Wenger is forced to target Essien to shore up midfield

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger yesterday used an impenetrable, Cantona-esque phrase to try to explain why he dislikes shopping for players during the January transfer window, yet problems in Arsenal's midfield may yet force him to spend heavily this month.

Arsene Wenger yesterday used an impenetrable, Cantona-esque phrase to try to explain why he dislikes shopping for players during the January transfer window, yet problems in Arsenal's midfield may yet force him to spend heavily this month.

"To me it is very important to buy at the right price and January is more expensive," the Frenchman said, building up to an analogy. "Transfers are a bit like fishing. You go right and it doesn't work, so you go left. And the fish are more expensive in January."

Presumably, he meant that when he is not investing around £17m in a single player during the winter window - as he did last year, with Jose Antonio Reyes - he prefers to keep his money in his pockets until the summer.

Gilberto's ongoing back injury and Edu's apparently inevitable departure to Spain seem to be forcing his hand, however, and Wenger is reportedly considering a substantial bid, perhaps as much as £16m, for Lyon's 22-year-old Ghanaian, Mickael Essien, to cover in midfield.

According to Wenger, Gilberto will not return to action until mid-April at the earliest, "even if the news [from a specialist] is positive".

Sources close to Arsenal also fear that Edu is close to leaving, having rejected a new contract offer. His current deal expires in the summer, and he has attracted interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia.

Edu's departure, if it transpires, will almost certainly lead to Wenger buying a replacement, with a bid for Essien likely. The player has been recommended by Gilles Grimandi, the former Arsenal defender who is now the club's scout in France. Wenger would prefer to wait until the summer but knows that Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid are also interested.

Wenger may also be forced to buy a new goalkeeper in what could yet be a busy January at Highbury. Jens Lehmann was told yesterday by his national coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, that he needs regular first-team football to guarantee his place for Germany.

Such advice might encourage Lehmann to quit Arsenal, who have reportedly been tracking Crystal Palace's Gabor Kiraly as a replacement, according to the Hungarian goalkeeper's agent.

Klinsmann said: "I called Lehmann last week and told him that for the rest of this season it doesn't matter what role he has," Klinsmann said. "But he needs to be No 1 again by next season. That could be in the Premier League, the Bundesliga or in Italy, Spain or France."

Lehmann returned to the Arsenal side for Sunday's FA Cup win over Stoke City but is expected to be back on the bench when his team visit Bolton Wanderers in the league on Saturday.

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