With the January transfer window fast approaching and injury problems beginning to mount, Arsenal have once again been linked with a move for Ousmane Dembele.
Following the injury which effectively ended Danny Welbeck’s season, an attacking void has opened in the depths of Arsenal’s attacking ranks, and Barcelona star Dembele remains hot on the lips of many as the dream solution.
An injury-ravaged debut season last term saw Dembele’s adjustment to his new surroundings at Barcelona delayed, whilst his struggles to integrate with his new side’s style and structure (despite regular goals and attacking contributions) have called his future into question.
The forward was left out of Barcelona’s squad for their clash with Real Betis last month, amid reports that Dembele failed to inform the club that he would miss training ahead of the match.
It was also said that the Frenchman regularly shows up late for training with the Catalan giants. At such a young age, the highly rated forward appears to be at something of a crossroads with his club.
Enter Arsenal. The Gunners have long been linked with the pacey attacker, dating back to his days with Ligue 1 side Stade Rennes. Now with Sven Mislintat at the helm of the Gunners’ recruitment process, links with a move for Dembele have only grown stronger.
Mislintat was credited as responsible for bringing Dembele to Borussia Dortmund during the talent spotter’s time with the Bundesliga club in 2016.
Since arriving at the Emirates in 2017, the German has already been behind the Gunners’ moves to bring Dortmund stars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos to north London. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, formerly of the Bundesliga side, has also been recruited from Manchester United.
Mislintat is clearly not averse to re-signing his former recruits for his new club, and recently spoke of Dembele as a ‘special’ player in an interview with the German press.
What’s more, Dembele is known to maintain a strong friendship with former Dortmund teammate Aubameyang, who the Frenchman would line up alongside in attack once more, should he join Arsenal.
All the pointers are seemingly towards a highly feasible and profitable move for Dembele from the Gunners. With Welbeck injured, the striking ranks at the Emirates are somewhat depleted, with little beyond Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as senior forwards.
Further, Unai Emery’s side often lack the kind of natural pace and width on the wings which Dembele offers in abundance, with Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan primarily tasked with adjusting to the demands of wide play without being naturally suited as wingers.
We’re having a good week even if it’s being tough because of the injuries -you’ll get well soon and stronger Rob!-, but now let’s keep going forward and focused on @htafcdotcom to make it a great week end. Together we are stronger... @Arsenal ! pic.twitter.com/I5fbjhEFlD— Unai Emery (@UnaiEmery_) December 7, 2018
Though Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin offer good width as wing backs, there is generally a sense that Arsenal lack the kind of natural winger who is capable of driving at defences and unlocking the more resolute rear-guards with sheer pace and power.
Dembele seems to tick all the boxes in many regards for the Gunners, though on closer analysis, there would also be a number of drawbacks to such an investment on Arsenal’s part.
With the Frenchman’s disciplinary issues well documented, Dembele has the potential to act as the kind of divisive and troublesome figure in the dressing room which Arsenal have rid themselves of since Alexis Sanchez’s departure.
Unai Emery has built a visibly strong team chemistry and squad cohesion which has often been housed under the term ‘together’ by both the coach and his players on many occasions this term.
There is a sense of unity and collective strength within the Gunners ranks that has not been seen for some time at the club. At present, the harmony even extends to Arsenal’s previously divided fanbase.
The addition of a big name signing of Dembele’s ilk can often be a double-edged sword. The resulting effect of such an addition can swing one of two ways.
Big teams typically thrive on the arrival of another star name. The quality and impact of a world class player generally galvanises a side and pushes them on further. However, as Emery experienced with the arrivals of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe ahead of his final term with PSG, such additions can also bring division.
Neymar in particular made Emery’s job difficult in his second of two seasons in Paris. The Brazilian’s ego and star persona were virtually unmanageable for the Spaniard.
Though Dembele does not carry quite the same clout at present, and though his character would be unlikely to cause problems on such a scale, his reputation for troublemaking conduct precedes him. Furthermore, one of the key qualities of Emery’s time at Arsenal so far has been the development of young players. Emile Smith Rowe was handed his first team debut at the age of 18 by the Spaniard.
With Eddie Nketiah and the prodigious Reiss Nelson also on the books and waiting to make their impact as exciting attacking youngsters at the club, any such addition of a superstar forward could not fail to undercut their progress and cloud their route into the first team.
Then there is the financial aspect of any deal. Arsenal’s restructured hierarchy, lead by new head of football Raul Sanllehi and managing director Vinai Venkatesham, have prided their vision on a self-sustaining model for the club.
Though financial resources are available, the primary focus is said to be on promoting from within and making the most of their own resources – primarily through their youth academy.
With the likes of Smith Rowe, Nelson and Nketiah bustling with potential for stardom with the club that nurtured them, a move for Dembele seems to count against any such sentiment of making stars, rather than buying them.
Any move for Dembele would surely command a fee in the region of £100m, a sum which would almost double their club-record transfer, and in doing so compromise the integrity and unity within that has made Arsenal’s progress under Emery such a success.