Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta’s ruthless summer takes shape with Xhaka exit close
Granit Xhaka is set to become the first of several summer exits at Arsenal in what could prove to be the most ruthless transfer window of Mikel Arteta’s regime. Bayer Leverkusen are now close to finalising a £13million deal for the Swiss international midfielder, who will finally depart the Emirates Stadium after seven years of service to the Gunners following his £30m move from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016.
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Sources had disclosed to Express Sport last week that Xhaka’s exit was looking highly probable despite his integral involvement this season having featured in all but one of Arsenal’s 36 Premier League matches – shining in an advanced midfield role.
Leverkusen have pounced early to beat rival suitors for the 30-year-old’s signature as the Bundesliga side look to add some extra steel and experience to bolster their exciting young squad, which has shown signs of huge promise in the second half of the season, ahead of the 2023/24 campaign.
Simon Rolfes, Leverkusen’s managing director, is seemingly optimistic that a fast and ambitious start to the club’s summer transfer business could maximise his chances of keeping highly-coveted coach Xabi Alonso having already wrapped up the signing of Benfica left-back Alex Grimaldo.
Xhaka, who had a verbal agreement to join Hertha Berlin in December 2019 and came agonising close to joining Roma in the summer of 2021, is understood to have been enchanted by Leverkusen’s ambitious project and will now leave Arsenal with his legacy well and truly intact following a remarkable turnaround under Arteta after becoming central to his rebuild.
There is also a sense that smooth relations between Arsenal and Leverkusen in respect to the Xhaka deal could benefit the Gunners this summer should they wish to launch a move for winger Moussa Diaby, a player of firm admiration in north London.
Both Newcastle and Paris Saint-Germain are also thought to be interested in the 23-year-old Frenchman, who has scored 14 goals and registered 11 assists in all competitions this season for the German club.
A key factor in Xhaka’s decision to leave Arsenal was that his involvement was likely to become limited next season with Arsenal set to pursue a mega-money swoop for West Ham captain Declan Rice, now quickly approaching the final 12 months of his contract at the London Stadium.
The England international defensive midfielder has been identified as Arsenal’s top summer target even if there is huge reluctance to meet West Ham’s reported £120m valuation.
Arsenal are prepared to test West Ham’s resolve with an offer that will exceed the £72m shelled out to Nice in the summer of 2019 for club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, although concrete discussions are not expected to take place until the end of the season with the Hammers still in pursuit of Premier League survival and UEFA Conference League glory.
There are also other names of firm interest in midfield including Brighton’s Moises Caicedo, who was the subject of two significant January offers, the highest of which was worth up to £70m with add-ons.
The Gunners are believed to be one of several clubs to have held initial dialogue with the representatives of Mason Mount as he prepares to embark on a new challenge after failing to agree a new contract at Chelsea. Liverpool are also firmly in contention for the 24-year-old’s signature.
Everton’s Amadou Onana’s performances have been monitored this season while Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi is also thought to be appreciated, although he looks set to remain with the Basque club after outlining his commitment to his newly-signed long-term contract.
Arteta has already made it public that he intends to build upon this season’s progress by marking his side’s long-awaited return to the Champions League with a statement summer window that will enable them to challenge for the Premier League title once again next term.
Folarin Balogun is also highly likely to depart following his remarkable Ligue 1 loan spell with Stade Reims where he has scored 20 goals in 36 matches and he could generate a substantial fee given his stock has skyrocketed in the past nine months.
While Arsenal’s final Premier League position is already set to significantly bolster their transfer kitty, Arteta is also gearing up for a host of cut-throat decisions that will lack sentiment as he seeks to improve the club’s squad depth.
Reiss Nelson is yet to agree a new contract with the Gunners and with Arsenal set to target the signing of another wide forward, his interests of regular football could be better served elsewhere despite several decisive contributions this season. He is understood to have offers from elsewhere on the table.
The 21-year-old striker, who on Tuesday pledged his international future to the USMNT, won’t be short of interest. He is highly rated around Europe and was approached by over 15 clubs in 2021 prior to signing a long-term contract.
Balogun wants assurances of regular playing time following his barnstorming campaign in France and while he is well regarded by Arteta, the Spaniard cannot commit to promises of minutes with Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah currently ahead in the Arsenal pecking order.
Controversially, Emile Smith Rowe’s future is also up for debate while Kieran Tierney – tracked by Newcastle and Aston Villa – Albert Sambi Lokonga, Cedric Soares, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Pepe, Nuno Tavares, Rob Holding, Charlie Patino, Auston Trusty and Runar Alex Runarsson could all be heading for the exit door.
Arsenal will also net £6m from Monza after Pablo Mari met performance-related add-ons – related to appearances at Serie A survival – that will make his loan move permanent this summer. Fulham will also pay the Gunners an additional £2m in bonuses after securing Premier League safety following the German goalkeeper’s move to Craven Cottage last summer.
In addition to strengthening Arsenal’s midfield and forward line, Arteta would also like to sign competition and cover for William Saliba at right centre-back after their lack of depth in that department was laid bare following the Frenchman’s back injury.
Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi and RB Leipzig’s Mohamed Simakan are the two main targets of interest in defence where there could also be further recruits particularly after Takehiro Tomiyasu sustained a long-term knee injury in the Europa League penalty-shootout defeat to Sporting in March.
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