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Arsenal’s Alexander Isak transfer decision could come back to bite them with Bukayo Saka | Football | Sport


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If Arsenal miss out on the Champions League this season, the decision not to sign a new centre-forward in the January transfer window and instead rely on two players into the final six months of their contracts to be the team’s main goalscorers may be seen as the defining moment.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s move to Barcelona leaves Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah as the only out-and-out central strikers available to Mikel Arteta this season.

The pair have a combined 18 Premier League goals over the past 18 months, just one shy of the amount that Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has managed in the same timeframe. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored 20 more than the pair since September 2020.

The Gunners missed out on top January target Dusan Vlahovic, who instead swapped Fiorentina for Juventus, while Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak was deemed too expensive per The Athletic.

The 22-year-old is strongly admired at the Emirates and scored 17 La Liga goals last season though only has four in 18 league matches this term.

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Still, the Swede’s profile means his talents are appreciated by Mikel Arteta and Edu, although his release clause – in the region of £75m – was deemed far greater than his real market value in the eyes of the Arsenal hierarchy.

If Arsenal do not score enough goals to secure a top-four finish in May, the decision not to sign Isak will however be looked at, at least by the fanbase, as a costly one. Missing out would be more costly than it would’ve to sign the striker last month.

In prize money alone, and not including TV money, Chelsea last season picked up around £148m from finishing fourth in the Premier League and £95m for winning the Champions League. By contrast Arsenal took £134m from ending in eighth and less than £14m from making it to the Europa League semi-finals.

The financial frustrations of failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition would be amplified by the fact it would feel like a squandered opportunity. Arsenal are in a good position to make top four.

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Of course, Arteta could still secure fourth spot and then sign Isak at a cheaper price than £75m this summer when Sociedad may be more open to negotiations.

But there is also a worst-case scenario that involves a far scarier outcome, with no Champions League football potentially throwing Bukayo Saka’s future into uncertainty.

The 20-year-old – who has seven goals and four assists in 26 games this term – is not out of contract until July 2024.

But ESPN say Arsenal’s big six rivals Manchester City and Liverpool are both watching Saka and are ready to make a move for him at the end of the season if the Londoners miss out on the top four.

England international Saka has made his loyalties to Arsenal known but when asked why he signed a new deal rather than joining Liverpool or Borussia Dortmund two years ago, he hinted his main priority will be where’s best for his development.

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“No, for me it was just to think about what’s best for my career and I felt what was best for my career was to continue playing with Arsenal,” said Saka to ESPN. “I always believed Arsenal was the best thing.”

Though he clearly loves Arsenal, the lure of playing in the Champions League like many of his peers on international duty are will no doubt prove tempting if they are fail to qualify for a sixth straight season.

The Gunners will of course hope they can convince their academy graduate that, if they do finish lower than fourth, the project under Arteta is worth keeping faith in. They are eager to offer him a contract with a higher wage that reflects his importance.

Yet the vultures of City and Liverpool will circle should Saka and his team-mates be resigned to the Europa League, or even worse the Europa Conference League, next season. And if it pans out that way, Arsenal will be wondering whether they should’ve just stumped up the cash for Isak in January.

Especially if it means they lose Saka too.

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