West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis has addressed Arsenal's rumoured interest in signing influential defender Jonny Evans. The Northern Ireland international has proved a big hit at The Hawthorns since moving from Manchester United in a deal that could eventually rise to £8m ($10.4m), voted as the supporters' player of the season despite spending much of his first campaign out of position at left-back.
Evans' impressive performances and invaluable versatility appear to have piqued the interest of Arsene Wenger, with Arsenal having been linked with a move for the player following the injuries sustained by newly-appointed captain Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, as well as France international Laurent Koscielny only recently returning from a post-Euro 2016 break.
A shortage of experienced defensive options led to Arsenal fielding an unconvincing and youthful centre-back partnership of 21-year-old Calum Chambers and new signing Rob Holding for last weekend's 4-3 home defeat by Liverpool. The Gunners remain in the race for Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi, while reports from The Mirror earlier this month suggested that £15m-valued Evans also featured prominently on their radar.
The 28-year-old did not let such speculation go to his head, however, and he produced another strong left-back performance at Selhurst Park last weekend as West Brom opened the new Premier League campaign with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace. While Pulis is evidently eager to keep hold of Evans, he concedes that retaining your top performers is not always possible.
"It's pure speculation but it fills the newspapers and fills television time," he was quoted as saying by the Baggies at a press conference staged before the visit of Ronald Koeman's Everton on Saturday. "If Arsenal come in for Jonny, again, if we were going to do any business, we do it between both clubs and I wouldn't be sat here talking about doing a deal with Arsenal or doing a deal with anybody else.
"I think the most important thing is that Jonny's with us, and again we want him to stay with us because he is an outstanding player. Last Saturday whether it was [Andros] Townsend or [Wilfried] Zaha, and it's not Jonny's favourite position playing as a full-back, he was most probably our best player on the pitch.
"You don't want to lose your best players. But in football, sometimes that happens. And if it does happen, you've just got to make sure you know where your replacements are."
West Brom have endured a worryingly lean summer in the transfer market, with only winger Matt Phillips joining from Queens Park Rangers in July. Pulis is hoping to recruit as many as five new faces in the remaining 12 days of the window providing the recent takeover by Chinese businessman Guochuan Lai's Yunyi Guokai Sports Development Limited is finally formally ratified by the Premier League. He also remains optimistic that striker Saido Berahino will stay put amid sustained interest from Stoke City.
"Saido's got 10 days to go and we'll start talking about football again, hopefully," he added. "Fingers crossed. Nobody's more keen than myself for Saido to stay. I think he played really well with Salomon [Rondon] last week and as far as I'm concerned, and as far as the board is concerned, unless someone comes in with an unbelievable offer and we have a replacement, then Saido will be going nowhere."