Arsenal director Edu looks to be gearing up for a busy few months as he aims to lead a summer of change at the Emirates Stadium. Mikel Arteta’s side are in desperate need of reinforcements after limping to an eighth-placed finish in the Premier League table and missing out on European qualification for the first time in over 25 years.
The Gunners have lacked quality all over the pitch in recent outings, but they appear to be facing a glaring problem in attack as a result of Martin Odegaard’s departure.
The 22-year-old has returned to Real Madrid after the conclusion of his loan spell in north London, leaving a sizeable void that needs to be addressed with the arrival of a quality replacement.
Arsenal have been linked with no shortage of potential options in recent weeks, including Houssem Aouar of Lyon and former Norwich City talisman Emiliano Buendia, who decided against a move to the capital in order to join Aston Villa earlier this month.
However, Leicester City’s James Maddison has now reportedly emerged as the club’s top target with a permanent move for Odegaard looking increasingly unlikely.
The 24-year-old is one of the Premier League’s finest English playmakers and was unlucky to miss out on a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad for Euro 2020.
Arsenal are said to be keen on a move for Maddison, with his arrival capable of helping the Gunners become a better team.
His cultured range of passing, impressive ball-carrying exploits and ability to pop up with plenty of goals are all attributes that Arteta’s side were sorely lacking in the absence of Odegaard before the turn of the year.
Since making his Premier League debut in 2018, Maddison has created no less than 232 chances for his team-mates, a figure only bettered by Manchester City maestro Kevin de Bruyne.
The Leicester man would also provide a welcome addition to Arsenal’s homegrown quota and act as a mentor to Emile Smith Rowe, who would undoubtedly benefit from sharing a training pitch and the club’s creative burden with a proven operator.
Despite Arteta’s interest in bringing Maddison to London, the Foxes are said to be demanding a fee of around £60million in order to part ways with their prized asset.
This could threaten to pour cold water on Edu’s hopes of a summer rebuild, with improvements in plenty of different areas on the agenda ahead of next season.
However, the Arsenal chief could aim to halve Leicester’s asking price by tabling the inclusion of Joe Willock in a player-plus-cash deal.
The 21-year-old, who is reportedly valued at £30m by the Gunners, was the Premier League’s in-form player towards the end of last season, scoring in each of the final seven matches of his loan spell at Newcastle United.
If Edu is open to using Willock as a bargaining chip, it could be a move to benefit all parties with Maddison going the other way.
The latter would clearly represent an upgrade for Arsenal, while such a deal would see the club save their pennies to splash on further additions.
Meanwhile, Leicester would benefit from a decent chunk of money to help fund their own summer business, while the acquisition of Willock, who is crying out for regular first-team football at his current stage of development, could prove to be a shrewd move in the years to come.
Brendan Rodgers has previously transformed young and talented cast-offs into elite operators, with the rise of Kelechi Iheanacho after his departure from Manchester City proving the Foxes manager’s ability to get the very best out of his players.
Willock himself would also reap the rewards of a switch to the King Power Stadium, with the pressure to succeed at a club like Arsenal able to lift from his shoulders and allow him to thrive as he did at Newcastle.
It remains to be seen whether Arsenal will look to offload Willock as part of a deal to land Maddison, or if they will pursue the Leicester midfielder’s signature in any case.
However, it will be critical for Edu to make the right decisions this summer if the Gunners are to stand any chance of returning to the upper reaches of the Premier League table at the next time of asking.