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Arsenal ultimatum over Ramsey: Sign contract or be sold

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 By Tom Adams

Arsenal need to prioritise signing a replacement for ageing Petr Cech

ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop takes a gander at the latest transfer rumours, featuring Aaron Ramsey, Alisson, Eden Hazard and more.

Any transfer speculation emerging from the ghost town of news that is international week should be treated with a certain amount of good-natured scepticism. But even so, it is worth noting that the race to try and identify Arsenal's next No.1 goalkeeper appears to have kicked up a notch.

In the past few days alone, Arsenal have been linked with an £88 million move for Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak, a £25m interest in Bernd Leno of Bayer Leverkusen and a possible attempt to recruit Toulouse's 19-year-old sensation Alban Lafont. Even if the targets are disparate, the general picture lends some credence to suggestions that a new goalkeeper is high on the list of priorities for new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat. As well it should be.

Petr Cech has mostly been a steady pair of hands for Arsenal since his arrival in 2015. In a club where existential turmoil seems to be the norm, he has brought a welcome levelheadedness to proceedings. But at 35, there is little point in pretending he will be able to recapture the form of old. And the form of late has been pretty unconvincing.

Cech took it upon himself to apologise for his performance in the 2-1 defeat to Brighton at the start of March, accepting responsibility for both goals and noting it gave his team an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. As an act, it was testament to Cech's honesty and the kind of man he is; as a message from your first-choice goalkeeper, it was hardly ideal.

And there is Cech the man, and Cech the goalkeeper. The first universally admired for his human qualities and his influence in the dressing room, the second a waning sporting force in a team still in need of renewal. Arsenal showed admirable ruthlessness in selling two big-name attackers in Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud in January, now surgery needs to be undertaken at the other end of the pitch, too.

Petr Cech has seen his form dip a bit this season at Arsenal.
Age looks to be finally catching up with 35-year-old Petr Cech.

The sense that a parting of the ways may be the best way forward for both parties can also be sensed in the way Cech is being used. At a club like Arsenal, being the cup keeper is arguably the bigger prize than being the league keeper. Forgetting, for a second, the greater prestige attached to the lustily-hyped Premier League, the league campaign is effectively doomed from the start. A club with Arsenal's structural faults is just not equipped to win it; for this season and last season, they have not even been equipped to win a place in the top four.

Which means, despite his inferior squad status, reputation and pay, David Ospina has had the honour of performing on the biggest occasions: the Carabao Cup final last month and the FA Cup final win over Chelsea last season, as well as, presumably, the latter stages of the Europa League up to and including the final in Lyon if Arsenal make it.

Quite understandably it is a situation which appears to have irked Cech. Speaking as part of the BBC coverage for the FA Cup match between Leicester and his former club, Chelsea, on Sunday, he said: "I love this competition -- to play FA Cup games makes it a bit more spicy and special. But you have to respect the manager. You can tell him you would prefer the other way, but the decision is his."

If Wenger's intention is to provide playing opportunities for both his goalkeepers, then it would be easy to achieve that while reflecting the changed priorities in Arsenal's season by simply making Cech the keeper for Europe and starting to use Ospina in the league instead.

It is hardly a ridiculous notion given that the Europa League is not only the only chance of silverware, and pride -- it is also the only realistic route back to the Champions League, making it a financial imperative as well as a sporting one. For all intents and purposes, the Europa League *is* the league, as far as Arsenal should be concerned.

And yet it was Ospina who lined up for both legs of the last-16 win over AC Milan. And Ospina is heavily expected to keep the gloves for the matchup with CSKA Moscow in the quarterfinals. Wenger is being consistent, but it is also a revealing strategy: if all your hopes rest on one competition you aren't going to leave out a player capable of making a huge difference. And Arsenal do not have a keeper with that ability, which is why you can expect the transfer talk to get a bit louder as the season winds down.

Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport

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