Arsene Wenger has faced widespread criticism for failing to sign a top class striker but Squawka understands the Arsenal manager has spent much of the summer secretly pursuing a sensational deal for Antoine Griezmann.
Arsenal are prepared to spend more than £60 million to sign the Atletico Madrid forward but the transfer now seems almost impossible, meaning the money is likely to sit in the club’s bank account and invite renewed criticism of their 66-year-old manager.
Wenger had hoped to sneak a move for Griezmann under the radar and felt Atletico Madrid would be prepared to negotiate, despite the 25-year-old signing a new five-year contract at Atletico Madrid in June that raised his buyout clause to £86.2m (€100m).
WENGER BANKED ON ATLETICO RETURN FOR COSTA
Any deal would have been dependent on the domino effect of other transfers in a similar manner to the way that Mesut Ozil became available after Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid in 2013, while a year later Alexis Sanchez left Barcelona because of the imminent arrival of Luis Suarez.
Arsenal were led to believe that an agreement for Griezmann would be possible if Diego Costa returned to Atletico Madrid this summer, which in turn would have seen the striker replaced by Romelu Lukaku at Stamford Bridge.
It now appears that all three players will be staying where they are, meaning Wenger will miss out on the kind of “exceptional” talent he believes can help inspire Arsenal to their first Premier League title since 2004.
Wenger believes criticism of his transfer dealings is harsh given he has brought Ozil, Sanchez and Petr Cech to the club in the last three summer windows. For the Frenchman, the profile and CV of the player is far more important than the transfer fee and he wants to sign proven top quality players.
Wenger also tried to sign Suarez from Liverpool in 2013 and has repeatedly sounded out Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema as he looks to add a world class goalscorer to the Arsenal squad.
This year, that man has been Griezmann, who has established himself as one of the stellar attacking players in world football and last season scored 22 La Liga goals before finishing as top scorer at Euro 2016.
For Wenger, his compatriot would have been a guaranteed hit and there was a feeling that Griezmann would be interested in a move to north London, despite signing a new deal this summer and the fact that he would surely attract interest from wealthier and more successful European rivals.
Wenger is determined not to spend for the sake of it or waste any of the club’s money, which is why a renewed move for Alexandre Lacazette also appears unlikely at this stage. Arsenal do not believe the 25-year-old is worth more than £33.6m (€40m) while Lyon want more than £50m for the striker.
For all the criticism of Wenger, his logic is clear. Lacazette is good player who could add to the squad – but he is not close to the level of the finest strikers in the Premier League such as Sergio Aguero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Lacazette, for example, missed out on a place in France’s 23-man squad for Euro 2016 where Olivier Giroud led the line for the hosts – so can the club really gamble a club record transfer fee on him?
For Wenger, Griezmann is the level of performer who would ignite Arsenal’s season and become the catalyst for a genuine title challenge after so many false dawns.
After the goalless draw with Leicester on Saturday, Wenger gave an irritated response to questions about the transfer market after Arsenal fans had sung “spend some f****** money!” at the full-time whistle.
Wenger said: “Why do you say I’m reluctant? If I buy you tomorrow for £45m I have spent £45m and I would have done well because I will have listened to you but spending the money in itself is not a quality. Spending the money buying a top player is different and we are ready to do it.
“I just said I’d spend £300m if I find the player and I had £300m.”
The problem for Wenger is that the very best players are the most difficult to extract from their clubs – and Griezmann is the latest case in point.