ANALYSIS | By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsenal are not in the market for an orthodox striker this summer. Not yet, at least.
With Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck the first-choice spearheads, and Alexis Sanchez also capable of leading the line, Arsene Wenger feels he is well served in that category.
Instead, the Arsenal manager has instructed scouts to find him a “special forward player”, an emerging star who can play in any of the three front positions as well as the No10 role behind a striker.
Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus has been closely watched. Wenger is also an admirer of Raheem Sterling, who has put rival clubs on alert by putting contract talks on hold until the end of the season.
Another rising star who has been regularly scouted this season is Palermo forward Paulo Dybala. Somewhat hyperbolically, club president Maurizio Zamparini has said, “Dybala is the Messi of the future”.
It is not perhaps unrelated that Zamparini has been using the Italian media to orchestrate the sale of Dybala this summer for what the president hopes will be as close to Palermo’s €40million (£28.5m) valuation as possible.
Messi may well be in a stratosphere of his own but it is understandable why Dybala has earned comparisons with the record-breaking maestro.
With his trickery, dribbling and preference for his left foot, complemented by mobility and a low sense of gravity that enables him to wriggle away from defenders, the 21-year-old shares some of Messi’s qualities, not to mention a nationality. He has also added consistency to his game this season.
The feedback from Arsenal’s scouts has made the coaching staff take note.
In what has been his breakthrough season, Dybala has plundered 12 Serie A goals as well as providing seven assists in the competition.
The statistics are impressive, if not very Messi-ish, but it is Dybala’s match-winning qualities, and potential for improvement, that has made so many marquee clubs sit up and take notice.
At Palermo, Dybala operates primarily in an orthodox striker role. Arsenal regard the Argentine as someone who can thrive in any of the front three positions in Wenger’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, as well as in the No10 position behind the centre-forward.
It is this versatility that has prompted Arsenal to join the likes of Juventus and Chelsea in the race to sign Dybala this summer, by which time he will only have a year remaining on his contract. Palermo have made it clear he will be sold rather than leave for nothing next year.
Arsenal have missed the boat when it came to signing potential superstars in the past, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo moving elsewhere after holding initial talks with Wenger. The Londoners want to give themselves every chance this time. That is how highly they regard Dybala.
Zamparini provided some fresh insight this week by claiming that Arsenal and Juventus have already made offers for Dybala and that the Londoners are the player’s Premier League “first choice”.
Football Insider sources understand that Arsenal will hold a new round of talks with Palermo and Dybala’s agent Pierpaolo Triulzi in an attempt to broker a deal.
Arsenal told Palermo in initial discussions they rate Dybala at just below the £20m mark and are unwilling to pay more for the player.
Competition is growing. Juventus have offered around £18m for Dybala and are believed to the favourites to sign him as he is keen to remain in Serie A but Arsenal are prepared to offer a higher initial transfer instalment to beat the current Italian champions. Chelsea are also waiting in the wings.
Zamparini is playing the media game for all his worth, which is bound to irritate a club like Arsenal, who prefer to do their transfer business in the background.
Talking to Italian station Radio Marte on Wednesday, Zamparini said: “Juventus and Arsenal have already made the offerings. My request is no more than 40 million euros. Dybala would prefer to stay in Italy, but among the English clubs Arsenal is the first choice of the boy for the way he plays the team coached by (Arsene) Wenger.”
Sources have said Arsenal are a long way off clinching a potential deal, but they believe they are in with a fighting chance. They believe Dybala is worth it.