Crystal Palace, it is fair to say, have not been happy with Arsenal’s behaviour in recent days. The Gunners’ offer of £40m for Wilfried Zaha was dismissed out of hand by the Eagles, who consider the bid derisory and have privately accused their London rivals of deliberately trying to unsettle their star man.
Palace have made it clear that they value their academy product at closer to £80m, and they were further incensed by Arsenal’s proposal to split the fee into five yearly instalments. Roy Hodgson’s side went into the summer pledging not to sell both Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who joined Manchester United in a £50m deal last week. As things stand, then, a move would appear unlikely.
That is likely a source of frustration for Zaha, who seems desperate to seal a switch to the club he supported as a boy. His brother Judicael virtually said as much in an interview with Sky Sports News on Monday, telling the channel: “Wilfried will always hold Crystal Palace and their fans in the highest regard and all the support they have given means the world to him. It’s my brother’s dream though, to play for Arsenal. Given all that Wilfried has given to Crystal Palace to help them remain a Premier League club, I hope Palace will be able to see their way to agreeing a deal with Arsenal that allows Wilfried to realise his dream of playing European football for the club he’s supported since childhood.”
Regardless, Palace are well within their rights to dig their heels in. Zaha signed a new five-year contract to become the club’s highest-paid player only last summer; had he rejected the extension and pay rise, the winger would be in a stronger position to depart ahead of the 2019/20 campaign. Zaha is probably more important to Palace than any other Premier League player is to his respective club, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the south Londoners’ chances of relegation would rise substantially without him in their team. It is for that reason, more than any external factors, that Palace value him so highly.
“The bottom line is this: he’s our player, and he’s certainly happy,” Roy Hodgson said after Zaha’s terrific display in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal in April. “That wasn’t the performance of a guy looking to get away from his club.
He’s on a four-year contract, he’s one of our highest-paid players and he’s absolutely adored by the fans and everyone in south-east London,” Hodgson said.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m looking forward to working with him not only in the near future, but I’m looking forward to seeing him in the Crystal Palace shirt for many years to come. The question is how many players, if the question is put to them, would say: ‘I don’t want to play Champions League football. You just congratulate the journalist; he’s caught him at the right moment and extracted an honest answer out of him.”
If Arsenal want to proceed with their pursuit, they will first have to raise funds by selling some members of their squad. Carl Jenkinson is reportedly interesting Palace themselves, so he could be thrown into the deal. Calum Chambers is also likely to depart, while Laurent Koscielny is said to be interested in a return to Ligue 1 with Bordeaux. However, it is doubtful that those three players would make up the £40m shortfall between Arsenal’s opening offer and Palace’s asking price. To do so would require the north Londoners to part with a player such as Alexandre Lacazette, who is attracting the interest of an Atletico Madrid side seeking a replacement for Antoine Griezmann.
Whether they should contemplate doing that is another question entirely. Zaha is a thrilling player who has proven his worth to Palace over a number of seasons. However, paying £80m for someone who has not played a single game in European competition would be a major gamble. Arsenal should not break the bank for Zaha this summer.
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