Arsenal must be decisive over Schalke star Leon Goretzka as European giants circle

James Benge
In demand | Schalke want to hold on to Goretzka but it will be tough: Bongarts/Getty Images

The January transfer window is a dark cloud on Arsenal’s horizon, but the mid-season market need not be a cause for fear around the Emirates.

As with the summer, Arsenal’s window will be defined by what they do with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

But while those two will provide Arsene Wenger with a headache, he and the rest of the Gunners’ hierarchy - including new recruitment chief Sven Mislintat - cannot afford to take their eye off the ball on the continent.

Enter Leon Goretzka, who has left Schalke facing the same quandary as Arsenal. Do the Germans cash in for what they can get now, or gamble that the final half of the season holds the key to a new deal for their star player?

Schalke currently lie second in the Bundesliga, unlikely to catch leaders Bayern Munich but well placed in the battle for the remaining three Champions League places.

They have mounted their assault on the top of the table without the injured Goretzka, but staying in the top four would doubtless be easier with him in the side.

Certainly if there have been suggestions that Sanchez and Ozil have let standards slip, which were riposted in some style on Saturday, then similar accusations could not be levied at Goretzka.

After nine Bundesliga games the midfielder has four goals to his name, including a run of three in three before he suffered a stress fracture in his back.

The 22-year-old’s fine recent form won’t be a surprise to Arsenal, who have been scouting Goretzka for some time, but they are far from the only ones in the hunt: Juventus have thrown their hat in the ring; Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United have all been linked with a move.

Schalke’s sporting director Christian Heidel seems relaxed about Goretzka’s future: "I think if Schalke had no chance to keep him I would be the first to know that.

"But I haven’t received that kind of information until now. Leon will make a decision soon without us building any pressure on him."

The clock, though, is ticking for Schalke, with Goretzkafree to sign a pre-contract agreement with any overseas club from January 1.

Dynamic duo: Sanchez and Ozil are in the same contract situation as Goretzka (AFP/Getty Images)

It is, as Wenger conceded in the case of Sanchez and Ozil, a worrying place to find yourself.

Wenger said last week: "Do we let anyone go in January? We'll have to think about that to see where we stand with them at the end of December."

There is an inevitable temptation to conducting summer business ahead of time. But if Arsenal are eager to bring Goretzka in, is it really worth waiting half a season to save perhaps £20million?

Aside from the on-field boost Goretzka’s arrival midway through the season would bring - and he could be exactly the sort of energetic partner Granit Xhaka needs in midfield - signing the German international ahead of schedule gives Arsenal far more flexibility in the market.

If Ozil and/or Sanchez refuse to put pen to paper on extensions, Arsenal can at least cash in knowing they won’t have to struggle through their bid for a return to the Champions League without a replacement.

And of course, a fan base that can grow febrile at the slightest provocation in transfer season might be soothed by Goretzka’s arrival.

That discounts perhaps the perfect scenario for Arsenal, that a major statement of ambition in the transfer window convinces Ozil or, unlikely as it may seem, Sanchez to put pen to paper.

“The boy will be one of the world's best!”

VfL Bochum director Jens Todt

But can Schalke be convinced to sell? They did exactly that when Lewis Holtby signed a pre-contract agreement with Tottenham, for the meagre price of £1.5million.

If Arsenal offer a transfer fee as others are negotiating a summer switch, they might find the German giants far more amenable to doing business with him.

While Arsenal would have to pay a lot more than Holtby cost Spurs, they can also be optimistic they are getting a much better player.

"I have never seen an 18-year-old who has so much class and desire,” Jens Todt said of Goretzka when he was at VfL Bochum four years ago. "The boy will be one of the world's best!”

Barcelona icon Xavi says now: “He could certainly play well in any team in the world and he would fit in well.”

It appears inevitable that Europe’s top sides will be in the hunt for Goretzka over the coming months.

If Arsenal are to pull off what would be a major transfer coup, they cannot afford to leave matters to the summer.