Revealed: Arsenal's alternative to 'Ukrainian Neymar'

FT Desk
  • FT Desk
  • 26 Sep 2022 18:29 BST
  • 3 min read
FT Desk 26 Sep 2022 18:29 BST 3 min read
Mykhaylo Mudryk, Ukraine, 2022

Arsenal retain an interest in Mykhaylo Mudryk - the Shakhtar Donetsk winger dubbed the "Ukrainian Neymar", but they have a Plan B in case they are priced out of a move for the 21-year-old.

Mudryk was close to joining Arsenal last January and he has spoken effusively of the Gunners since that move fell through, telling CBS Sports recently that: "My dream is to play in Premier League, of course. Arsenal are a very good team, very good manager - so from my side, I can't say no to Arsenal!"

But Mudryk has already scored twice and laid on two more goals in just five appearances in all competitions for Shakhtar this season, and the Ukrainian side are understood to have slapped a €50 million asking price on their talented youngster.

Villarreal's Alex Baena has emerged as a potential alternative, with Mikel Arteta keen to bring his compatriot to the Emirates after a blistering start to the season in Spain.

"Alex Baena has stood out at the start of this season with Villarreal," writes Spanish daily, Sport. "He has become one of the club's best players and is the team's top scorer with six goals. The 21-year-old midfielder could head to England, joining one of the interested teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal."

Arteta's relationship with former Gunners boss Unai Emery is likely to smooth negotiations with Villarreal - the former sought the latter's advice ahead of taking the Arsenal job in 2019 and Emery later described it as "the perfect marriage" - but even if the fee climbs up to Baena's €35m release clause, that would still be a €15m saving on Mudryk.

How good is Baena?

A right-footed left winger, Baena is capable of playing across the front line and would provide some welcome competition for Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard at Arsenal should he make the move in January.

A Spain under-21 international, Baena had a breakout campaign on loan at Girona last season and his six goals and two assists in all competitions for Villarreal in the current campaign have come in at a rate of one every 69 minutes he has played.

With quick feet and an even faster footballing mind already, Arteta will be confident of moulding Baena into a prominent Premier League forward, and €35m could prove a steal.