With there being uncertainty about the future of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang at Arsenal, a lot of doubts are creeping up at the club. The Gabon international’s future could change a lot of things, apart from just their transfer plans. But the chase of Dries Mertens shows that they might not need too many changes.
Aubameyang’s current deal at the Emirates runs out in the summer of 2021 and there has been no real progress when it comes to a potential extension. The Gunners moving for Mertens would not just present a bargain option, but also a like for like replacement in Mikel Arteta’s style.
This season, Mertens has had a hand in 13 goals in a total of 22 appearances in all competitions. When the season for Napoli began, he was a regular in Serie A, but he has now become a European player. He has started five of their six Champions League games.
Despite all the instability at the partenopei, Mertens hasn’t had any problems. While the Belgian used to be a winger not long ago, Maurizio Sarri saw him as a striker in his possession-based 4-3-3 shape. Since then, the striker position has become Mertens’ mainstay.
In the 2015-16 season, Mertens had a tally of 11 goals and seven assists in 40 games for the Naples-based side. He would play as a left-winger who can cut inside and be a constant threat on the ball. After Gonzalo Higuain’s exit to Juventus, Mertens’ role changed.
The 2016-17 season transformed his life. In 46 appearances in all competitions, Mertens got 34 goals and 12 assists for the partenopei. He became the regular striker, linking up with Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon. Playing centrally and closer to goal brought the best out of his abilities.
In the 2017-18 season too, Mertens had the same position. He made 49 appearances in all competitions, but he had a hand in 34 goals. With passing months, Mertens became a lot like what the likes of Jamie Vardy and Teemu Pukki are. He likes to stay on the shoulders of the defenders and run onto balls played in behind the defences. He isn’t that prolific dribbler anymore.
Mertens recently became the club’s second-highest goalscorer in history, overtaking Diego Maradona. And the Argentine himself had big words for the former PSV man.
He told Corriere dello Sport (via Daily Mail): “Mertens was born to be a striker, but he didn’t know. All his goals couldn’t be scored by someone who isn’t a striker at heart.”
That just says a lot about what Mertens’ best position is. He has adapted his approach to become a player who can last longer in European football. With his contract set to run out in the summer of 2020, it should be good news for Arsenal.
At 32, Mertens will not exactly demand regular first-team football. He brings immense experience to the plate and being in the Vardy-mould, he is well capable of making the in-behind runs that Aubameyang makes. Having been a winger in the past, he is versatile too.
He has the European nous that the team needs to make a step forward. He has contributed to 26 goals in 32 Champions League games- something Arsenal can definitely look at.
He may not have a big resale value. But Mertens has been at his best in a possession-based system in the past. That is what Arteta has been doing in his time at the club. He wants his team to keep possession of the ball and do the work with it. Mertens will bring a lot to the club, when playing in that sort of style. That made the best use of him not long ago.