Transfer news: Why Arsenal were right to target Mesut Ozil from among Real Madrid's cast-offs

Amid interest in Karim Benzema last month, The Independent's Spanish correspondent Pete Jenson explained why Arsenal should target Ozil instead - the player who has signed for £42.5m

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The Independent Football

This article was first published on 27 August.

Back in 2010 when Arsène Wenger was mooted to have more money than in previous seasons and was surveying the transfer market for new players he joked about buying Real Madrid cast-offs.

“I might have to sign the players they don’t want this summer,” he said. “It was surprising that [the previous year] they got rid of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who have both done well in the Champions League. Maybe it’s worth waiting outside their stadium and seeing what players they let go this summer.”

Three years on, with Arsenal’s  summer transfer activity in its usual state of suspended animation Wenger once again finds himself looking  towards the gates of the Bernabeu. If Real complete the signing of Gareth Bale from Tottenham, the close to €100m (£85m) outlay will oblige them to make some attempt at balancing the books.

It will be 2009 all over again when, after they signed Kaka, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, they sold Sneijder and Robben just before the transfer deadline. And as Wenger alluded to in 2010 – it worked out very well for the buying clubs, Internazionale and Bayern Munich, because both sides made it to the Champions League final, Jose Mourinho winning the tournament with Inter having signed Sneijder.

Wenger’s challenge is to pick the right cast-off. Arsenal’s original interest was in Benzema, whose agent has dismissed the possibility of the French striker ending up at the Emirates this summer. A player Mourinho, when he was at Real, considered too timid in La Liga might well struggle in the physically more demanding Premier League. A let-off perhaps for Arsenal, but Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria are the ones left on the shelf.

Whenever Real embark on a summer transfer adventure there is collateral damage – neither Ozil nor Di Maria deserves to be sold. Both performed well under Mourinho and are hugely popular within the squad.

When Ozil briefly fell out of favour with Mourinho last season and was taken off at half-time in one game against Deportivo, team captain Sergio Ramos wore the German’s shirt under his own ready to dedicate any goal he scored to one of his closest dressing-room friends. The defender will be incensed if Ozil leaves the club.

Likewise Di Maria has the support of team-mates, with Ronaldo pledging this summer to do his best to ensure the Argentinian winger would not be sold, and receiving what may turn out to be hollow promises that he would be kept from Real’s president, Florentino Perez.

It is rather insulting to suggest that Di Maria is only half the player Bale is and yet he is available for less than half the price. His and Ozil’s popularity in their own dressing room speaks volumes for what intelligent buys they would be. Also, just as then Real coach Manuel Pellegrini did not want to lose Robben and Sneijder in 2009, Carlos Ancelotti wants to keep the pair now.

However, it looks as though Bale will line up alongside Ronaldo and Isco in the three behind the striker – who is set to be Benzema – and that will leave both out of the team.

Di Maria arrived from Benfica in 2010 for €25m and is on a £50,000-a-week contract until 2018. Real would prefer for him and full-back Fabio Coentrao to leave. But, if the bids come in for Ozil instead, then he will be the player to make way despite his greater worth to the side playing centrally or wide.

Whoever leaves, someone will get good value as a new galactico lands and top international players make way. Just as Wenger commented three years ago – now is a good time to be waiting outside the Bernabeu.