Arsenal are ready to bolster injury-hit midfield ranks with up to as many as two signings this January. The Gunners are reportedly interested in Barcelona youngster Sergi Samper, a player the Catalan club is willing to sell for the right price.
Fortunately for Gunners chief Arsene Wenger, the promising La Masia academy graduate is available. At least that's the word from Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo (h/t Daily Express writer Joe Short).
Those reports even set the price a little lower: "Barcelona are willing to sell youngster Sergi Samper to Arsenal - but only for £4.4million."
Short noted how Mundo Deportivo insists there will be no negotiation over the price. The paper also claims Wenger will make room for Samper even if he signs other players this January.
A lack of game time with Barca could push Samper toward north London. So could his connection to a current Arsenal first-team star:
The 20-year-old travelled with Barcelona's first-team squad to Japan for the Club World Cup this month and earned a nine-minute run-out against Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande in the semi-final.
He is a close friend of Gunners full-back Hector Bellerin, who joined the north London club after progressing through the Barca academy.
Samper fits the mould of midfielder Wenger has often targeted in recent years. He's a playmaker who thrives based on technique and vision.
As a pass-master, he would suit the Gunners' progressive, possession-based style of play. But fans should never expect Samper to add some imposing physicality in the middle of the park.
The links between Arsenal and Samper have been strong. Back in early October, the Guardian's John Ashdown suggested Wenger was ready to bid £8.5 million for the player.
Around the same time, writing in Metro, Jason Pettigrove stated how a move away from the Camp Nou will be best for a prospect who has been kept waiting for his chance:
Indeed, whenever the midfielder has been called upon, which hasn’t been often, he’s never let anyone down. So the reluctance to give him his big break is a mystery.
Unfortunately for the Catalans it’s one that’s only going to be solved by a move away. Another starlet allowed to flee the nest because they don’t fit into Barca’s new template. The need for immediate success and gratification.
Pettigrove also identified Arsenal as the best fit for the young schemer.
Wenger's interest in Samper makes sense not just because of the player's style. Injuries to Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere have stretched the Gunners midfield to breaking point.
Signing Samper would cast major questions over Wilshere's future. The 23-year-old ultra-brittle playmaker is apparently set for a wage increase and contract extension, according to Football Insider writer Wayne Veysey. But his consistent rash of injuries has to add some doubt to the idea of investing in Wilshere long term.
Landing a player of similar age and style could be a clear indicator Wenger is ready to finally move on from a gifted yet unfortunate player who just can't get on the pitch.
The Arsenal gaffer will also know Cazorla, Arteta, Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini are all the wrong side of 30. John Cross of the Daily Mirror has suggested how the latter trio are all out of contract this summer and likely to move on.
Those issues already have Wenger ready to sign a midfielder.
Mohamed Elneny Having Medical
The Gunners could be boosted by a new midfielder by the time they play their next Premier League game, at home to Newcastle United on January 2. In another report for the Mirror, Cross has stated FC Basel star Mohamed Elneny will have a medical before completing a £5 million switch to Arsenal.
Cross has also revealed the terms of Elneny's potential contract, as well as the other details that may hold up the deal: "Elneny, 23, must pass the medical, having already agreed personal terms on a contract worth around £60,000-a-week and will also need to wait on a work permit."
The work permit needn't be a sticking point for the Egyptian international. Cross expects the award of a permit to be a mere "formality."
But another report offers slightly different details. MailOnline's Simon Jones has reported Elneny will indeed undergo a medical in Paris on Tuesday. But Jones puts the fee at £7.4 million and suggests the player with 36 international caps will sign a deal for four-and-a-half years.
Significantly, both Jones and Cross state Elneny will be Arsenal's only signing this winter. That would not only scupper any hopes of a deal involving Samper. It would also raise questions about the strength in depth of Wenger's title-chasing squad, a group beset by injuries that could also use another striker.
At least Elneny can help ease the strain in the middle, though. Sky Sports' Nick Wright praised the energy and versatility of the "deep-lying central midfielder" who stands 5'11". He also highlighted the player's "impressive range of passing," something that no doubt appealed to a football purist like Wenger.
Signing Elneny early would be a smart and decisive move from Wenger to help solve an injury crisis that could yet cripple his club's bid to win this season's Premier League title. But leaving Elneny as the only signing this winter could be a foolhardy gamble to take.
Another midfield man wouldn't hurt, while adding a new striker would also make a lot of sense.
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