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Onana to Arsenal: Could Ajax star be the right man for the Gunners?

17:00 BST 14/06/2021
Andre Onana Ajax 2020-21 Arsenal
The Cameroon goalkeeper’s reduced ban means the London giants could be well placed to seal a deal for the Ajax man this summer

The relief after Andre Onana had an initial 12-month ban reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to nine months was discernible, as it represented a win of sorts for the Cameroon goalkeeper.

Onana was suspended by Uefa in February after testing positive for Furosemide, but always maintained his innocence, stating he accidentally took medicine that was prescribed for his then-pregnant wife.

CAS deemed the punishment was “disproportionate and excessive” and decreased the ban. Onana, who’d been away from training since February, could now return in September, two months before the end of his suspension.

The positive appeal has resurrected Arsenal’s interest in the Ajax man, with reports indicating a pursuit of the 25-year-old hinged on Friday’s verdict.

Indeed, Goal revealed the interest in the Indomitable Lion a few months back, with club correspondent Charles Watts shedding light on the North London side’s embryonic fondness for the shot-stopper.

With Mikel Arteta supposedly open to Bernd Leno departing the three-time Premier League winners, Onana will have little competition between the sticks. Be that as it may, is a move to Arsenal really in the Central African’s best interests?

Of course, the transfer to one of England’s historic clubs will bring its undoubted financial benefits and the popularity of the Premier League means African observers will keep a closer eye on one of the continent’s finest exports in Europe’s top five leagues.

A section of critics never truly considered him the best in his position owing to the assumed lesser quality in the Eredivisie compared to other top leagues, and a switch to the Emirates Stadium could change that perception.

There’ll also be the weekly fun comparison with Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy, whose success in England since moving from Ligue 1 has been evident. Two of Africa’s first-rate goalkeepers playing in Europe’s most viewed league won’t be lost on anyone, especially as it’ll prompt an enjoyable weekly analysis of both.

Having said that, Arsenal’s steep decline in recent years has to worry any potential acquisition.

Their alarming drop off from sure-fire Champions League representatives to a side scrambling for top four qualification has been jarring.

Under Arsene Wenger, the Gunners became constants among Europe’s elite — although they seldom pulled up trees since the 2010s — until their fifth-place finish in the Frenchman’s penultimate season in charge.

Since finishing fifth in 2016/17, Arsenal haven’t returned to the CL and have had to make do with Europa League participation.

They’ve missed out on opportunities to return to Europe’s premier competition via the EL, losing to Atletico Madrid and Villarreal in the last four in 17/18 and 20/21 respectively, while their thrashing by Chelsea two years ago was gut-wrenching.

Finishing eighth in the just-concluded campaign more or less sums up the club’s malaise in the last decade or so, with Gooners certain to miss out on Europe for the first time in 25 years.

Admittedly, Mikel Arteta’s men will be without mid-week distractions next term and will be able to throw everything they have into finishing in the top four next year, a fine caveat going into 21/22.

When their results in the second half of the season are thrown into the equation, there may be reason for optimism.

Regardless of their increased chances, they’ll face stiff competition from both Manchester clubs, an improved Liverpool, European champions Chelsea and even Leicester City, who have made it a habit of punching above their weight under Brendan Rodgers.

Onana will obviously relish the club’s lofty ambition to rub shoulders with Europe’s elite but nothing is guaranteed.

The London giants’ questionable decision-making at boardroom level, the inexperience of Arteta and the absence of an on-pitch killer instinct has generally blighted their progress in recent years.

Even more discouraging is how big signings have underwhelmed in recent years, despite arriving with so much promise.

Case in point: Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey.

Despite the obvious mitigating circumstances, the jury’s still out on the Ivory Coast wide attacker, while the Ghana star’s first-year challenges were understandable.

Onana isn’t going to command the fees of the aforementioned pair, but the club will hope he makes an immediate impact at the club given he’ll be expected to replace Leno, should the German stopper depart.

His rumoured departure in itself magnifies Arsenal’s flawed decision-making: letting the incumbent number one depart a year after choosing him over a more rounded Emiliano Martinez, despite the Argentinian’s superior quality.

In truth, a switch to Arsenal comes with its perks, but it’s a choice Onana shouldn’t rush into given the club’s rather tricky situation.