Once, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger epitomised the go-to-destination for youth prospects in Europe and the world. They knew they would get the game time, and the patience needed for their next step.
We could argue this has changed. But history can still work in favour of the Gunners, especially their track record of acquiring talent from the La Maisa academy. They have the Cesc Fabregas story–his first-team path blocked in Catalonia, rising to become one of the world’s best midfielders in North London. This could still sell.
Now rumours are linking 17-year-old Barcelona forward Abel Ruiz to Arsenal, and here is why they should buy him.
Ruiz joined La Maisa in 2012. Three years later he received his first international call-up to play the Spain U17s. Two European cups and 31 appearances later, Ruiz already has 21 goals for the national side.
In contrast to his national success, Ruiz’ progress out of La Maisa has been slower. He debuted for Barcelona’s reserve team earlier in the year, while his first goal came in September.
What are his skills and attributes?
Ruiz is has the right ingredients to develop into a top player, with the right guidance. He is a fox-in-the-box type of player, but he uses his instincts to pass to open teammates as well as shoot at the goal. He is tall but agile and balanced which allows him to change direction suddenly.
Ruiz can shield the ball and allow teammates to advance around him. He is also ambidextrous and has shown impressive variety in his shooting. His agility and strength allow him to dribble past players adding dimension to his game.
Of course, Ruiz is still a developing player as seen by his less than stellar long passing - which eliminates the possibility of using him further backwards, in midfield.
Due to his style, he has drawn comparisons to Dutch legend Marco van Basten.
Do Arsenal need Ruiz?
Arsenal are not short of forwards at the moment. The recent arrival of Alexandre Lacazette adds to a decent forward line which includes Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi.
But here is the thing. While Welbeck is of a similar built and style, he often spends time on the treatment table. Alexis Sanchez looks all but a passport away from moving elsewhere while patience for Theo Walcott ran out a few years ago.
Alex Iwobi is a rising talent, but he could complement Ruiz rather than block him should the Spaniard join Arsenal. Iwobi is more of an attacking midfielder while Ruiz is a clear-cut centre forward.
Olivier Giroud is a very similar type of player. He is tall, strong and possesses good technique, but his pace makes him too predictable. Ruiz, on the other hand, could offer pace and this also expands his area of influence to the wings.
Would Ruiz consider an Arsenal move?
Ruiz’ situation at Barcelona hardly looks promising despite his desire to remain where he is. You could fit two decent teams right in the gap between the Barcelona reserves and the first-team.
The first-team front line looks just as occupied as it was when Neymar was still at the club. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are guaranteed starters while the final third spot in the 4-3-3 formation has no less than three players fighting for it – Alex Vidal, Gerard Defalou and Osman Dembele.
At Manchester City, Ruiz could reunite with former boss Pep Guardiola, but he might want to approach the situation ala-Ibrahimovic if he wants to grow in the same way. While Ruiz would definitely find a spell under the knowledgeable Guardiola educational, the Catalan is hardly known for his lenient attitude towards his players. So, Ruiz might disappear deeper in City’s squad, and stay permanently behind Sergio Aguero and Guardiola’s pet project Gabriel Jesus.
Maybe Chelsea then? Chelsea’s current lack of squad depth and financial incentive might tempt Ruiz. Of course, his game time will depend on the health status of the two main strikers - Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuay. Should the two players stay uninjured, the spot up front is taken.
Thus, we come to Arsenal.
The question is would Ruiz feel convinced that he would play more under Wenger? It’s hard to answer this, but looking at the team line-up, he has his chances.
Of course, Lacazette and Welbeck would be in front of him selection-wise, and so would Giroud, but the French striker looks content to play a bit-part role at present.
Wenger would need to convince Ruiz that he would give him a chance if he wants this La Maisa player to join him. He certainly has the right bed stories to jump-star Ruiz dreaming. But as it stands, Ruiz would be third-choice striker at Arsenal.
When should they approach him?
Now. In January. Reports suggest Arsenal have already scouted the young striker.
It is crucial to get the timing right. And there is no better time than in January as Ruiz’ speedy progress is unlikely to stay off the radar of the rest of the European elite too. Barcelona are also keen on keeping him, but, ultimately, it will come down where the player thinks he would play more.
Ruiz renewed his contract with Barcelona in the summer of 2016 and has a release clause of £3 million.
The forward is currently in India playing for Spain U-17s in the World Cup. Spain is facing France in today's Round of 16 clash.