Arsenal’s search for a centre-back is throwing up a never-ending merry-go-round of names being linked with a move to North London.
Whether it’s RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Núñez or Merih Demiral of Juventus, it seems the Gunners are constantly being linked with a new defender – without the search reaching a conclusion.
The latest name in the frame feels different, however. Axel Disasi to the Emirates have surfaced, in a move that would appear to fit with Arsenal’s recent transfer policy.
This week marked the two year anniversary of Arsène Wenger’s decision to step down as Gunners’ boss – it’s fair to say things haven’t gone particularly well since and Champions League qualification has eluded a club accustomed to playing in UEFA’s top competition.
Without the riches that come from participation in Europe’s premier tournament, Arsenal have had to be smart as they deal with recruitment on a more limited budget.
Their approach has been multifaceted. The club have targeted relatively young players with room for improvement, spending big when necessary. You can file the likes of Nicolas Pépé, Kieran Tierney and Lucas Torreira in this category, as well as William Saliba (currently on loan at former club Saint-Étienne).
They’ve complemented these big investments with loans (think Denis Suárez and Dani Ceballos), veterans signed on a budget (Stephan Lichtsteiner and David Luiz) and academy graduates like Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock.
The cherry on the cake has been the odd gem unearthed from abroad, with Gabriel Martinelli and Mattéo Guendouzi looking like outstanding value at around £13million for the pair.
It’s a smart philosophy and one that Arsenal’s recruitment team believe will ultimately pay dividends – once a further tweaking of the squad takes place this summer.
So where does Disasi fit into this?
The Gunners parted with a sizeable chunk of cash in August when they splurged on Pépé, Tierney and Saliba. They will have spread that £123million outlay across the length of the trio’s contracts, but it would be reasonable to presume that spending will be somewhat restrained during the next window.
At a reported price of just £13million, Disasi feels like a more attainable target than the likes of Upamecano or Demiral. It would certainly be surprising if Arsenal have upwards of £35million to splurge on a centre-back.
The Frenchman only has one year remaining on his contract after this season, which explains the knock-down price for a 22-year-old and why Arteta’s men have thrown their hat in the ring for his services.
Arsenal have had to become adept at sniffing out a bargain and Disasi ticks the requisite boxes in a host of categories. He’s young, cheap, has the potential to improve and could be sold on for big money if he impresses at the Emirates. Crucially, his signing would free up funds to be spent on other areas of the pitch. From right-back to central midfield, there are plenty of positions that could do with being strengthened this summer.
The big question is whether he is up to the task of becoming a regular starter if a move to North London materialises. Arsenal have enough average centre-backs, they need someone who is going to be the first name on the teamsheet.
What is for certain is Disasi is part of one of Europe’s best defences. Reims have conceded just 21 times in 28 matches, which is the second-best record across the continent’s top five leagues. That’s helped Les rouges et blancs to fifth place in Ligue 1 – not bad for a team that was in the second tier only two seasons ago.
While he can occasionally switch off in matches, there is enough about the 6ft 3in defender to suggest he could be polished into a first-class Premier League defender. He certainly has the strength and physicality to succeed in England, as well as being strong in the tackle.
With an average of 0.89 blocked shots per 90 minutes this season (the 12th most in Ligue 1), Disasi reads the game well and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time too.
Arteta’s preference is known to be for a left-footed centre-back – the one box the right-footed Parisian doesn’t tick. Perhaps that’s a compromise that Arsenal will have to make. With limited funds and issues to resolve in multiple areas of the pitch, signing Disasi is a deal that the Gunners can’t afford to turn down.