Fernando Llorente’s time with Athletic Bilbao is quickly coming to an end, and Arsenal must make an offer for the striker in January.
The star striker has refused to sign an extension with his current club and has stated his intention to leave Basque Country. Per The Guardian, he said, “I am going to leave on 30 June. I want to develop as a player and try something new."
As Sky Sports notes, Bilbao manager Marcel Bielsa has firmly stated that Llorente will play out the remainder of his contract, saying, “Llorente is an important player in this club and we need his presence this season. The club have decided that he follows with us until June, and that is good for the squad.”
But there are several factors that could cause Bielsa to change his mind.
Llorente produced 17 goals last season, but due to his refusal to sign a long-term deal, Beilsa has used his primarily as a substitute this year. He has started just one of the eight La Liga matches in which he has appeared.
With just one goal and one assist in limited playing time, he has not made a valuable contribution to the club this year.
If the team opts to hang on to him until the summer, he will largely serve as a distraction and a lightning rod for criticism from the fanbase while providing little benefit for the club on the pitch.
In addition, Llorente will be able to leave Athletic on a free transfer if he plays out the remainder of his contract, and the club would miss out on what could be a lucrative sale.
If Llorente was a necessary component in avoiding relegation or securing a spot in European play next season, holding on to him for the remainder of the year would be a sensible move. That is not the case, though, and there is little sense in holding on to him.
Even if Athletic remains adamant that they will not sell the striker, Premier League clubs will be fighting to sign a pre-contract agreement with Llorente, and Arsenal must remain in this fight.
Arsene Wenger is always looking for value in the transfer market and few available players will offer more production for little or no fee. Getting Llorente’s goal-scoring talents on a free transfer would be akin to highway robbery, but even parting ways with a few million pounds in order to secure his signature early would be an incredible bargain.
The jury is still out on Olivier Giroud and Wenger will be looking to give more time up top to Theo Walcott. Llorente’s arrival would create a crowd at striker, but it would also give the Gunners a player heading in to what should be the most productive years of his career.
Llorente has experience in Spain and in Europe, as well as on the international level. He is a savvy and efficient goal-scorer, and would be a boost to any squad.
The opportunity to sign him cheaply or for free is far too attractive to pass up. Due to the massive amounts of interest he will garner from other Premiership clubs, the Gunners must actively pursue him in January in hopes of signing a pre-contract or convincing Athletic to sell him early.