Arsenal have moved for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema in an attempt to finally add the proven world-class forward that Arsène Wenger has made his priority this summer.
|Target: Karim Benzema fits perfectly the profile of player that Arsène Wenger wants at Arsenal|
Wenger has tracked Benzema for many years, to little avail, but there is a feeling that a £40 million offer could now succeed as Madrid seek to balance their finances in the expectation of a likely world-record fee to recruit Gareth Bale.
Arsenal have already failed with bids this summer for Gonzalo Higuaín, who eventually joined Napoli, and Liverpool's Luis Suárez, but Wenger remains determined to add an established striker from the elite bracket of world football.
Although interest in Manchester United's Wayne Rooney is still genuine, there is an acceptance at Arsenal that it would be a difficult deal to complete in this transfer window.
Wenger has also now conceded defeat in the attempt to sign Suarez. "Absolutely no chance of that," he said. "It is true that one bid for a striker did not work. That took a long time. We have to wake up from that now. I'm confident.
"The transfer market starts for me now and a lot of activity will happen between now and Sept 2. It is like a poker game. People hold their cards as long as possible. In the end, they go for decisions."
Still only 25, Benzema fits perfectly the profile of player that Wenger wants. As well as having a good goalscoring record in his own right, he is adept at holding the ball up and bringing others into play. This is critical in the 4-2-3-1 system that Arsenal play, with Wenger still effectively trying to replace, not just the goals, but the all-round influence of Robin van Persie.
It is understood that Arsenal have been in touch with Madrid over the past 48 hours and are encouraged that a deal for Benzema could be feasible.
Although Madrid have already sold one striker this summer, in Higuaín, there is a feeling that Spain Under-21 forward Álvaro Morata is ready to step into a more senior starting role.
Cristiano Ronaldo could also play further forward in a more central position, especially with Bale likely to be added to the team. Real will also be well aware that Suárez is keen to join them. Even so, it would still be a big decision for new manager Carlo Ancelotti to sell Benzema as well as Higuaín in this transfer window.
Benzema scored in Madrid's victory last week on the opening day of the La Liga season. Although he has been due to open negotiations on a new contract at Madrid, the fact that he is already in the final two years of his deal does indicate some uncertainty on either side about his future.
After four seasons at Madrid, Benzema would want to be the main man in their attack this season and will be well aware of Wenger's high regard of his qualities.
Olivier Giroud, Benzema's team-mate for France, is still also very much part of Wenger's plans but the manager wants a more proven option to lead his attack. Although Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott are also keen to play more centrally, Wenger regards their obvious quality in front of goal as most effective when cutting in from wider positions.
Arsenal have endured repeated frustration in the transfer window and, as well as a striker, Wenger is still working on deals for a goalkeeper and at least one midfielder.
Bids were made this week for the former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, who is now at Juventus, as well as Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye. Beppe Marotta, the Juventus director general, yesterday told Arsenal that they could "forget about Pogba".
There is rather more hope on concluding a deal for Cabaye, despite Newcastle's rejection of an initial £10.2 million bid. Cabaye has made it clear that he wants to leave, although Paris St-Germain are also interested and Newcastle are demanding at least £20 million.
Wenger would also like to add to his goalkeeping options but it is understood that a £6 million offer for Valencia's Vicente Guaita has been rejected. Guaita did not start regularly for Valencia last season but is still valued by the Spanish club at £20 million.
Stoke's Asmir Begovic is also an option and, although there has been no bid from Arsenal, Stoke City will delay sending Jack Butland out on loan amid fears of a move. Arsenal had a bid rejected for Begovic in January, with Stoke wanting around £12 million.