The January transfer window will open on New Year’s Day. That will inevitably lead to Arsenal fans urging the club to add immediate reinforcements to the squad.
However, January is also a time for forward planning; at that point, the Gunners will be able to enter negotiations to sign foreign-based players on free transfers.
That would be a particularly smart strategy for Arsenal. With Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil both able to walk away without the Gunners receiving a fee unless the players agree new deals, Arsene Wenger needs to consider ways to augment his squad without spending too much.
Arsenal have already appointed Sven Mislintat to improve their recruitment team, which suggests they are aware they are entering an important period of squad building. As soon as Mislintat has his feet under the desk, he will be scouring the list of players whose deals expire in 2018 for potential signings.
Last summer’s Bosman acquisition, Sead Kolasinac, already looks like a shrewd move. In this piece, we take a look at four players Arsenal could bring to the club for nothing in the summer of 2018.
German midfielder Leon Goretzka is already being talked about as a prospective Arsenal signing. Earlier in December, Daniel Cutts of The Sun reported that the Gunners are set to beat a number of top European club to the player’s signature:
“Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is closing in on a free transfer for Schalke star Leon Goretzka.
“The German midfielder is out-of-contract next summer, and wants to leave for a new challenge.
“A number of Europe’s top clubs have looked at snapping the 22-year-old up, including Manchester United and City.
“But the Gunners are confident they have won the race for his signature, in a major coup for Wenger’s men.“
Goretzka plays for Schalke 04—the same club Kolasinac left last summer. They seem to have as much trouble keeping their stars as the Gunners do.
Central midfield isy an area where Arsenal could do with reinforcements. Their first-choice partnership is Aaron Ramsey alongside Granit Xhaka, although there are doubts over whether the Switzerland international is of the requisite calibre to be at the hub of a successful Arsenal side.
There also isn’t much competition for places. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny have been exposed as little more than squad players, while Jack Wilshere’s fragility means he is unlikely to hold down a first-team place. As for Santi Cazorla, there must now be doubts over whether the Spaniard will play again after his latest injury setback.
Goretzka would be a terrific addition to Wenger’s options. He is a box-to-box midfielder, with his remarkable stamina enabling him to be effective at both ends of the pitch.
It’s his exploits going forward that he has become best known for. He has a knack of arriving into the box at the perfect time to meet cutbacks from wide areas. Combine that with an impressive long-range shooting ability, and Goretzka offers a real goal threat.
There is bound to be plenty of competition for someone as gifted as Goretzka. The player himself has indicated that January will be when his future is decided. Speaking to reporters recently, he said: “I have to find out for myself what the next step should be. I have to consider a million things. I am a person who is very meticulous in such decisions. I play through all the scenarios. So I need time. There doesn’t exist a deadline, but I think we are in the final phase. The final decision will be made in January.”
It’s quite rare that the opportunity arises to sign a player who could immediately strengthen your first XI for no transfer fee. Goretzka’s potential availability is one such opportunity, and Arsenal simply have to make him a big offer in January.
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By the end of this season, Petr Cech will be 36. It’s essential Arsenal start looking for a long-term replacement for the veteran shot-stopper.
That’s not likely to be David Ospina. The Colombian’s contract expires at the end of this season, and he’s likely to take the opportunity to seek first-team football elsewhere. If Wenger were serious about anointing Ospina as Cech’s successor, he might well have given him more chances to test himself in the Premier League.
Wenger has never put too much emphasis on the goalkeeping position, muddling through with the likes of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski for longer than was appropriate. He can’t afford to make a similar mistake again—Arsenal must move for a top young goalkeeper to ensure they are not too reliant on an ageing Cech.
Kepa Arrizabalaga would fit the bill. The 23-year-old is still a relative novice but is already being talked about as the next great Spanish goalkeeper.
He has been a regular for Spain’s under-21s, and it’s surely just a matter of time until he is challenging David De Gea for a place in the senior side.
To put his progress in some perspective, while he is the same age as Arsenal prospect Matt Macey, he is already playing regularly in La Liga for Athletic Bilbao. Macey, meanwhile, has only made one start for the Gunners.
