Opinion: Forget Declan Rice, Arsenal need to beat Man Utd to bargain €55m transfer in order to win the title next season

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Arsenal’s title hopes are over, and fans will hope that rather than their best chance being gone, this is just the beginning of an exciting era at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners weren’t too far away from a truly outstanding Manchester City side, and there seems one obvious flaw to fix for Mikel Arteta’s men to come back as more serious title contenders next season.

Declan Rice may be Arsenal’s top target in what is expected to be an aggressive summer in the transfer market, as Ben Jacobs wrote in his recent CaughtOffside column, but there’s surely someone else who should be right at the top of Arteta’s list.

That player, is Napoli centre-back Kim Min-jae. The South Korea international has been one of the players of the season in Europe’s big five leagues, playing a starring role alongside Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as Napoli won their first Serie A title in 33 years.

Unsurprisingly, there is now plenty of reported interest in Kim, with recent reports from Italy, cited and translated by Sport Witness, claiming that Manchester United are one of the clubs showing the strongest interest in the 26-year-old, who will have a release clause of around €50million this summer.

Kim Min-jae in action for Napoli

Interestingly, another report, cited by Team Talk, noted that United could even go slightly above Kim’s release clause in order to put themselves in the strongest position. This could take the player’s price tag up to around €55m, but would still represent great value and is perhaps just the kind of tactic Arsenal need to be ready to deploy if they are to be serious competitors in the higher end of the market than they’ve been used to in recent times.

In truth, it’s a price Arsenal can’t afford not to pay, but it can still be done without spending a fortune. Arsenal have conceded 42 league goals so far this term, only six fewer than last season and with two games still to play. At home in particular, their defensive record is pretty shocking, with only five teams, including already-relegated Southampton, having a worse record in that department. If Arsenal can fix that on the cheap with one of the top defenders in the game, making Gabriel Magalhaes their backup option instead of Rob Holding next season, then surely it’s an absolute no-brainer.

Rice, by contrast, would likely cost more than double that and wouldn’t be enough on his own to give that defence the protection it needs from midfield. He could certainly be an upgrade on Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka, but Arsenal’s recent collapse in form coincided with Saliba’s injury, and the lack of alternatives in that department is what should be keeping Arteta up at night. It certainly spooked the rest of the Arsenal team in some key moments this season, with the players looking like they knew they were playing alongside a major liability in Holding, who is such a down-grade from Saliba that it’s a reminder of what different planets Arsenal and Man City have been operating on this season, with Pep Guardiola able to name the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and John Stones on the bench at Everton yesterday without even a hint of a drop-off in quality.

Josko Gvardiol is another top centre-back who Arsenal could do well to invest a significant chunk of their budget in, but he’d be more expensive than Kim, and lacks that title-winning experience that the South Korean has just experienced with Napoli, who, like Arsenal, were looking to end a decades-long wait to finally win the title again.

Man Utd could probably also do with strengthening in defence this summer, but Arsenal need to ensure they can be quick and beat them to this signing, or else Erik ten Hag’s side will be a very different prospect and a more serious threat in next season’s title race. As well as beating them on the pitch, Arsenal need to be ruthless off it, to make sure they get the signings that their rivals also need first.

We’ll have to see how much Arsenal can spend this summer, and in an ideal world they’d certainly get both Kim and Rice, but if landing the former means they have to look for a cheaper option than the latter, then so be it; they cannot go into another campaign without fixing their defence or this season really will just be a flash in the pan.

More Stories Aaron Ramsdale Ben White Declan Rice Gabriel Magalhaes Jakub Kiwior Kieran Tierney Kim Min-jae Mikel Arteta Oleksandr Zinchenko Rob Holding William Saliba