proposed transfer fee.
There could be a stumbling block for Arsenal in their attempt to sign Koulibaly. The Gunners will play in the Europa League next term while Napoli are guaranteed Champions League football. The Naples club will finish second in Serie A this term regardless of their final day result. Going into the last day of the season, Napoli will be four points behind Juventus, and could finish the term just one point outside of first place depending on results. It is the closest the club has been to a Scudetto in some time. Will Koulibaly trade Champions League football for the Emirates and a shot at a league title next term? Those are the questions Gunners’ supporters must ask themselves.