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Atlético all-in on signing Girona’s versatile Arnau Martínez

The club is trying to move fast and close a deal.

Girona FC v FC Barcelona - LaLiga Santander
Arnau Martinez of Girona FC competes for the ball with Alejandro Balde during the LaLiga Santander match between Girona FC and FC Barcelona at Montilivi Stadium on January 28, 2023 in Girona.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid’s defense has been missing two essential components in recent seasons. Even when the Rojiblancos won LaLiga in 2021, Diego Simeone lacked depth and youth at the back — and this has no doubt contributed to Atlético’s erratic domestic form over the past year and a half. Atleti’s youngest first-team center-back is 27-year-old Mario Hermoso, while 24-year-old World Cup winner Nahuel Molina (who only joined last summer) is the sole natural right-back in the squad.

While Atlético won’t be able to address both squad-building shortcomings in this January window, it looks like the club has a plan to do it in June. Leicester’s Çağlar Söyüncü has already agreed a contract to join Atleti in the summer, when the club will also hope to finalize a deal to bring Girona’s Arnau Martínez to the Metropolitano.

According to reports in Mundo Deportivo and Relevo on Monday, Atlético have made Arnau a top target for the next transfer window and would like to close a deal as soon as possible. MD’s Javi Gómara reported that the 19-year-old is open to joining Atlético, and the transfer can be completed if and when Atleti meet the right-back’s €20 million release clause. However, Relevo’s Matteo Moretto believes a deal could be done for a fee between €10 million and €15 million.

Gómara also said that Atlético have negotiated a preferential option for Arnau. If Girona receive a higher offer, Atleti’s hierarchy will have to be notified and given the opportunity to submit a new one themselves.

Atletico Madrid v Girona - La Liga Santander
Koke Resureccion of Atletico Madrid Arnau Martinez of Girona FC during the La Liga Santander match between Atletico Madrid v Girona at the Estadio Civitas Metropolitano on October 8, 2022 in Madrid.
Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Moretto further reported that FC Barcelona are also interested in acquiring Arnau, who trained at La Masia between 2010 and 2016. But Barcelona’s well-publicized problems adhering to LaLiga’s financial fair play rules are likely to hinder an Arnau pursuit. The Catalan club is having problems registering new contracts for Marcos Alonso, Ronald Araújo, and budding superstar Gavi. One report last week claimed Barça will have to shed €200 million from its bursting wage bill this summer without pulling any more infamous financial levers.

This means Atlético have a tremendous opportunity to sign up one of Spain’s most promising defenders for a price that may seem like a bargain in a couple years. Arnau started 36 games in LaLiga Smartbank last season and notched five assists to help Girona win promotion. He’s followed that up by starting all but one game so far this season, scoring twice and laying on one assist in 1,261 minutes.

Arnau has played the vast majority of his minutes at right-back but has experience at center-back, too. He is noted for his ability to draw fouls, placing second in LaLiga Smartbank in the category last season and maintaining roughly the same per-90 rate despite moving up a division. Only Aleix García has more shot-creating actions among Girona players than Arnau (37) this season, who has compiled them at a respectable rate of 2.64 per 90 minutes, according to FBRef stats.