ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger is reportedly eyeing Napoli striker Dries Mertens as a replacement for Alexis Sanchez.
Sanchez, who was denied his desired move to Manchester City on transfer deadline day, is out of contract at the end of the current season and will be able to leave the Emirates for free.
Mertens has been in spectacular form for Napoli over the last 12 months, and our friends at Football Whispers have taken a look at what the Belgian can offer the Gunners.
Until last October, Mertens was seen as little more than a useful squad player at Napoli, often seen coming on as a late impact substitute, when his pace could threaten a tired defence, or starting as an alternative to either Jose Callejon or Lorenzo Insigne in the wide positions in the less important matches.
But an injury to striker Arkadiusz Milik, a £30m 2016 summer signing from Ajax who’d enjoyed a prolific start to life in Serie A, presented Mertens with a chance to stake a claim for a regular starting berth in Maurizio Sarri’s line-up and to reinvent himself.
Signed from PSV Eindhoven in 2013 for €9.5million, becoming Rafa Benitez’s first acquisition at the club, Mertens had spent the majority of his career as a pacy right winger.
His speed, intelligent movement and ability to chip in with goals was valuable at club and international level, but wasn’t quite enough to see him attain key player status at either.
Milik’s unfortunate injury, however, and Southampton striker Manolo Gabbiadini’s failure to adequately fill in for the Polish striker, left Sarri with little option other than to try the diminutive Belgian in the central striker’s role in his 4-3-3 system.
The move proved to be an instant success. Napoli finished third in Serie A, behind champions Juventus and Roma in the runners-up spot, but their thrilling brand of attacking football – thanks in no small part to the dynamism and clinical edge of Mertens – earned them plaudits and has now set them up for a title challenge in 2017/18.
Mertens finished the season with 34 goals in 45 games, easily his best seasonal return and the exact same amount he’d registered in his first three campaigns in Italy combined.
Now 30, Sarri has lamented the fact that it has taken so long to figure out that Mertens would be such a hit in a central role.
But the former Utrecht man still has plenty left in the tank, and it’s no surprise that Arsenal are considering him as a potential option to step into Sanchez’s boots at the Emirates.
Sanchez’s story last season was similar to Mertens’ in that he was deployed in a central role at the point of the Gunners’ attack, rather than his usual station out wide, and thrived with 24 Premier League goals and 10 assists.
With his low centre of gravity, speed over the ground, creative instincts and knack of finding the net, Sanchez was a resounding success as a centre-forward.
Mertens shares all of those attributes with the Chilean and could quite easily slot into the same role at the Emirates, should Arsenal decide to follow up their interest in the Napoli star with a bid.
But, also like Sanchez, Mertens can play in the wide positions in Wenger’s favoured 3-4-3 system, something that, given the Gunners have just shattered their transfer record to sign French striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon, he would surely be required to do regularly.
And with his return of 18 assists in all competitions since the start of last season, Mertens is perfectly capable of turning creator in support of a more orthodox centre-forward.
With his vast technical qualities, his experience and adaptability, Mertens would be an asset for Arsenal and the perfect man to replace Sanchez.