A rather worrying rumour reaches our ears and it is this – Chelsea’s hard-as-nails defender Branislav Ivanovic could be playing in red and white next season rather than blue. Ivanovic is wanted by Arsenal as a replacement for their captain Thomas Vermaelen, who is heading to Manchester United if the two clubs can agree a fee.
The Vermaelen move is a little weird. He has apparently already agreed the move and now it is up to the two clubs to come to an arrangement. This seems a back-to-front way of conducting a transfer, but that’s their business. It only concerns Chelsea fans when it brings into question the future of one of our players.
It’s no surprise that Arsene Wenger would like to buy Ivanovic. He is one of the toughest and hardest to beat defenders in the Premier League. He can cover both the centre-back and right-back positions – positions in which Arsenal will find themselves bereft after the departures of Vermalen and Bacary Sagna.
Whisper it quietly, but a move to Arsenal also sort of makes sense for Ivanovic. He’s likely to lose his right-back berth at Chelsea to Cesar Azpilicueta when the Spaniard switches to his preferred wing following the arrival of Filipe Luis at left-back. Gary Cahill and John Terry is the preferred line-up in the centre. He faces a return to the job as utility man in the back four, filling in when there’s a hole. At the age of 30, that cannot be the most attractive of prospects for the Serbian international.
However, a move to Arsenal is unlikely. To begin with, Ivanovic is one of Jose Mourinho’s favourite players. He symbolises exactly what the Blues boss looks for in a defender – rugged, imposing, never-say-die. Ivanovic is a fighter. It is no accident that Ivanovic was one of the players whose place in the team seemed permanent last year.
Secondly, Mourinho will be loath to lose another centre-back this summer. With David Luiz gone, the only other cover for Terry and Cahill is the untried French youngster Kurt Zouma. Chelsea are unlikely to want to rely completely on him.
Furthermore, it is by no means certain that Ivanovic will lose his right-back slot. He has worked hard to make it his own and while no-one would say he is a natural in the position – and certainly he will never be the ideal full-back, his crossing ability lets him down going forward – there are few better in the defensive aspects of the role.
If Arsenal do pursue the move, however, it will be interesting what sort of value Chelsea set on the Serbian’s head. Reports suggest that the North London side reckon they can secure him for as low as £7million. This would be incredibly unlikely. Chelsea, it appears, are now in the business of securing the biggest sum they can get for departing talent, rather than letting players go on the cheap. Ivanovic is highly valued by the Blues and there will also be an “Arsenal premium” – the extra amount Chelsea would demand to allow a player to go to a disliked title rival.
It does look as if Wenger will have to look elsewhere to fill the Vermaelen-shaped hole in his squad.