Moises Caicedo, Declan Rice or both? Arsenal's midfield overhaul key to Mikel Arteta's transfer plans

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The Gunners are expected to spend big this summer, with Chelsea star Mason Mount also being spoken about as a target at the Emirates Stadium

If things had panned out differently in January, Moises Caicedo would be preparing to face his former team on Sunday as Arsenal entertain Brighton at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were desperate to land the Seagulls midfielder to boost their title chances over the second half of the season, but saw two bids rejected before eventually backing off in the face of firm Brighton resistance.

It was a blow for Arsenal, one that was softened when they managed to get Jorginho in through the door from Chelsea soon after. But it was a bigger blow for Caicedo, who had very publicly attempted to push the move through when he took to social media and called for Brighton to let him go.

Many wondered whether there would be a way back for the Ecuador international at the Amex Stadium after that, but Roberto De Zerbi stood by him and brought him back into fold almost as soon as the transfer window had shut. The 21-year-old has since gone to sign a new contract with the south coast club.

But that hasn’t stopped talk of a summer exit, and as Caicedo prepares to come up against Arsenal for the first time since those dramatic January events, he knows the Gunners still have him in their minds as they look towards the summer window.

  1. A warm welcome?

    A warm welcome?

    Caicedo may have signed a new deal, but that does not guarantee that he will still be a Brighton player next season. And with Arsenal’s focus this summer very much on strengthening their midfield, his name will once again be continuously mentioned alongside the north London club.

    It will be interesting to see what sort of reception he gets on Sunday afternoon. Mykhailo Mudryk, another failed January target for Arsenal, was heavily booed by supporters at the Emirates when he came off the bench for Chelsea last week. 

    But the situations are, of course, very different. Mudryk ended up signing for Chelsea when the Gunners were unable to strike a deal with Shakhtar Donetsk. Caicedo stayed put at Brighton and his future remains uncertain. That is likely to mean he will receive a very different reception to the one the Ukrainian winger was subjected to during Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat.

  2. Arteta's midfield rebuild

    Arteta's midfield rebuild

    What Arsenal will do with their midfield is the big talking point ahead of the summer window. Arteta wants reinforcements. That’s why Caicedo was targeted in January and that’s why West Ham skipper Declan Rice is the focus of attention as the season draws towards a close.

    Whether the Gunners attempt to sign both in the summer remains be seen. The plan in January was to sign Caicedo and then move for Rice at the end of the season. So with that in mind, you would think that landing both would still be on the agenda.

    But a lot depends of the finances involved. Brighton rejected £70m ($88m) for Caicedo just a few months ago and he has signed a new contract since then, so you would expect they are going to want far more to agree to a deal now. 

  3. 'Not something we tend to get involved with'

    'Not something we tend to get involved with'

    There is no release clause in Caicedo’s new contract, as has been confirmed by Seagulls chief executive Paul Barber. "No, we don't operate like that," Barber told The Beautiful Game podcast. “We try and avoid things like that because they become such a point of discussion and negotiation that you spend hours and hours on something that may not happen, or if it does happen it may not be the right price at the right time. We know other clubs use them, that's fine, but it's not something we tend to get involved with."

    So Brighton are in a very strong position when it comes to demanding what they want for Caicedo, who has also attracted interest from clubs such as Manchester United and Chelsea. He now has a contract on the south coast until 2027, with the Seagulls holding an option to extend that by a further 12 months.

    If they were in a good position with the player in January, they are in an even better one now.

  4. Jorginho’s arrival
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    Jorginho’s arrival

    It must be remembered that Arsenal do also now have Jorginho on their books, a player who has proven his worth in recent matches following his move from Chelsea. No-one thinks Jorginho is the long-term answer to Arsenal’s midfield, but the player that they turned to when Caicedo was deemed unattainable does still have another year left on his contract, with the option of a further 12 months.

    So whether Arsenal can afford to sign both Caicedo and Rice is questionable. West Ham are believed to want over £100m ($126m) to sell their captain. Some reports have even suggested they want £120m ($151m). That would be a figure that would smash Arsenal’s transfer record, which currently stands at the £72m they paid Lille for Nicolas Pepe.

    And should West Ham receive that amount for Rice, Brighton would be well within their rights to demand something similar for their star midfielder.

    “We'll see what happens,” Caicedo said, when discussing his future during an interview with The Telegraph last month. “I just want to have a really good season with Brighton now, to finish off the season well and play really well.”

  5. A Xhaka replacement?
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    A Xhaka replacement?

    Arsenal will have significant money to spend this summer. With qualification for the Champions League already secured, the club’s transfer budget will be larger than it has been in recent years. It’s likely that the budget will also be boosted by some sales.

    Kieran Tierney could bring in some big money if the Gunners decide to allow the left-back to leave, while the futures of Emile Smith Rowe, Folarin Balogun and even Granit Xhaka are not yet clear.

    Xhaka has been an integral part of Arsenal’s starting XI this season and is one of the key men in Arteta’s midfield. But Bayer Leverkusen are understood to be pushing very hard to get him to return to Germany, and the offer of a long-term deal could potentially persuade him to look for a move.

    Should that happen, then Arsenal would certainly need at least two big name summer arrivals in the central areas, and could raise the possibility of the club pushing to land Rice and Caicedo, or Chelsea star Mason Mount, in what would have to be a record-breaking summer at the Emirates.

  6. A formidable obstacle

    A formidable obstacle

    For now, however, the focus is just on Sunday for Arsenal. The transfer window may be looming large, but Arteta’s side still have a league title to try and win before they can do anything in terms of strengthening their squad ahead of next season.

    Victory this weekend is a must if they are to keep the pressure on Manchester City, and in Caicedo they face a formidable obstacle that they know all about.

    The Brighton midfielder admitted last month that he wanted to see the Gunners go on and lift the Premier League trophy this season. “Of course,” he told the Telegraph. “I hope so.” A typically dominant performance from him the weekend, however, could see those chances dashed once and for all.

    One thing that is for sure is that Arteta will know exactly what's coming from a player he was ready to break the bank for.