Why Chelsea, Arsenal want to sign Brentford striker Toney

Chelsea vs. Brentford in the Premier League on Saturday isn’t quite the “Ivan Toney derby,” but it nevertheless offers an opportune moment to look ahead to a potential transfer that has been anticipated like few others.

In fact, Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal at the weekend was more of a contest for Toney’s affection, given the 27-year-old striker seems intent on leaving Brentford at the earliest opportunity. Sources have told ESPN that both the Blues and Gunners are monitoring Toney’s situation after he changed representatives in August, joining CAA Stellar, one of the world’s leading agencies, in a clear indication he feels ready for a new chapter in his career.

Brentford would prefer to keep Toney, but manager Thomas Frank has already admitted the club will allow him to leave if a suitable offer arrives.

“So far we only sold one [while Brentford have been] in the Premier League: David Raya, that was a loan [to Arsenal] but probably we will sell him in the future,” Frank said as a guest on Sky Sports’ “Monday Night Football” last month. “Every club in the world is a selling club except five or six. We are a selling club if the right price is there and I think it is the right timing of the player to go — that’s not my decision — if they develop well with us and prove they are good to the top clubs then it is the right thing if it is the right price.”

Asked if that applied to Toney, Frank continued: “Yes, I think so. I understand why there are a lot of rumours out there. As a striker, No. 9, I don’t see many out there that are better in the world than him. Of course, we have [Harry] Kane[Robert] Lewandowski[Erling] Haaland and these types but not many.”

One source close to the situation told ESPN that Brentford would demand a transfer fee of around £80 million for Toney. The final amount could even be higher if a bidding war erupts between Chelsea, Arsenal and any other interested parties, reportedly including Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Toney is serving an eight-month ban for breaching the Football Association’s gambling rules on 232 occasions. He was only allowed to return to training at Brentford last month and cannot play again until Jan. 17, 2024. So it is conceivable that his next appearance could come for a new club, especially given Toney has already used this enforced downtime to give an interview in which he flirted with two potential suitors.

“The next club I go to, if I was to move, would be the right club,” he said in an August interview on the “Diary of a CEO” podcast. “I’ve been a Liverpool fan my whole life, but from young I’ve liked Arsenal. I’ve liked watching Arsenal and how they play and how passionate their fans are. I’m a Liverpool boy at heart.”

So, in the meantime, Toney is left to wait. Brentford are waiting to see what interest transpires. His new agents are waiting to broker an agreement. Everyone is in this curious state of limbo until January, when Toney can kick a ball, the transfer window opens and a seemingly inevitable deal takes place.

Frank has spoken about devising a plan to create an “Ivan Toney version 2.0.” But if Brentford are merely refurbishing the England international to move him on to the highest bidder, where will he go and which team need him the most?

Chelsea and Arsenal played out an entertaining draw that did little to quell concerns both need another centre-forward to reach their respective aims. The league is only nine games old, but goals are already an issue. Newcastle United are top scorers in the division with 24 — albeit it with eight coming in one game against Sheffield United — while Arsenal are seventh (18) and Chelsea 10th (13).

Creativity may also be a factor. Newcastle lead the way on Expected Goals (19.87) ahead of Liverpool (19.15), Aston Villa (17.53), Brighton (17.46). In fifth place on the list, somewhat ironically, are Brentford on 17.42, with Tottenham (16.66), Chelsea (16.52) and Arsenal (16.19) next best.

This season Arsenal have sacrificed a little attacking creativity to be more solid. Central midfielder Jorginho started alongside Declan Rice against Chelsea and Manchester City, with Martin Ødegaard almost operating as a No. 10 in a slightly tweaked 4-3-3 that approximated a 4-2-3-1 at times.

Striker Gabriel Jesus provided a reminder of his match-winning quality in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory at Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday. Scoring one and making another, he extended his respectable record in the Champions League to 23 goals in 41 appearances. Nights like that will quieten the clamour for Arsenal to sign a new centre-forward, given the 26-year-old almost singlehandedly wrestled control of a tough assignment in his team’s favour, combining a combative an high-energy press with moments of class in possession: the Cruyff turn and pass for Gabriel Martinelli’s opening goal will live just as long in the memory as his own 53rd-minute strike, expertly curled into the far corner.

But for all Jesus’ pedigree, he has suffered from injury issues and was not the most clinical forward even when playing for Manchester City. His 236 appearances featured 95 goals in one of the most creative and successful teams English football has ever seen, though it should be noted in mitigation that sometimes he played on the right wing, while only 151 games were starts, and his record when playing from the beginning was much better; he scored 53 goals in 99 starts vs. five goals in 60 substitute appearances in the Premier League.

Relations between Arsenal and Brentford are said to be good following Raya’s loan transfer across the capital which may give them a headstart in any move for Toney should they choose to go for him.

Chelsea’s centre-forward issue is more obvious as a combination of injuries and, despite spending more than £1 billion in three transfer windows, the absence of a high-profile acquisition in that area of the pitch has created a sense they are simply short of options.

Both clubs may hope the answer lies within: the Gunners have Jesus, a consistent performer in a title-winning Manchester City side, and the promise of Eddie Nketiah; Chelsea have Christopher Nkunku and Armando Broja sidelined through injury, while young Nicolas Jackson has only just regained full fitness. Yet the suspicion remains an external upgrade is required and despite Toney playing just two Premier League game (for Newcastle in 2015-16) until two years ago, there is a strong case he could be worth all the fuss.

Only Haaland (36) and Kane (30) scored more Premier League goals than Toney’s 20 last season. He had the fewest number of shots (94), compared to Haaland (123) and Kane (120), despite splitting the pair for minutes played (Kane played the most).

And, significantly, given both Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino and Chelsea boss Mikel Arteta like a front-foot high-press style, Toney’s ball recoveries last season are a major outlier compared to the other two prolific strikers: Toney registered 103 compared to Kane’s 96 (despite playing more than 450 minutes fewer) and Haaland’s 37.

There are other options out there — Napoli’s £150m-rated Victor Osimhen is a potential alternative for many of the clubs tracking Toney — but the stage has long been set for Brentford to cash-in on their star man. Who knows, maybe Chelsea could try to steal a march on their rivals and start that conversation at Stamford Bridge this weekend?

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