As the season approaches the New Year, one thing will firmly be on the minds of fans as well as football managers: the January transfer window.
While it is not as prolific as the end of season extravaganza, it is four weeks of chaos that results in clubs overspending and panicking about a lack of resources for the remaining month of their campaigns.
Manchester United are no different and you only need to go back 11 months to see their impulse purchase of Alexis Sánchez.
The Chilean might have technically been a free transfer due to the swap deal imposed with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way, but his astronomical wages, £500,000 per-week (including bonuses), has caused concern given his lack of quality performances on the pitch.
It’s nearly impossible to get January signings right, but one every few years does seem to pay off. That was the case with Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidić for Manchester United, who became stalwarts in Sir Alex Ferguson’s successful defence over the years and were both purchased overseas midway through the season.
So now it’s José Mourinho’s time to roll the dice once more and see what Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman, can deliver for him in January.
One player that has been routinely scouted by the Portuguese coach himself has been Marko Arnautović, the West Ham winger-cum-striker has been itching for a move to a team who participate in the Champions League.
The Austria international’s brother, Danijel Arnautović, looks after his affairs and will be central to any potential move that will come his way.
On the matter of future transfers, he told Austrian newspaper Kurier: “He’s already playing in the Premier League and that’s where the best players are. But for a player like Marko, this cannot be the end.
“Marko is ready for the next step. A player like him should not play against relegation. He should play for the international spots.”
While Marko Arnautović’s brother claimed that a move last summer was ‘very, very close’, it never came to fruition and his client has remained at West Ham this season.
Some players can act out of frustration when being denied a move to a bigger club, such as Virgil van Dijk when Southampton initially refused to negotiate with Liverpool, but Arnautović has kept his head down, worked hard and delivered in crucial games for the East London club.
Arnautović had always been a clever player, ever since joining to Stoke in 2013, but his career really elevated when he made the move to West Ham in January 2017.
It was under David Moyes’ tutelage where the Austrian grew as a player with the Scottish manager trusting him with the centre-forward’s role. Quickly, it became apparent that Arnautović had the stomach for the job and repaid the club with goals that saved West Ham from relegation.
Last season, the former Werder Bremen star scored 11 Premier League goals in 31 appearances; a record of over one domestic goal in every three appearances is impressive and shows a level of consistency that had possibly been lacking.
With new responsibilities, Arnautović grew into the role and his overall game improved drastically, culminating in the Austrian being West Ham’s star player and prized possession.
And so it begs the question as to whether Manchester United will return in January with an offer that will appease West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan.
With Mourinho’s woes over Romelu Lukaku’s appalling form and the considerable lack of goals to his name, it’s clear as day that the Red Devils need competition for the Belgium international - especially if they are to finish inside the top four, which is currently offered at 4/1 with William Hill.
While Alexis Sánchez and Marcus Rashford have been stepping into the goalscorer role due to Lukaku’s recent injury, they are yet to show their prolific nature in front of goal and cause damage to opposition defences at the same rate as someone like Arnautović has shown.
The Austrian already has five Premier League goals this season, a record of one in every two appearances, trumping that of Sánchez, who has one, and Rashford, with two to his name.
The downside is that Arnautović will not come cheap and he will be turning 30-years-old come the start of next season. Eventually his form will curtail and the club will be left with a player on incredibly high wages over possibly three or four years.
However, with that being said, it depends on how much Mourinho pushes for him and if he will be the difference maker between now and the end of the season. With Arnautović, he is not going to need an adjusting period to get up to speed with the Premier League’s tempo and should be ready to contribute as soon as he is signed.
He might not be a global icon that some United fans demand every six months, but he is a player that has an attitude and swagger on the pitch that the club are currently in need of, especially in the centre forward’s role.
The added competition with Lukaku is paramount to get the best out of both players and Arnautović has shown that he can come in at any time for West Ham and find the back of the net.
With the Red Devils currently seven points off the top four and 12 off league-leaders Manchester City, they certainly need a spark in January to make up ground on their rivals before it’s too late.
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