The £50m wonderkid that could be the perfect gamble for Arsenal

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When Ansu Fati made his debut for Barcelona back in August 2019, he was just 16 – the second youngest player ever to wear the famous blue and red stripes. He scored his first professional goal less than a week later. One of the most powerful hype trains in the sport’s history pulled out of the station – but now, four years later, it has been derailed.

The Guinea-Bissau born wide forward has had a truly torrid time with injuries since he burst onto the scene with a string of wonderful goals. Teenage kicks led to major meniscus damage to his knee. He has spent as much time on the treatment table as he has on the field, and his form has been understandably inconsistent. There were many who believed that he would be among the best young players in the world by now, but instead he started just 14 games last season. It’s been a cruel coupe of years.

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Ansu Fati has spent more time on the bench than the pitch over the past three seasons.Ansu Fati has spent more time on the bench than the pitch over the past three seasons.
Ansu Fati has spent more time on the bench than the pitch over the past three seasons.

And now Barcelona are gently preparing to nudge him out of the door. In public they’ve been keen to use kind words, but in private Fati’s agent, Jorge Mendes, has been casting around for a new club. Wolves were suggested, inevitably, with a swap deal for Rúben Neves mooted before the Portuguese midfielder moved to the Saudi Pro League - but now Arsenal have apparently expressed an interest in giving a stunningly gifted young player a chance to revive his career, with repeated rumours suggesting that Mikel Arteta could make a move before the end of the window. But would it work for Arsenal, or is it too much of a gamble with a potential title charge on the line?

Fati was largely reduced to cameo appearances during the 2022/23 season, and struggled to pass the eye test – not an uncommon issue for a player whose appearances are limited to the last minutes of games that were already won, as was often the case. He often tried to get into games via ambitious dribbles and tricks which didn’t always come off, suggesting a player desperate to impress again and trying the wrong things to make something happen. In short, he looked rusty.

But on the other hand, the underlying numbers were better than might have been suspected. He scored 10 goals at a rate of almost exactly one every 180 minutes – plenty of first-rate forwards would give their eye teeth to score that often. He was also getting more than eight touches of the ball in the opposing penalty box per 90, which is colossal, and was at the top of the class in La Liga for pass completion, xG and progressive receptions. For all that he may have been trying too hard and scratching his way through some phases of play, all the underlying attributes that made him a star still seem to be there.

He’s still slippery and still quick, more so than might be anticipated given all the injuries he’s had. He’s still willing to take shots on from all angles and still scores plenty of them. He’s also still got the important knack of losing his marker and finding half-yards of space down the channels, and creating great passing options for his team-mates. In other words, there’s a lot of evidence that he’s still a heck of a player.

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Which doesn’t change the fact that he will need to be eased back into regular first-team football. Neither Arsenal nor any other team interested – and both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have been mentioned in reports, albeit less convincingly – can expect Fati to be a top-level player right out of the box. The damage he has taken over the last few years has been substantial and he has missed far too many minutes to be the best player he can be straight away.

But chances to get generational talents in your squad come around rarely, and Fati is certainly still a generational talent, whether he eventually realises it or not. And from Arsenal’s perspective, as long as the price is right, the risk is low – they already have Gabriel Martinelli as a left-forward, and cover in the form of Reiss Nelson, Leandro Trossard and perhaps Kai Havertz. If Fati doesn’t recapture his best form, if he can’t worth through the physical limitations imposed by years of injuries, then Arsenal will not be without a first-rate player in their starting eleven. If he does pan out… well, one of the most gifted players to emerge in the last decade will be strutting his stuff at the Emirates. It’s a tantalising proposition.

Despite struggling for regular minutes at Barcelona, Fati was still part of Spain’s Nations League-winning squad.Despite struggling for regular minutes at Barcelona, Fati was still part of Spain’s Nations League-winning squad.
Despite struggling for regular minutes at Barcelona, Fati was still part of Spain’s Nations League-winning squad.

The question, then, is how much he would cost, and that is where things are less clear. In Spring, Barcelona reportedly wanted around £50m for his services, but with no queue of suitors forming they may take less. That said, public statements on the matter have stated that they’re in no grand rush to move him on – just yesterday, Spanish newspaper Sport reported that “if Ansu decides to stay, he will have a guaranteed place in the squad.”

And reports over whether Fati wants to leave have been contradictory. Some journalists have suggested he wants nailed-on first-team action. Others have said that he balked at the idea of joining Wolves. Both, admittedly, can be true.

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So the question isn’t whether buying Fati is a good idea – it is – but whether it’s a good gamble for both club and player at around £50m. And that does become a harder sell with Arsenal having already splashed over £200m this summer, and with the player far from guaranteed minutes at Arsenal when he would be competing directly with another brilliant youngster. If Fati would be motivated to move for gametime, Arsenal does not seem like his best bet – but then again, he probably can’t be guaranteed first-team action at any top level club until he’s proven both his long-term form and fitness.

But if the money can be found, or if the price can be driven down, it’s hard to argue against taking a punt on Fati. He’s a magnificent player who just needs to get his feet back under him and stay healthy for a few seasons. It may never really happen the way it was meant to – but if it did? £50m would be the steal of the century.

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