Each day that passes seems to bring yet another report that Gonzalo Higuain has taken one more step closer towards signing for Arsenal.
Some of the media coverage has focused on the idea that, at a potential value of £22m, Higuain’s transfer-fee would smash Arsenal’s biggest-ever transfer, that of £15million for Andrei Arshavin in 2009. Some have even warned Arsenal against splashing the cash for Higuain given how Arshavin is a good example of a footballer’s dramatic decline and the sad fact that they couldn’t find any club willing to take him until his contract ended on 1 June, thus letting him leave for free.
However, it might be more fitting to keep in mind what is arguably Arsenal’s most significant transfer signing: Dennis Bergkamp. At the risk of kicking a man when he’s already down, Arshavin was making a leap from a minnow of a team to join Arsenal. Bergkamp, however, came to Arsenal from Inter Milan in 1995, which was a time when Serie A commanded more respect than it does now.
Similar to Bergkamp, Higuain would be leaving one of the world’s biggest clubs in one of the world’s most-powerful leagues. Say what you will about La Liga being a two- or three-team league; the same could easily be said of the Premier League. The larger point here is that, unlike Arshavin, Higuain’s achievements while playing for Real Madrid since 2006 signify a potential break from Arsene Wenger’s preferred method of finding obscure or unknown young players and developing them. Higuain, like Bergkamp, is a well-known and highly coveted player. The only way that Higuain could be said to fit Wenger’s transfer-policy is that he was born in France. More seriously, Higuain might just fit Wenger’s transfer-policy by being a bargain.
This might sound odd when we’re talking about a sum of £22million until you consider what Higuain has achieved and how much he’s been overshadowed in the last year. Since joining Real Madrid from River Plate in 2006, he’s La Liga’s third-highest scorer with 107 league goals, behind only Ronaldo (146) and Messi (215). Even sharing time with Ronaldo (and, let’s admit it, “sharing” might flatter Ronaldo’s propensities) and having to compete with Karim Benzema, Higuain has shown what he’s capable of.
Similarly, playing with Messi for Argentina’s national team, Higuain has scored 20 goals in just 32 appearances while Messi has 35 in 82. His 26 goals in 2011-12 would have been good for third-best in the Premier League, just one behind Rooney and four behind Van Persie’s stunning 30. Should he come to Arsenal, he would almost certainly claim the starting center-forward role from Olivier Giroud, and we might see him return to the form he has shown so much of in past years. The idea that Arsenal might sign him for “only” £22m is remarkable; set aside 2012-13 and we might be looking at a signing of closer to £30m, if not higher. In fact, even during a frustrating season for him, the 25-year-old Higuain still scored more goals per minute than Luis Suarez or Robin van Persie.
While he may lack the verve or panache of Bergkamp, one area where he might remind Arsenal fans of the Dutch legend is his finishing. Simply put, Higuain knows how to put the ball in the back of the net. Left-footed, right-footed, on the run, from a set-piece, Higuain can score. He would be Arsenal’s most-clinical finisher by a country mile. Indeed, if Higuain does end up petting pen to paper, we just might be talking about him not as Arsenal’s most-expensive signing ever, but as Arsenal’s most-significant signing. These are some big words, I know, and it would take time for Higuain to back them up. Given his performance and his potential, though, I’m not terribly worried about having to eat these words.