Morgan Schneiderlin, Hugo Lloris and Ilkay Gundogan - Who should Arsenal target?
With the EPL race all but conceded to Chelsea and Champions League qualification essentially sorted as well, enquiring minds start to turn to the summer transfer window. Arsenal seem now firmly ensconced in the top four, nine points above fifth-placed Liverpool and with a game in hand.
Having apparently secured a Champions League spot, we can be pardoned for perusing the wares on offer from other clubs, namely Southampton, Tottenham, and Borussia Dortmund. As we eye up Morgan Schneiderlin, Hugo Lloris, and ?lkay Gündo?an, then, who among them would we need most - and who would best boost our fortunes?
The answer to that question may lay in part with the fortunes of Southampton and Tottenham. It is still possible, even likely, that both will qualify for the Europa League. In the case of Southampton, this could torpedo their EPL performances, much as it has done to Everton. Despite being ravaged in last summer's transfer window, the high-flying Saints rode a campaign free of continental commitments to some lofty perches, sitting as high as third after 24 matches. In the case of Tottenham, one wonders what it might mean for them to miss out on what amounts to an eponymous competition: Spuropa.
Players would rather play in Champions League over Europa League
In both cases, key players might bolt for the prospect of Champions League play (sneer if you will at our fourth-place "trophy"). In Schneiderlin's case, it seems that a move away from Southampton was scuttled if only because so many other players had already left and because the club had promised him that coveted Champions League appearance. His current contract runs through June 2017, but manager Ronald Koeman admits that Schneiderlin "is happy [at Southampton], but it is up to the player" to decide his future.
At some level, our signing of Calum Chambers from Southampton might reap bigger dividends if Chambers recruits his former teammate. Schneiderlin's transfer fee might spiral towards £30m, if not higher, given Southampton’s ambitions and Schneiderlin's other suitors. For as much as we might be enjoying Francis Coquelin's emergence, it is well-worth remembering that Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are our only "true" defensive midfielders, and a proper defensive midfielder is one of our highest needs. Schneiderlin, an EPL-proven player, could slot in very well alongside or in place of Coquelin, depending on who we're facing.
Behind the defence is where intrigue grows. The second half of our season has seen the eclipse of Wojciech Szcz?sny by David Ospina, with even the former's appearance in FA Cup ties failing to impress. Ospina, for as good as he has been, doesn't seem to be quite good enough to inspire; he's more of a calmative after the helter-skelter of Szcz?sny. Enter Lloris. As the story goes, he has a £15m release clause should Tottenham fail to qualify for Champions League play.
Well, as previously alluded to, Tottenham will be lucky to finish high enough to qualify for the Europa League, in which case Lloris might indeed be on the market. While a switch to the right end of London might not be quite as seismic as Sol Campbell's was, it would still be dramatic. Few other players in Tottenham's current squad could earn a starting spot at Arsenal as quickly as Lloris could. His departure could send Spurs plummeting down the table faster than you can say "What do you think of Tottenham?"
Further afield, we should consider the carcass that is Borussia Dortmund. No, I'm not referring to Jürgen Klopp. I'm referring instead to ?lkay Gündo?an, who might be less-sexy than Marco Reus but more serviceable. Reus, after all, is all but a Real Madrid-bound Galáctico. What's more, we are already stacked in the creative, attacking midfielder position, but we could use a defensive midfielder in the mould of Gündo?an, who is a creative passer with defensive tenacity, similar to Michael Carrick.
By contrast with Schneiderlin, he might command a more modest transfer fee in the £18-20m range – but if we were to target Gündo?an instead of Schneiderlin or Lloris, we'd pass on the chance to undercut a competitor.
None of this is to suggest that one of these players should or will be our only target. Each of them would address one of our most pressing needs without breaking the bank. We're arguably two or three players away from competing directly with Chelsea. Would the signing of two of these three players be enough to elevate us to the status of EPL champions, or would we still need reinforcements elsewhere?