Arsene Wenger comes face to face with the man he reportedly tried to sign when Arsenal fight Napoli for a Champions League playoff spot on Wednesday.
Gonzalo Higuain could wreck Wenger’s dreams if Napoli inflict a heavy defeat on the Gunners, yet it was strongly reported during the summer transfer window that Arsenal wanted to sign the striker.
Wenger eventually captured Mesut Ozil for £42.5 million, but he appeared to be caught off guard when asked if Arsenal would have bought both players, had Higuain not chosen Napoli. John Cross of the Daily Mirror provides Wenger’s reply:
That is a question that is very difficult to answer the day before the game. Am I happy with the player I got in Ozil? Very much.
We have our usual game, we try to take the ball, take control of the ball, try to play our game for Higuain, I think he is a player you have to keep quiet ...
There was a lot of statements that were not true about Higuain, he has joined (Rafa) Benitez. He is in good hands and shows he is a great striker. We have (Olivier) Giroud who shows as well that he is a great striker.
Wenger: "Higuain joined Rafa Benitez and has shown he is a great player. But @_OlivierGiroud_ has also shown he is a great striker."— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 10, 2013
The insinuation of the question was that, had Arsenal signed Higuain, there must have been a chance they would have missed out on Ozil.
Who is the better striker?
Wenger is not known for heavy spending. His £42.5 million outlay on Ozil smashed his previous high of around £15 million for Andrey Arshavin.
The Gunners’ pursuit of Higuain was heavily reported in the month of July, per Mike Dawes of the Daily Mail among many others. ESPN FC reported the fee eventually paid by Napoli to be in the region of £34.5 million.
Confirmation of the Ozil deal did not arrive until early September, per David Ornstein of BBC Sport, so Arsenal would have had to spend over £75 million on two players had they succeeded in their pursuit of Higuain.
Wenger’s coy response could be driven by several factors. Napoli vs. Arsenal is a huge game, so transfer talk is arguably the last thing on his mind. Furthermore, he will not want to draw attention to Napoli’s most dangerous player prior to the game.
However, another reason might just be that Wenger knows there is a chance he would not have signed Ozil, had he snared Higuain. That would mean his stunning transfer success came laced with a degree of fortune.
None of that will matter if Arsenal emerge from this year’s Champions League group of death, and Wenger insists Wednesday’s game in Naples is more important than either of their upcoming Premier League clashes with Manchester City or Chelsea.
Asked if all three games were defining moments in Arsenal’s season, per Cross’ article, Wenger replied:
This game certainly. It is to be in Champions League or not.
The other two games, not definitely, we are five points ahead. The championship is a marathon.
We will be in race no matter what happens, it will show our strengths hopefully. Tomorrow is a decider, that is for sure.
Arsenal in Naples: 3 big games before Christmas, one wise man. Wenger confident his team will show their 'strengths' http://t.co/cuY4FZP77d— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) December 10, 2013
Arsenal’s task in Italy is relatively straightforward. If they avoid defeat, they’re into the last 16 of the competition.
If they lose, things become complicated. Dortmund are expected to beat Marseille, so wins for Dortmund and Napoli would see three teams finish on equal points.
In that scenario, Dortmund would qualify, while Napoli would need to beat Arsenal by a three-goal margin to dump the Gunners out.
Higuain and Ozil are likely to be key factors in determining which of those scenarios takes place.