Arsenal are reportedly favourites to sign West Ham United forward Dimitri Payet during the January transfer window. The Gunners are being tipped to make a move for the attacker, who is said to be unhappy with life with the Hammers.
A report from the Daily Express (h/t Dan Zeqiri of the Daily Telegraph) credited Arsenal as leading the way in any race to secure a deal for Payet this winter.
Zeqiri also highlighted why the Frenchman would be a useful fit for the Gunners: "Left wing is a position Arsenal could do with an upgrade in; Alex Iwobi is a precocious talent but is still developing, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is more comfortable on the right or centrally. Payet's set-piece delivery would also give Arsenal a fresh dimension."
Zeqiri is right to point out Arsenal's issues on the left. It's been a problem position all season, with manager Arsene Wenger trying a host of players there.
Wenger's problem is he can't find a player who combines creativity with goals, pace and natural width. It's why Payet makes so much sense as a transfer target.
The 29-year-old is a classy creator of goals, one who can light up any match with a moment of inspiration or a signature piece of flair. In many ways, Payet is the archetypal Wenger player.
The Gunners boss loves attackers whose games are defined by technical excellence. No wonder Payet sounds so keen to play for Arsenal.
The West Ham man recently talked up the idea during an interview with French broadcaster RMC (h/t James Dale of Sky Sports):
I read that Wenger considers me the missing piece of the Arsenal's game, but he's never told me that!
We conceded five or six at home against them. When you see them playing, as a technical player, you could only have fun in that team. They're candidates for the title every year.
Payet even made clear his desire to play in the UEFA Champions League—a competition the Gunners haven't missed in 19 years—in the same interview: "I miss the Champions League... I've got some great years ahead of me and I want to enjoy them by playing in important competitions."
Payet should also love the fact Wenger has never been afraid to wedge more than one No. 10 into his starting XI. It's a willingness that would surely make the player's transition to Arsenal easier, should the Gunners sign him.
After all, Wenger is hardly short of creative players even without Payet. Schemers such as Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Iwobi all embody the qualities the Frenchman wants in the final third. They are qualities similar to Payet's best attributes.
Payet usually operates on the left for West Ham, but he can damage defences from anywhere. His inward drifting might put him in the same areas Ozil usually occupies.
Of course, signing Payet would be a great way for Arsenal to prepare for Ozil's exit. The German playmaker's contract is set to expire in a year, and he's yet to sign fresh terms.
There's also the not-so-small matter of convincing West Ham to sell. Hammers manager Slaven Bilic has already indicated Payet won't be allowed to leave in January, per Paul MacInnes of the Guardian.
Yet Payet would be worth making the effort for considering this Arsenal squad has an obvious deficiency on the left in attack. Wenger has previously indicated he won't spend in January thanks to his options up front, also including Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez, per the Daily Mirror's Thomas Bristow.
However, the Gunners boss should strongly reconsider his position and begin working on a deal to bring one of the Premier League's most dynamic creators to north London.
Payet would add extra verve and style to an attack looking off the boil recently. He could prove decisive in getting Arsenal's title bid back on track.
Crystal Palace Want Kieran Gibbs
Wenger may be unsure about adding players in January, but he could be willing to let one or two go. One Arsenal man already attracting interest is left-back Kieran Gibbs.
The 27-year-old is wanted by Premier League rivals Crystal Palace, according to Mike McGrath of The Sun. The report names Gibbs as the player new Palace manager Sam Allardyce wants to make as his first signing.
McGrath also noted how Gibbs has just 18 months left on his current contract. It's something Wenger could use as a factor to move the player on: "Wenger is set to weigh up whether he needs Gibbs for a title challenge as the England full-back is behind Nacho Monreal in the pecking order."
Gibbs lost his starting place to Monreal shortly after the Spaniard joined the Gunners in 2013. The former Malaga man lacks his English team-mate's pace and threat in the final third, but he's more adept as a defender. The Spain international is also the more durable option.
Gibbs has a lengthy history of injury woes, even picking up a knock during Arsenal's 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, according to Wenger, per McGrath: “It’s a kick. I don’t know how bad it is, but it’s a kick on the knee.”
The injuries are a shame because Gibbs boasts the dynamism going forward that Wenger has traditionally encouraged in his full-backs, particularly those who play on the left. Sylvinho, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy were all useful attacking outlets from the full-back position.
Gibbs has the natural talent to be the same, at least when he's fit. He's provided two assists in his limited appearances this season, according to WhoScored.com.
However, Gibbs' future has been in doubt for a while. Back in the summer he was linked to the exit, with Jeremy Wilson of the Daily Telegraph revealing the Gunners were ready to listen to offers for the defender.
Although Gibbs may not be at Arsenal beyond this season, he can still play a valuable role before then. Having two starting-quality left-backs can only help the Gunners' title challenge.
Wenger can boost that challenge even further by landing Payet to solve the ongoing problems on the left of Arsenal's front three.