It is likely that the ears of managers from across Europe pricked up earlier this week when Fernando Llorente confirmed what had been expected for a long time: that he would be leaving Athletic Bilbao when his contract expires next summer.
Reportedly foremost among those managers is Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. According to the Daily Telegraph, Wenger is actively looking to recruit a striker in January, but could wait until the end of the season for Llorente.
The Spain international rejected an offer of a new contract form Atheltic in the summer and he has subsequently found his first-team opportunities greatly limited this season under Marcelo Bielsa. With Llorente also receiving rough treatment from fans, there was little surprise at his statement this week.
"I am going to leave on June 30,” he said. “I want to develop as a player and try something new."
Juventus were previously linked heavily to the 27-year-old and they, along with several of Europe’s big clubs, would likely compete with Arsenal for his signature.
There are still reports, though, that Arsenal’s lack of threat in the final third in recent times will lead to Wenger entering the market for a striker next month. Increasing speculation in recent weeks has suggested that Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is high on Wenger’s list of targets.
Like Llorente, Huntelaar’s contract is set to expire in the summer, although the Netherlands international has yet to make any announcements about his future.
With the 29-year-old potentially able to move on a free transfer next summer, Schalke could decide to cash in on the prolific front man in January. According to the Daily Mail, Arsenal will test that theory with a bid of £6 million for the man who scored 29 goals in the Bundesliga last season.
However, a move in the summer would almost certainly prove more lucrative for Huntelaar, while he would also be cup-tied for the knockout stages of the Champions League were he to move in January.
Another name has also emerged in Arsenal’s striker hunt, with the Sun reporting that it is Newcastle’s Demba Ba that is foremost among Wenger’s list of targets. The Senegalese striker, joint top scorer in the Premier League this season with 10 goals, has a buyout clause in his contract valued at £7.5 million.
The Sun’s story says that Wenger is eager to land the 27-year-old and is prepared for the club to offer Ba a contract worth £60,000 a week plus add-ons.
One deal that does look likely to get done is a loan agreement for Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. The 35-year-old arrived on a short-term move from the New York Red Bulls early last year and a deal has already been struck for a similar arrangement next month, according to the Sun.
The report also states that Wenger will try and persuade the Major League Soccer side to allow the Gunners’ all-time leading scorer to remain at the Emirates for the remainder of the season. The new MLS season is due to start in March.
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