Ever since the transfer window opened on 27th July, there have been lots of rumours linking Arsenal to various midfielders as Arteta is reportedly preparing a complete overhaul in this area of the squad, mainly due to the current personnel not having the right attributes in order to make the transition into his favoured 4-3-3 formation. The futures of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira look far from certain with the Gunners willing to let them leave if adequate offers arise, with the hope of raising funds for their main targets.
Anyone who has watched Arsenal regularly over the past season will be able to identify our main issue in midfield, as a severe lack of creativity has meant goals have been hard to come by at times. As a result, Arteta has had to adapt our game-plan which has seen us set up in a 3-4-3 formation and sit back to allow the opposition to push players forward onto us, then counter attack quickly when we win the ball back. This change can be looked back on as a stroke of genius by our new head coach, leading the club to a record 14th FA Cup in his first 8 months in charge, however I believe he wants to bring Arsenal back to their routes of playing attractive possession based football and this formation and tactics is too restrictive in order to do that. One solution to this problem is by signing a creative player, who can play in either the number 6, 8 or 10 position, therefore I have picked out two midfielders which have the capabilities to do this while also being linked with a move to the red side of North London.
Over the course of the past week, speculation surrounding Arsenal’s audacious move for Bayern Munich’s silky central midfielder Thiago Alcantara has started to grow, with Arteta reportedly trying to convince the 29-year old that his project at Arsenal is the right move for his career. Reports broke from various news sources that Arteta has been in contact with his fellow compatriot via phone calls, to ensure Thiago knows that we are interested in him.
Despite this, the Gunners are yet to follow it up with a formal offer giving the illusion that this would be a very difficult deal to make. Nevertheless, if we were able to pull it off, it would display our ambition to other targets while going a long way in transforming the whole look of our midfield.
Name: Thiago Alcantara
Position: CM, CAM
Preferred Foot: Right
Current Club: Bayern Munich
Market Value: £43.20m
Bundesliga: 24 games – 3 goals
Champions League: 10 games – 2 assists
Overall: 34 games: 3 goals and 2 assists
The Gunners pursuit of 22-year old Lyon midfielder – Houssem Aouar – appears to have slowed down in the last couple of days, as previously the rumours were starting to gain momentum with the player reportedly “keen” on joining Mikel Arteta rebuild project at Arsenal, however it is thought that Lyon are yet to respond to the offer of Matteo Guendouzi and an undisclosed fee.
To have any chance of getting this deal over the line, the Arsenal hierarchy will have to act fast as it seems that it’s only a matter of time before another top team comes knocking, especially after the Frenchman’s impressive Champions League performance against Manchester City.
Name: Houssem Aouar
Position: CM, CAM, LM
Preferred foot: Right
Current Club: Olympique Lyon
Market Value: £44.5m
Ligue 1: 25 games – 3 goals and 3 assists
Champions League: 8 games – 1 goal and 6 assists
Coupe de la Ligue: 4 games – 2 goals and 1 assist
Coupe de France: 4 games – 3 goals
Overall record: 41 games – 9 goals and 10 assists
Both players have similar styles of play which could largely be down to the fact that they are alike in height and stature, as they always try to dictate games by getting on the ball and driving their teams forward with skilful, jinking runs before finding the pass which can unlock the oppositions defence. This can be seen in the chart below as both players average over 2 successful dribbles per 90 minutes in the 19/20 season with the young Frenchman slightly coming out on top completing 2.61 dribbles a game compared to Thiago’s 2.22. Without a doubt, the pairs low centre of gravity provides them with the tools to be very difficult to tackle once they get going, couple this with their flawless technical ability it’s not hard to see why they have some of the best dribbling stats in the whole of Europe.
In Arsenal’s current midfield, we are majorly missing someone who can provide us with ball progression especially through dribbling as Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka prefer to receive the ball to feet and keep it moving through neat, low risk passes in order to retain possession, however if we were to make the acquisition of either Thiago or Aouar it would add a new dimension to our team by giving us more of a chance to beat the opposition press, break the lines and create opportunities for our attacking players. Against the top 6, at some point during the game we will have our backs to the wall, but having a player that possess this kind of quality could be the difference between relieving the pressure and kick-starting attacks or struggling to get anything out of the game at all, as we have seen in the past.
