This is not the first time that Arsenal have been linked with Wilfried Zaha. Back in 2013, with rumours that Theo Walcott could be the latest Arsene Wenger disciple to abandon the club unceremoniously, Zaha was put forward as a like-for-like replacement who could bring comparable pace on the wing.
Walcott stayed in North London in the end – even if only to stop people screaming ‘sign da ting’ at him whenever he left the house – while Zaha left Crystal Palace for Manchester United where he made a grand total of four appearances. Zaha has since been pigeonholed as a player unable to make the step up to a ‘big club’, though the reality is a little more complicated.
Zaha arrived at Old Trafford at a time of great upheaval, enticed to the club by Alex Ferguson but one of the first victims of the David Moyes debacle. With United struggling from the off and Moyes under enormous pressure, there were few opportunities to test out a youngster who had no experience of the Premier League.
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If that somewhat mitigates Zaha’s failure to make an impression at Old Trafford, so too does the enormous progress he’s made since his return to Palace. Zaha has been vindicated by his last few seasons in the top flight, during which his effervescent performances have drawn covetous glances from traditional top-six teams.
That’s more than can be said of Theo Walcott these days, which is perhaps part of the reason that Arsenal are again reported to be keen on Zaha. The noises coming out of the slow-grinding rumour mill, however, are that the Ivorian could be signed as a replacement for Alexis Sanchez.
While Zaha has come on leaps and bounds since his lacklustre spell at Manchester United and evolved from callow youth into star attacker, there’s little evidence to suggest he would be able to make up for the loss of Sanchez. Zaha has still never reached double figures in a single season, while Sanchez scored 24 league goals last term even as the team around him stuttered and slipped.
While Zaha might well make a decent addition to the Arsenal squad in different circumstances, bringing him in to replace Sanchez would be a symbolic step backwards for the club. It was not long after the first links to Zaha that Arsenal looked to revolutionise their transfer policy, signing Mesut Ozil in August 2013 and Sanchez a year later for substantial fees.
To return to their pursuit of Zaha four years after the fact – this as they face losing the star signings of yesteryear – epitomises their loss of momentum in the transfer market. While he might make a passable replacement for outgoing wide players, the idea that Zaha is ready to step into Sanchez’s shoes seems far-fetched to say the least.
There is also the psychological burden on Zaha to consider. While he seems to have recovered from his experiences at Manchester United, there’s no telling how he might react were he asked to fill the huge void left by a de facto goal demon.
Having struggled at a club with big ambitions before, Zaha could be forgiven for harbouring some residual sense of self-doubt – a feeling which could easily be exacerbated by extreme pressure. There is no greater ask than to replace Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, something which Zaha would have to consider carefully before diving in.