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Arsenal are reportedly one of five clubs showing interest in Toulouse defender Issa Diop. The Gunners are keen, along with Premier League rivals Liverpool, La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid and Serie A side Inter Milan, per Mundo Deportivo (h/t Calciomercato).
Diop is valued at €20 million, according to Calciomercato, who also noted how the 21-year-old is under contract at Toulouse until 2020.
Even though the queue of suitors is growing, Arsenal would be wise to try and forge ahead in the race for Diop. The Gunners need defensive reinforcements ahead of next season, particularly younger, more athletic options at the back.
A lack of pace and strength has undermined the Arsenal back line several times. It hasn’t mattered whether manager Arsene Wenger has played three at the back or opted for four.
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Wenger’s Gunners have conceded 36 goals in England’s top flight, the most of any team in the division’s top six. An ageing group of defenders has struggled to steady the ship.
Centre-back Laurent Koscielny is now 32 and continues to deal with Achilles injuries. Meanwhile, fellow central defender Per Mertesacker is 33 and set to retire at the end of the season.
Wenger has played Nacho Monreal in the middle, but the natural left-back is 31, and his lack of pace is exposed more often in central areas.
Arsenal haven’t been helped by Shkodran Mustafi continuing to be accident-prone, while 22-year-old Rob Holding and Calum Chambers, 23, have struggled to convince their manager.
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The Gunners need an overhaul at the back, and Diop has the pace, height and strength to get the process started. He has already proved his leadership skills by assuming the club captaincy at Toulouse.
Wenger built much of his reputation on being able to spot young talent in France. While the trend has faded in recent years, using his influence to help sign Diop ahead of the rest would rate as a major coup for the 68-year-old.
Diop isn’t the only player on Wenger’s radar, though. The Arsenal boss reportedly also wants to bring midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup back to the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have offered the Besiktas star a lucrative contract to return to north London on a free transfer this summer, according to Turkish source Aksam (h/t Charles Watts of Football.London).
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The report from Aksam revealed Ozyakup is “seriously considering” working with Wenger again after having his head turned by the offer, per Watts.
Landing Ozyakup on a free transfer would represent a terrific deal for the Gunners. Wenger knows the player well, having brought him through the youth ranks before he left Arsenal for Turkey in 2012.
Ozyakup is a midfielder with the technique and vision to integrate seamlessly into the Arsenal starting XI. His ability to play as a No. 10 or operate deeper would be useful for a squad short of options in midfield.
Wenger has sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Francis Coquelin since last season, leaving him with Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. The latter pair have struggled with injuries, while Xhaka and Elneny haven’t taken to more defensive roles.
What Arsenal have missed most is a deep-lying playmaker while Santi Cazorla remains out with an ankle problem. Ozyakup is intelligent and efficient enough to take on this vital role.
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He has repeatedly been linked with his former club, with the Gunners rumoured to be ready waive a sell-on clause to make a deal happen, according to a report from Aksam (h/t TalkSport) back in December.
A chance to sign Ozyakup without paying a transfer fee would surely be too good to pass up for Wenger.
The Frenchman needs to retool his squad in several areas ahead of next season, which could be his last in charge before his contract expires in 2019.
Adding solid young players like Diop and Ozyakup would be a smart way for Wenger to engineer a quiet but necessary rebuild.