Now that it looks likely that Arsenal will qualify for the Champions League next season—something that is now almost guaranteed given the gap between us and fourth-placed Tottenham—thoughts start to turn to summer transfers. Long-standing interest in 23 year old Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic may therefore find new life, especially given Juventus’s precarious position, seventh in Serie A and reeling from Calciopoli II: The Scandal’s Sequel.
First things first: Nicolas Pépé. While he’s still Arsenal’s record-setting transfer, at least as far as fees are concerned, he never quite fit in. With Saka and Martinelli surging forward, there’s even less room for the Ivorian in the XI. He seems to have found his level while on loan to Nice, and I don’t mean to slight him in the least. It’s not his fault that
Unai Sanllehi1 pushed so hard to sign him, and he wouldn’t be the first player to struggle to justify such a fee. If he’s willing to sanction a move to Juventus—certainly a step up from Nice—Dusan might just find a way out of Dante’s Inferno and over to the Arsenal.
(Fun fact: “Arsenal” comes to English by way of Italian from Arabic. Dar as-sina’ah or “house of art, craft, skill” passed into Italian at some point as arzenale, and, well, you can take it from there).
Might the Serbian follow a similar journey from Italy to England? The rumours have persisted ever since Vlahovic made his £70m move from Fiorentina just over a year ago. He’s done tolerably well over there, going for 20 goals and six assists in 49 appearances across various competitions. One has to wonder though if he’s underperforming given Juve’s struggles. While he would certainly supplant Nketiah, he might have to accept a diminished role albeit an imporant one in a squad looking for silverware on several levels.
With his size (1.9m), he would offer something different to what Gabriel Jesus offers—namely, an aerial threat. Think of him as an upgrade on Giroud. He can offer hold-up play, knock balls down for Martinelli, Saka, Jesus, or Trossard running off him, and occupy CBs. If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he doesn’t offer much when it comes to pressing, but that might be more a byproduct of Juve’s style than of the player’s desire.
If we could prise him away, dangling Pépé as an enticement to a club facing a season away from Champions League play, think of the options. We’d have as central options Vlahovic, Jesus, and Trossard. With Vlahovic through the middle, we could deploy Jesus, Trossard, or Martinelli on the left. We could deploy Saka or Trossard on the right.
The mind boggles.
Of course, this is all speculative. Getting Pépé’s £140k/wk salary off the books is one thing. Doing so while securing Vlahovic in one fell swoop is quite another. Still, dare to dream…
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1 I erroneously accused Unai Emery of pushing to sign Pépé. As pointed out in the comments below, that was Sanllehi’s doing.