DIEGO COSTA & LEWANDOWSKI HEAD ARSENAL’S JANUARY WISHLIST
Arsenal’s title challenge has stalled in recent weeks with Oliver Giroud understandably beginning to feel the burden of spearheading the club’s attack almost single-handedly this season.
Initially the France international had warmed to the challenge after a satisfactory first season, scoring five times in six games at the start of the campaign.
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Despite Giroud’s dip in form, one that has been mirrored by that of a side that has failed to win any of their last four games in all competitions, Arsenal remain level on points with Liverpool at the top of the table and in with a chance of their first Premier League crown in a decade.
With that in mind, Arsene Wenger has drawn up a hugely ambitious five-man shortlist with a view to adding the world-class striker that, for all Giroud’s qualities, his squad currently lacks.
Scouts were dispatched last week to Spain to watch Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa score twice in his side’s 3-2 win over Levante.
The 25-year-old’s goals have sparked an unlikely title challenge from Diego Simeone’s side but with the player understood to be on relatively low wages and his contract stipulating a release clause, thought to be around the £30 million mark, Arsenal are willing to test the Brazilian-born forward’s resolve.
Similarly, the Gunners feel there remains a chance Borussia Dortmund could be tempted into accepting a cash offer for Robert Lewandowski, rather than wait until the summer when they are widely expected to lose the Poland international to rivals Bayern Munich for nothing.
Arsenal had also identified Fernando Llorente as a potential loan target and had contacted the Spaniard’s representatives before the former Athletic Bilbao striker’s upturn in form.
PSG’s currently out-of-favour wide forward Ezequiel Lavezzi and Milan’s talented, but often injured, Stephan El Shaarawy complete Wenger’s wishlist.
WENGER PUTS SIGNING NEW CONTRACT ON ICE
Such is Arsene Wenger’s focus and determination to ensure his side’s trophy drought does not extend into a 10th year, the long-serving Arsenal manager has declined the opportunity to put pen a new deal that Goal understands has been in place since October.
The 64-year-old, who joined the club back in 1996, is expected to sign an extension that will keep him in north London until 2016, while there are also new deals in the pipeline for members of his backroom team, including Steve Bould, Neil Banfield and Boro Primorac.
While Wenger is refusing to let his side’s title tilt be affected by conjecture surrounding his own future, so too is he unwilling to allow his players, even several of his more senior and loyal servants, to focus on anything other than matters on the pitch.
There has been no move from the club, for example, to enter into negotiations with vice-captain Mikel Arteta, who has only 18 months left to run on his present contract, while the club are no closer to sorting out Bacary Sagna’s long-term future, despite the right-back being free to enter into negotiations with other clubs come January.
Arsenal have, however tied Wojciech Szczesny to a new long-term deal, while Per Mertesacker is also in talks over extending his stay at Emirates Stadium.
GUNNERS BOASTING RARE CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
Previous Arsenal challenges have been seriously undermined by various injury crises that have beset the club in recent times.
Two years ago Arsenal went into their festive programme with none of their four senior full-backs available, but this time around they can boast, just about, a clean bill of health.
Laurent Koscielny is expected to play some part over the festive period despite the horror gash he suffered to his knee in a challenge with Sergio Aguero in the 6-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium earlier this month.
Lukas Podolski, meanwhile, returned to the matchday squad for the first time in four months during Monday’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea. The Germany international made just four appearances this season before suffering what sources have told Goal was the most severe type of grade three tear possible, an injury which involves a partial or full tear of the hamstring.