The biggest issue here is going to be competition. Having been foiled in their moves to sign De Gea, Real Madrid are reportedly hot on Kepa’s case. According to Marca, the Spanish champions are prepared to pay the £17 million needed to buy out Kepa’s contract in January (h/t Will Griffee of MailOnline).
Arsenal might not be in such a hurry and are likely to concentrate on persuading the youngster to sign a pre-contract to move in the summer. Interestingly, because Kepa is under 24, he would not arrive at Arsenal or Real for nothing. His fee would be set by a tribunal, but the likelihood is he would still prove to be far cheaper than he would be on the open market.
Arsenal have made a bit of a mess of Cech’s succession, allowing Wojciech Szczesny to leave despite Juventus deeming him good enough to replace Gianluigi Buffon. This is a chance for the Gunners to redeem themselves and land one of Europe’s brightest prospects.
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Arsenal were first linked with Brazilian forward Bernard back in July 2013—and the Evening Standard even described them as being “on the verge” of finalising a deal for the then-Athletico Mineiro man:
“Arsenal are on the verge of finally making their first major signing of the summer as they close in on a club record deal for Brazil international Bernard.
“Tottenham, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto have also been keen to buy the Atletico Mineiro but Arsenal are in advanced negotiations with Atletico Mineiro over a £21million switch.
“Sources in France suggest Bernard has agreed a five-year contract worth £50,000-a-week after tax and will be in London on Friday for a medical.“
However, it wasn’t to be. The deal stalled, and Bernard ended up joining Shakhtar Donetsk. He has enjoyed a relatively successful spell there, winning two Ukrainian Premier League titles, two Ukrainian Cups and two Super Cups. He’s also been able to regularly experience UEFA Champions League football.
Bernard is seemingly preparing to test himself in another country. His contract is winding down, and the man with 14 Brazil caps to his name could be looking for a new challenge.
It’s relatively clear where he would fit into the Arsenal squad; with Ozil and Sanchez potentially off, Wenger will need players capable of operating behind the striker. Bernard has not proved to be a reliable goalscorer, but he is an impressive creator. With that in mind, he would be a more obvious replacement for the German.
The big question is whether he has the physical power to cope with Premier League football. Bernard is short of stature and slight of build, and there’s every chance he could struggle to acclimatise to English football. However, given there would be no transfer fee needed to secure his services, it might be a gamble worth taking.
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In recent years, Arsenal have made a habit of signing players from the Bundesliga. The likes of Xhaka and Kolasinac are likely to be followed by more additions from Germany—especially with Mislintat about to join the club.
One potential target is Mark Uth. He’s hardly a household name in England, but that hasn’t prevented Wenger from taking a punt on players in the past.
With Olivier Giroud finding first-team football increasingly difficult to come by, it’s possible he will agitate for a move this summer, if not before. If he has ambitions of preserving his place in the France team, he may well have to leave Arsenal.
That could leave the Gunners needing a striker to back up Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck. They have young prospects with potential, like teenager Eddie Nketiah, but Wenger may consider it too soon to promote such a young player to the first-team squad.
If Arsenal need a forward to help fill out their squad, Uth could be an option. It’s difficult to envisage him being signed as a starter, but he would be a decent rotation option on a free transfer.
Like Giroud, Uth is something of a late developer. After failing to make the breakthrough at Cologne, he was allowed to join Dutch side Heerenveen. After a loan spell with Heracles, he fought his way into the Heerenveen first team, enjoying a strong 2014/15 campaign.
That prompted Hoffenheim to bring him back to Germany. He has gone on to establish himself as a regular starter and an effective goalscorer. While he is capable of playing from the right flank, he is generally at his best when deployed as a striker.
Uth is 26 and reaching his prime. He is tall at 6’1″ and seems to have the natural athleticism to cope with the Premier League. His best asset is probably his movement—he is quick enough to escape defenders and make the most of his composed left-footed finishing.
He has scored 10 goals in 21 appearances across all competitions in 2017/18. It’s a creditable record, especially as seven of those goals have come in the Bundesliga.
If reports in Kicker are to be believed (h/t TalkSport), Tottenham Hotspur are already eyeing a move for Uth at the end of the season. Mislintat might well suggest Wenger adds him to his own shopping list—it’s not often such a prolific attacker is available on a free.
All contract info via Transfermarkt.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base. You can follow him on Twitter here.