Whilst fans await the festival of football that we hope the delayed Euros will be, Arenal fans are using their down time to moan about the players we have not signed in the first few days of the summer transfer window.
Having missed out, apparently, on Emi Buendia, the club are now being linked, to central midfielders, which for me is a more important need to be addressed. Granit Xhaka, whilst a consistent stalwart for 6 years has only proved the best partner for Thomas Partey from the options available and perhaps not the perfect solution long-term. With the Swiss skipper seemingly looking to conclude a move to Roma before the Euros, it is another passing defensive midfielder also looking to shine for his country this summer that Arsenal are reported to be looking at.
Ruben Neves from Wolves will be an integral member of Portugal’s squad at the tournament that commences this week and the current champions of Europe may well be attracting punters money here, ahead of Friday’s opening match. However, with the Arsenal fans hoping that Yves Bissouma might be the club’s primary central midfield target, the Neves links have underwhelmed. A bit of digging and thought might explain why Edu and Arteta view him as a potential asset.
In short, if you value Xhaka’s positive attributes, but are frustrated by his occasional indiscipline and lack of mobility and pace, then Neves is logical. Compared to Fabregas when helping Wolves into the Premier League and starring offensively in their first season, Neves has dropped deeper and has been operating as a defensive midfielder and deep lying playmaker. He is, in a sense, a younger version of what we are used to but doe that make Neves and upgrade?
Studying his whoscored.com analysis for the past season is interesting because it suggests his mobility and game reading might be well ahead of Xhaka in some key defensive respects. For example, he averages 2.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match in the Premier League to Xhaka’s 1.8 and 0.9 respectively. (Xhaka’s whoscored.com analysis is here.) As a deep playmaker, whilst the number of passes Neves makes per game and the pass percentage are both lower than his Swiss counterpart, he key passes and long balls per game are again superior to Xhaka’s.
The question is whether that is the type of defensive partner that will best release Partey and allow him to influence and dominate matches as we all feel he is capable of. The alternative is the Bissouma type aggressive ball winner and breaker up of play, who does not offer any real offensive qualities or deep playmaking attributes.
The answer is that we need to invest in both and rotate according to the opposition or formation on any given day. If we can sell a few players that Arteta feels do not fit his plans, and Guendouzi and Torreira are examples, then he will need more than one new central midfielder and both Neves and Bissouma have key strengths that could benefit us swiftly as both are Premier League hardened and ready
Or is there a player out there that Arsenal are not yet linked to who offers both? Will the new Gilberto Silva step forward?
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