04 April 2014

Everton v. Arsenal Preview: Do it for Lukaku (?)

We have a tough trip to Goodison Park on Sunday, and a fair amount hangs in the balance. With a draw, we inch closer to solidifying our fourth place finish; with a win, we seize fourth place and climb closer to third. A loss, of course, makes for squeaky bums as Everton climb to within one point of us and have a game in hand. For as much as this match and its ramifications matter for where each club will compete next year (Champions or Europa?) one other area to consider is how these ramifications will affect the future of Romelu Lukaku. An Arsenal win might convince him that his best bet at Champions League football lies elsewhere—namely, at Arsenal itself.

First, of course, we'd have to earn the Champions League spot, and while we're in a strong position to do so, we're not there yet. Assuming for the moment that we can finish fourth or higher, then, there's the small matter of whether Chelsea would be willing to sell him to a direct rival. For as much as we might interpret the sale of Juan Mata to Man U as a positive, that likely confirmed Mourinho's estimate that Man U was no longer a direct threat just as much as it stated that Mata was surplus to his needs. Then again, he seems to feel a compulsion to make pariahs of players from time to time, so there's that, too. A more-likely indicator or Lukaku's availability to us would be the situation with Demba Ba, whom Mourinho was apparently ready to sell to us until we made our move for Özil, at which point he pulled the plug.

Despite his dissatisfaction with Ba and Torres, and with Eto'o looking older and slower, it seems unlikely that Mourinho will be able to sell any of them at a price that allows Chelsea to abide by FFP. Lukaku, then, is one high-value asset whom Mourinho could part with without having to dismantle his current squad any further (through the sale of Hazard or Oscar, for example). If he's serious about pursuing Diego Costa or someone of similar calibre, it does look as if Chelsea will have to make at least symbolic attempts to balance their transfer-budget, but this then begs the question, by purchasing Lukaku, do we strengthen Chelsea by providing them the funds to go after Costa, Cavani, or someone else? After all, it might make more sense to cut out the middle-man—in this case, Chelsea—and go directly for someone a cut above Lukaku. He's 20 and offers great physicality and finishing but may not be quite ready to lead the line on a regular basis. For the £25m starting price (before other clubs ante in), we might be better off plumping for someone more experienced but only somewhat more expensive.

He's an exciting prospect, at this point, and we'll have to keep an eye on him—certainly on Sunday when we'll have to clamp down on him in order to deny Everton. He leads the squad with 12 goals, double that of his next teammate, and is second with six assists. He's capable of some great things, to be sure.We'll have to first see about shutting him down before assessing his availability and suitability for next season. What do you think? Assuming Chelsea would make him available, should we make a move for him?