By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
For Arsenal observers, it may not come as a shock to learn that Adrian Lopez has been on the club’s radar for some time.
When it comes to checking, double-checking and triple-checking targets, Arsene Wenger’s extensive network of global scouts have a reputation for their thoroughness.
But Goal.com can reveal for the first time how close Arsenal came to signing Adrian, as the Atletico Madrid striker is known in his Spanish homeland, in the summer and how it nearly ended Olivier Giroud’s Gunners career before it even began.
Adrian came to prominence during the 2011 European Under-21s championship, winning the Golden Boot for the five goals that propelled Spain to the trophy.
He followed it up with an outstanding debut season at Atletico, which culminated in a goal-scoring international debut, 18 goals for the team that went on to win the Europa League and missing selection for the Spain squad that triumphed at Euro 2012 by a whisker.
By early June, the 24-year-old was hovering around the top of Arsenal’s striker shortlist. The signing of Lukas Podolski had already been secured but he was regarded by the coaching staff principally as an upgrade on their left flank options.
|11/4||Arsenal are 7/2 to sign Adrian in January with Paddy Power
As Robin van Persie had headed off to the European Championships with his Arsenal future in considerable doubt, Wenger wanted not one but possibly two stellar forwards capable of leading the line.
Arsenal were already in advanced negotiations to sign Giroud from French champions Montpellier, who had been earmarked as an orthodox spearhead with a goalscoring pedigree and who was available at the right price.
However, Wenger’s trusted Spanish scout Francis Cagigao, whose feedback had been crucial in the signings of the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Jose Reyes and, later, Santi Cazorla, was said to be gushing in his praise of the potential of Adrian.
With Van Persie making it clear in two separate meetings with Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis, even before his incendiary statement on July 4, that he would not sign a new contract, Arsenal decided to explore the possibility of signing Adrian.
The Londoners opened preliminary talks with cash-strapped Atletico and were given encouragement that a deal could be possible.
By now, Arsenal had reached an agreement with Montpellier to buy Giroud for £12m and, with France eliminated from Euro 2012, the deal was nearly over the line.
Wenger took a surprising course of action. “He tried to pull the plug on the Giroud deal to sign Lopez instead,” a source close to the situation has told Goal.com. “But by then it was too late and the Giroud transfer had already been signed off.”
With there still a possibility that Van Persie could stay, Wenger was reluctant to sanction the signing of a third new senior forward, especially as flops Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner and Park Chu-Young were still on the wage bill.
The Arsenal manager dithered and the opportunity to get Adrian was lost. Following Van Persie’s £24m departure to Manchester United shortly before the new Premier League season began, Wenger made a late trolley dash to find a bargain forward.
As revealed by Goal.com last week, Arsenal tried to sign Edin Dzeko on a season-long loan from Manchester City in the final days of the summer window but the Premier League champions would not release him without a replacement in place.
Arsenal have begun the season in encouraging fashion, but their opening 10 games have demonstrated the requirement for a new centre-forward.
Giroud’s slow acclimatisation, Chamakh’s confidence loss and Wenger’s unwillingness to give Theo Walcott the central role he craves has even prompted Gervinho leading the line in a series of key fixtures.
Although the Ivory Coast international has scored four of his five goals after starting as the fulcrum of the attack, it is not considered a long-term measure.
Wenger has set his sights on signing a blue-chip attacker in the January and at the top of his short-list sits the name of Adrian.
The ‘new David Villa’, as he has been hailed in some quarters, has begun the season as slowly as Giroud although, like the Frenchman, he had a busy summer of international football - playing in the Euro 2012 warm-ups for Spain before featuring in the Olympics.
It has not put off Wenger, who has seen enough of Adrian’s versatility, finishing and ability to get in behind defenders to make him his principal target when the window re-opens.
Encouragingly for a manager who regards the relatively modest figure of £16m as an absolute cut-off point for any potential signing, Adrian has a £14.6m buy-out clause in his contract and has been unable to agree fresh terms with Atletico. The chase is on.