Swap deals are notoriously difficult to arrange, despite the prevalence of player exchange rumours in the tabloid newspapers.
While often sounding like a good idea in theory, the logistics of two clubs seeing eye to eye on valuations and both players agreeing personal terms can be tricky – hence so few of these reported transfers actually come to fruition.
There are exceptions. For example, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s move from Manchester United to Arsenal saw Alexis Sánchez go the other way without any money changing hands. But not many similar transfers trip off the tongue when you think back over the past few years. It’s far more common to see a youngster or reserve player thrown into the mix to sweeten a deal, rather than a straight exchange taking place.
That could all be about to change though. The COVID-19 outbreak is likely to dramatically alter the world of football finance, with the astronomical transfer fees of recent years potentially set to become a thing of the past.
The world’s largest clubs will still have sizable sums to spend. But the vast majority of sides will have to tighten their belts and become creative to get business done.
As a result, swap deals could become more prevalent. Teams throughout the footballing pyramid will be as keen to shift their unwanted stars as they will to make additions, in order to free up funds. Simply exchanging players could be a convenient way of greasing the wheels and getting the transfer market moving in a challenging time.
Arsenal are a club which fit firmly into that category. The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) have analysed the potential impact of the coronavirus epidemic and concluded the Gunners could stand to lose up to £144million if every game next season has to be played behind closed doors.
Another campaign without UEFA Champions League football beckons in 2020/21 too (barring an incredible end to the current campaign), so a period of relative austerity is likely to be on the cards.
The one thing the Gunners have is a surplus of overpaid and underperforming big names; from Shkodran Mustafi at the back to inconsistent playmaker Mesut Özil. It's hard to imagine too many clubs having the funds to make sizeable bids for these players in the next window, but a series of swap deals isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
That would explain why Arsenal have been linked with two major transfers of this nature in recent days. Mikel Arteta’s men are believed to be considering trading Alexandre Lacazette for Atlético Madrid winger Thomas Lemar, while also being keen on a move for Roma forward Justin Kluivert in exchange for Mkhitaryan.
The latter deal would also see Arsenal part with £13million for the 21-year-old Dutchman, representing a significant outlay for a player that is yet to perform at the highest level.
Hotly tipped as a teenager at Ajax, big things were expected of Kluivert when he moved to the Italian capital in 2018 for €20million. But it’s fair to say that he hasn’t set the world alight in Rome.
Seven goals in all competitions this season are somewhat overshadowed by the wideman’s solitary assist against Genoa back in January. Questions surely need to be asked about such a paltry return across 2,090 minutes of action. That’s not an anomaly either, with his expected assists (xA) for the season only marginally higher at 1.31.
Kluivert has excelled in some areas though, most notably his ability to counter at speed. A record of 0.33 fast breaks per 90 is inside Serie A’s top ten players and would be a useful addition to the Gunners’ armoury.
It would also be highly desirable to shift the burden of Mkhitaryan’s £200,000-a-week wages onto Roma, with Kluivert likely to command a much lower salary than the 31-year-old Armenian.
If Arsenal could negotiate a straight swap then this deal would be significantly more appealing – ultimately the Dutch international’s potential trumps Mkhitaryan’s experience. But it’s hard to ignore the feeling there are better uses for £13million of Arteta’s transfer budget.
Lacazette for Lemar is a more intriguing proposition, with notable parallels between the two. Both cost their clubs hefty sums – £46.5million and £52.7million respectively – but neither player has hit top form this season.
Arsenal’s French forward has toiled in front of goal in 2019/20, but it’s worth noting he has still managed 0.42 strikes per 90 over the campaign to date. That’s nothing to be sniffed at, nor is his return of 44 goals in just under three seasons at the Emirates.
The two players could well have been team-mates at one stage, with the Gunners Monaco before he moved to Atleti. Their interest in the winger is therefore unsurprising, but it may raise a few eyebrows considering his recent performances.
Lemar’s form has dropped off a cliff in Spain and the Frenchman hasn’t mustered a single goal, assist or even created a Big Chance this season. At 24 there is plenty of time for him to turn around his recent decline, so Arsenal may well be willing to gamble on a fresh start in North London improving his fortunes.
Nonetheless, with a good chance that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could leave the Emirates Stadium this summer, it would appear a major risk to sell Lacazette at the same time. He may have struggled in recent times, but why exchange the striker for another player in a similar vein of form? Lacazette’s performances still appear to be at a higher level than those of Lemar, so a safer bet would surely be to gamble on the return of his scoring touch in front of goal.
Exchange deals look like they could be on the cards for Arsenal this summer and certainly suit the club’s current financial situation. But the touted transfers involving Kluivert and Lemar are two moves that would be best avoided by the Gunners’ hierarchy.