By Jonty Banks

18th Apr, 2023 | 6:10pm

Arsenal transfer interest in Ollie Watkins may force Aston Villa into evasive contract action

Christian Purslow may be forced to act quicker than expected on the contract status of Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins after transfer interest from Arsenal emerged on Monday (17 April).

Football Transfers has reported that the Gunners are keeping a close eye on Watkins ahead of the summer transfer window, with Mikel Arteta having held a long-standing interest in the Villa number 11.

The 27-year-old has been in scintillating form under Unai Emery lately, bagging 11 goals from his last 12 Premier League outings and leading the club’s charge for European football that has left them sixth with seven games of the season remaining.

The Daily Mail reported (7 April) last week that Villa were in negotiations about a bumper £100,000 contract for the England international, which would make him one of the highest-paid players at Villa Park.

However, no official news of this contract has surfaced from the club since, and it remains a worry that Villa could lose their star striker if Arsenal were to lodge a significant offer in the summer.

At the moment, Watkins’ contract at B6 expires in June 2025, but Purslow really needs to act quickly before the league leaders consider making a concrete approach.

The Englishman’s turnaround from a forward short on confidence in front of goal to a player scoring goals for fun has been remarkable to witness.

During Villa’s last 12 Premier League games, which marked the date when main competitor Danny Ings departed the club for West Ham, Watkins has recorded four or more shots on eight different occasions. [WhoScored]

In Villa’s 11 matches prior to Emery and in the hands of Steven Gerrard this season, he only managed to take four or more shots on two occasions.

Furthermore, in his 11 matches under the former England captain, Watkins only managed to score two goals and record two assists, compared to the 12 goals and three assists in 17 appearances under Emery.

The main change in the former Brentford forward’s game is his reluctance to move out wide for the ball and try to help the build-up of attacks.

In the 2021/22 campaign, he averaged 19.3 passes per game, while this season, he is averaging just 15.3.

Although this may seem like a major detraction in his game, Emery is starting to breed a different Watkins to what Villa are used to – a potent finisher who sniffs out chances in the six-yard box.

The stark change in Watkins’ confidence is plain for every Aston Villa fan to see, and Purslow should throw the chequebook at the striker if that is what it takes to keep his services in the West Midlands beyond this season.

In other Aston Villa news, the club might have found the heir to James Milner after what Unai Emery did against Newcastle.