Another quality which these two players have in abundance is their passing prowess, as they are able to keep their sides ticking through playing neat, intricate passes while having the footballing intelligence to create chances for their teammates when they pick up the ball in more advanced positions. They both base their style off their competence to play passes in between the oppositions defensive lines, to create goal scoring opportunities and boost their assist tallies before thinking about scoring themselves. This can be seen in the chart below as both boast an impressive number of passes into the final third per game, especially Thiago as he averages 9.65 this season, who seems to be thriving playing slightly deeper so he can control the tempo of games, receiving the ball off the centre-backs and starting attacks with his accurate forward passes. The Spaniard would certainly get more assists if his role at Bayern allowed him to bomb forward at all times and with some of the best stats for progressive distance in Europe’s top 5 leagues, he could easily fill the number 8 or 10 role at Arsenal if required.
On the other hand, the stats show Aouar gets more assists without playing as many passes into the box per game than Thiago, which suggests the 22-year old is more effective at picking out the right pass in and around the opposition area. Throughout the course of last season we were missing a player who could create clear cut chances for our forwards on a regular basis, with Aouar looking very promising in terms of being able to do this without frequently being in the final third. With Arteta’s guidance and the license to roam he could become an elite level playmaker who also has the versatility to also play as one of two defensive midfielders, much like Santi Cazorla towards the end of his Arsenal career or in a more advanced 8/10 role, which would give us the flexibility to be able to change whenever necessary.
Arteta will be desperate to get a hold of one of these two, due to their profiles perfectly suiting his philosophy of building attacks out from the back and going through the midfield to help maintain possession and sustain attacks, as these would easily be able to fulfill the role of dropping deep to get it off one of the centre-backs or drifting in between the lines to receive the ball in the pocket in order to influence the game by chipping in with goals or assists.
Another predicament the Arsenal midfield displayed in the last campaign was their inability to find the back of the net, as in the Premier League our highest scoring midfielder ended up with one goal. It could be argued that this was a major factor as to why we struggled last season, hence our lowest placed finish in the Premier League era, as in the past we have always had multiple sources of goals coming from all over the pitch. Ahead of the 20/21 season this will need to be addressed if we wish to push for Champions League football, with either Thiago or Aouar going a long way in solving this burden for Arteta. Auoar’s goal scoring capabilities appear to be far superior to Thiago’s, as he notched 9 goals in all competitions compared to the 29-year old’s 3 goals, however the roles they play for their current teams definitely play a factor on that.
As you can see above, Aouar scores more goals in general with the majority of his coming from open play, something that is very appealing as Aouar wouldn’t be high in the pecking orders to take penalties or free-kicks at Arsenal especially after the signing of Willian, therefore there would be a sense of expectation on him to contribute goals from open play. Thiago on the other hand, seems to be more reliant on getting goals from the spot with the majority of his coming from set-pieces this season, however it is interesting to see that he looks to be more clinical with his shots to goal ratio in open play than Aouar and in an advanced position he could thrive in front of goal while easily improve on what we currently have.
Overall, signing either of these players would delight any Arsenal fan as we know it would save us from having to watch our current dysfunctional midfield for another season, while hopefully propelling us further up the table. This is a issue which desperately needs addressing in this window and I hope we are able to pull off an audacious move for an exciting creative player, whether it’s one of these or someone else.
I believe there are so many factors that determine who would be the better signing for us out of the two as age, injury records, potential and price of the deal all play a part as to which one would be more successful, however if I had to choose one it would be Houssem Aouar. The Frenchman is seven years younger, has only had one injury in his senior career while having the potential to be moulded into a world class central midfielder. Although there is no doubt that Thiago is already world class, the stats show that Aouar is keeping up with the Spaniard’s impressive creative output while bettering him in front of goal, all while playing in a far inferior side. The fact that he has managed to hone such an impressive and well rounded skill-set by the age of 22 proves his capability to learn, another attribute that fits with our head coach philosophy and style. Couple this with the fact that the Lyon man is more likely to want to join Arteta’s Arsenal, it’s a deal we need to get over the line.
I’m a 20 year-old Arsenal fanatic and aspiring Sports Journalist, who will be studying how to write about the Beautiful Game at Solent University from September in an attempt to make my dream into a reality.
Since the age of 8 I have played academy football, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out – therefore I decided to pursue the next best career for me.
I am aiming to write honest and interesting articles about the club I love, and to share my opinion (one from the younger generation of Arsenal supporters) with as many other fans as possible!