Arsenal's pursuit of Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain has heated up in recent days. The latest reports indicate the Gunners are closing in on a club-record €30 million move for the Argentina international. If the report is true, the transfer would have far-reaching implications for the team—both on and off the pitch.
I'll address those implications in depth momentarily. First, though, let's examine the evolution of the rumors.
Higuain, 25, has been linked with Arsenal since at least May. Shortly after the end of the Premier League season, the Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson reported Arsenal's interest in a £19 million move, which would be a club record.
Italian champions Juventus then seemed to take the lead in chasing Higuain. The Daily Mirror's John Cross reported early this month that Real and Juve had held talks over the striker. Soon afterward, the Press Association reported (via The Guardian) that Real had told Juve to wait for the transfer until Real appoints a new manager to replace Jose Mourinho.
Now the momentum has apparently swung back to Arsenal. The Gunners are willing to pay Real €30 million—about £25 million—for Higuain, according to Marca. That figure is €8 million more than Juventus is reportedly willing to pay, and it would come in one lump sum.
The Guardian confirmed Friday that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is interested in the deal. David Hytner's report linked the potential transfer to a new approach for the club in the transfer market, one that would see the club compete for top players.
The London Evening Standard reported Monday that Juventus' attention has turned to Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, who has one year left on his contract and will thus cost less. By the Standard's reckoning, Arsenal is in "pole position" to sign Higuain.
So what would signing Higuain mean for Arsenal? Let's take a look point-by-point.
Signing Higuain would bring Arsenal a classy striker with experience in a top European domestic league as well as the Champions League. Higuain is also an experienced international with 20 goals in 32 senior caps for Argentina.
Higuain would compete with Olivier Giroud for the central role atop Wenger's 4-2-3-1 formation, and would probably emerge as Arsenal's first-choice striker. Giroud scored 11 goals in his first Premier League season (34 appearances, 24 starts) but despite being more than a year older is less polished than Higuain.
Here is what B/R's Daniel Edwards wrote of Higuain in a recent scouting profile:
Strong, fast and with a great eye for goal, there is no doubt that Pipita Higuain is one of the best natural centre forwards currently playing in world football. Some teething problems staying composed in front of goal have been solved, and a current return of nine goals in the World Cup qualifiers makes him South America's top scorer.
Higuain has developed his talent in Spain for more than half a decade, having signed with Real Madrid from River Plate as a 19-year-old in December 2006, per Bloomberg. After leaving his native Argentina, Higuain scored just 10 league goals in his first two seasons with Real Madrid. His breakthrough season was 2008-09, in which he scored 22 league goals with nine assists.
He followed up with 27 league goals in 2009-10 before injuries limited him to 10 goals in 17 league appearances the following season. He had 22 goals in 2011-12 and 16 last season in 28 appearances (19 starts).
As Rob Train writes at ESPN, Higuain's tenure at Real has seen him outlive some illustrious rivals—and coexist with powerful personalities.
In his time at Real, Higuain has seen off competition from the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Antonio Cassano and is the primary reason that the Bernabeu suits moved both Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo. Higuain has outlasted Raul, survived the systematic Perez cull of players signed during the unfortunately named Ramon Calderon era, and managed to stay on the right side of firebrand coaches Fabio Capello, Bernd Schuster and Mourinho himself.
Higuain's main competition lately has been French striker Karim Benzema. Both made 19 league starts this season, with Higuain outscoring Benzema 16 to 11. Benzema, however, had 11 assists to Higuain's five (stats via WhoScored here and here).
Despite the competition for playing time, Higuain has maintained a respectable strike rate. Over the course of his career with Real, he has proven himself as a top-class goalscorer. A year after the departure of Robin van Persie, that is something Arsenal still lack.
Making a statement, Part I
It is no sure bet that Higuain would sign with Arsenal. If Juventus really have shown interest as the papers suggest, that would mean he has a chance to play with the Italian champions. Arsenal, by contrast, have not won a trophy since 2005.
As Arseblog writes:
Those things do make a difference to players. We have the finances to make sure his mind isn’t made up by a huge disparity in wages, so it’s down to us to prove to him that London in the place to be and that we can be a truly competitive team. That’s the other part of signing players from a slightly different level. It’s one thing being able to afford them, it’s another thing to convince them to join.
That is not meant as a knock on Arsenal. It only means Arsenal and Wenger might have a tough task in convincing Higuain to sign with the club.
If they do, though, it could signal Arsenal's return to the status of a "buying club." After the departures of van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in recent years, Arsenal has developed a reputation as a feeder club for bigger-spending rivals.
Fans like to think that players like Nasri and van Persie left for the money, but in fairness, they have won trophies more recently than Arsenal. Signing Higuain would not only signal Arsenal's intent to challenge for trophies but also Arsenal's intent to bring in big-name, top-class players.
The next step would be keeping them.
Making a statement, Part II
It's one thing to convince top-class players to join the cause. It's another thing to have the money to pay them.
Wenger has a long history of identifying young talent and developing promising players into superstars, notably Thierry Henry and Fabregas. This summer, though, could be different. The French manager has £70 million available for transfer expenses, according to multiple sources, and the reports about Higuain indicate he is willing to spend a considerable chunk of it in one place.
Whether it's €30 million or some other price, Higuain's transfer fee is likely to be more than Arsenal's record of £15 million—the price paid for Andrey Arshavin in 2009. This should come as good news to supporters sick of seeing Arsenal being outbid for players.
According to a 2011 report from Sporting Intelligence, Arsenal had spent just under £48 million over the entire previous decade, ninth-most in the Premier League. That was almost £468 million less than the amount Chelsea spent over the same period. This year, talkSPORT reported that Arsenal had made £40 million in profit since moving to the new Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Breaking the club's transfer record would show that Wenger and Arsenal are willing to spend more heavily than in the past. In fact, most recent signs point to a dawning era of increased spending, which should, in turn, lead to renewed success. On the club's finances, the Telegraph writes: "New commercial deals from 2014 in the form of an extended shirt sponsorship arrangement with Emirates and a kit deal with Puma should add around £45 million to the club’s annual revenues."
Arsenal's days of being known as a frugal club could be numbered, and for fans that could be the best development of the summer.
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