Arsenal Transfer News: Gunners Rumoured to be Scouting Matthijs de Ligt

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2018

Manchester's Marcus Rashford, right, holds Ajax's Matthijs de Ligt during the soccer Europa League final between Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester United at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Michael Sohn/Associated Press

Arsenal are rumoured to have been watching Ajax centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, with scouts said to have been in attendance to watch the 18-year-old play for the Netherlands recently.

The Sunday People's Neil Moxley reported the Gunners were interested observers when De Ligt featured for his country in a 1-0 defeat against England in Amsterdam in March (h/t the Sunday Mirror).

However, Moxley also sounded a note of caution about Arsenal's chances of signing one of the brightest prospects at Ajax: "Within the corridors of power at Arsenal, there is already a feeling his market value may now stretch beyond what they are willing to pay."

Even so, Moxley did say acquiring youthful reinforcements for the heart of defence is a priority for the Gunners, with head of recruitment Sven Mislintat keen on Bayer Leverkusen's 19-year-old Panagiotis Retsos.

Arsenal reportedly watched De Ligt on international duty against England.
Arsenal reportedly watched De Ligt on international duty against England.Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Arsenal's desire to get younger and better at the back makes sense since this season has been undermined by mistakes and deteriorating skills among senior defenders.

The 32-year-old centre-back Laurent Koscielny has struggled to shake off nagging Achilles problems. The France international's form hasn't been helped by Per Mertesacker's rare appearances in the starting XI, with the 33-year-old set to retire and help run Arsenal's academy in the summer.

Shkodran Mustafi has tried to take Mertesacker's place, but the 25-year-old Germany international is prone to errors. It doesn't help manager Arsene Wenger has been reluctant to trust Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, who are respectively 23 and 22.

Signing De Ligt would give the Gunners a burgeoning star to try to refine into the linchpin at the back the squad has missed for too long. De Ligt has all the qualities needed to be a defensive talisman, including excellent recovery pace, solid aerial power and quality technique on the ball.

Koscielny has looked vulnerable at the heart of a shaky defence.
Koscielny has looked vulnerable at the heart of a shaky defence.Frank Augstein/Associated Press/Associated Press

Back in January, Adam Bate of Sky Sports also noted two other enticing attributes of the defender's developing game: "Tactically, his positional sense is improving. Mentally, his attitude is widely praised."

Arsenal's suspect back four, breached 41 times in 30 Premier League games this term, could use a dynamic, well-rounded centre-back. De Ligt would make sense as a natural successor for Koscielny, while his comfort in possession would suit the stylish brand of football Wenger favours.

Yet as much as De Ligt makes sense as a target, signing him would be far from easy.

La Liga giants Barcelona are also keen, with Ben Rebuck of the Daily Mirror reporting Blaugrana officials have watched the player at both club and international level recently.

De Ligt has also reportedly drawn admiring glances from the Camp Nou.
De Ligt has also reportedly drawn admiring glances from the Camp Nou.Michael Sohn/Associated Press

The Gunners won't be able to compete with Barca financially, particularly if they are unable to offer the lure of UEFA Champions League football. Only winning the UEFA Europa League would put Arsenal back in Europe's premier club tournament next season, with the club 13 points short of fourth place with eight league games remaining.

Either way, Wenger and Mislintat have to make bolstering a soft central defence the main focus of their transfer policy this summer.

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