(Reuters) - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned the Premier League not to underestimate the enormous spending power of Chinese football after the Asian country secured another high-profile signing on Friday.
Wenger joins Chelsea counterpart Antonio Conte in expressing concern that a growing number of players could be lured to the Far East by the riches on offer in the Chinese Super League.
The Frenchman raised the issue on the same day Chelsea midfielder Oscar was set to become the world’s highest-paid player, earning a reported $490,760 per week, after he agreed to join Shanghai SIPG in the 16-team competition.
“It’s (Oscar’s move) a surprise to me but when I was in Japan they had many Brazilian players like Leonardo, Jorginho and Dunga. The competition was well organised,” the former Nagoya Grampus manager Wenger told reporters on Friday.
Graziano Pelle, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jackson Martinez are all recent arrivals in China, while Shanghai SIPG manager Andre Villas-Boas is also on a lucrative contract since replacing former England boss Sven Goran-Eriksson.
Additionally, Argentine striker Carlos Tevez is on the brink of a big-money move to Shanghai Shenhua, while influential Arsenal winger Alexis Sanchez has been linked with a transfer to Hebei China Fortune by the British media.
“At the moment, I think Oscar moves because he doesn’t play... China gives him that opportunity and they invest a lot of money to create a big force,” Wenger added. “It could become a problem in future for the Premier League.”
On the pitch, Arsenal received a boost ahead of the busy festive period by the return of striker Danny Welbeck, who has resumed full training for the first time since suffering a knee injury in May.
“Danny Welbeck will join in today (Friday) for first time,” Wenger said.
Wenger also jumped to the defence of creative midfielder Mesut Ozil, who has come under fire for a perceived lack of effort in the recent defeats to Everton and Manchester City.
“Big players always respond to criticism on pitch. I don’t give him (Ozil) leeway. He suffers more when we don’t have the ball,” Wenger said.
“He is a guy who works much harder than people think -- his body language goes against him sometimes. We are a team who wins it back high up with Sanchez and Ozil -- he does his job very well.”
The back-to-back losses left fourth-place Arsenal looking over their shoulder rather than ahead, as they are now nine points behind leaders Chelsea and just one point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur after 17 games.
Arsenal will hope to get back to winning ways when they host eighth-placed West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
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Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru