After West Ham United’s 1-0 win over Arsenal earlier this month, Marko Arnautović waved goodbye to the club’s supporters at the London Stadium. Evidently, he thought it was a fitting farewell.
Interest from the Chinese Super League was strong. Both Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG were chasing the Austrian, who would’ve received around £300,000-a-week to head to the Far East.
“West Ham have a fantastic offer,” the player’s brother and agent Danijel said earlier this month. “It is close to double what they paid for him. He wants to go to a new market and challenge for titles.”
West Ham, however, killed any potential deal when they set their asking price at £50million. CSL clubs have to pay a 100 per cent tax on foreign signings; a move for Arnautović would’ve reached nine figures.
The Irons have got their way, for now at least. The 29-year-old will remain in East London even if he’s not particularly happy about it. Yet in the summer it will be a different story.
According to the Evening Standard, Arnautović will be allowed to depart at the end of the season. That means a replacement will be needed, and West Ham have been linked with several strikers in the current transfer window.
A move for Krzysztof Piątek was reported in the Italian press but the Polish striker is set to join Milan. The Hammers have also been linked with Maxi Gómez of Celta Vigo and more recently Duván Zapata of Atalanta.
Gómez has proven himself an excellent goalscorer in La Liga over the past 18 months but he is not a player in the mould of Arnautović. He is a physical striker, one who can battle his way through defenders.
Zapata, though, makes more sense from a stylistic point of view. As Football Whispers’ persona radars below indicate, both the Colombian and Arnautović share similar traits.
Zapata, who has also been linked with Inter this January, has been in scintilating form either side of the winter break in Serie A. He struck nine goals in six matches in December and then netted four times against Frosinone at the weekend when the Italian top flight returned.
Clubs have been deceived in the past by such purple patches, and the 27-year-old is undoubtedly in the form of his life. However, Zapata has a strong body of work in Serie A; he has scored 54 goals in 151 games since arriving from South America in 2013.
And he isn’t just a pure goalscorer, as shown below he also has more of an impact than Arnautović in his side’s build-up play.
Zapata is currently a quarter of the way into a two-year loan with Atalanta, who have the option to sign him permanently from Sampdoria for £12.5million. La Dea will take that up even if just to sell him on for a reported £35million fee.
“You can never say never in football and if any convenient opportunity for the player and club crop up tomorrow then we could talk about them,” Fernando Villarreal, Zapata’s agent, told Gazzetta dello Sport this week.
Whether West Ham would represent a ‘convenient opportunity’ remains to be seen. Yet the Irons, either by luck or design, have identified the perfect striker to replace Arnautović.