The Gunners hope to sign at least one midfielder before the summer transfer window closes – but which player do they need to sign the most?
Arsenal have looked strong in the opening few games of the season, with notable victories over Liverpool in the Community Shield and Carabao Cup and a strong looking win over Fulham in the Premier League.
Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid and Houssem Aouar of Lyon are the two favourites to make a move, having both been linked with a transfer to the Emirates Stadium for the majority of the summer. Both are, however, very different types of players and would serve a very specific purpose as a part of Mikel Arteta‘s squad this season.
Having ensured that Dani Ceballos returns to the Emirates for another season long loan, Arsenal have secured an excellent box to box midfielder that has worked well alongside Swiss international Granit Xhaka. Xhaka is not renowned for his defensive ability but has caught the eye since Arteta took the job at Arsenal. The Spanish manager has completed reversed the fortunes of the former Borussia Monchengladbach man, who only a year ago happened to be one of the most unpopular players on the Arsenal roster for the club’s supporters.
The two have partnered well in recent months, helping Arsenal to an FA Cup victory and a respectable start to their campaign so far this season.
The re-introduction of Mohamed Elneny has come as somewhat of a surprise for many, with the Egyptian international back amongst the first-team regulars this season after a Besiktas loan spell last year. Elneny has looked comfortable in midfield, but has at no point looked like the type of player that could unlock a rival team’s defence with a splitting pass, or that could maraud back to his own defence to freeze an opposition’s attack.
Elneny’s appearance in Arsenal‘s first-team by Arteta is telling. The departure of Lucas Torreira to Atletico Madrid – likely to be announced in the next day or two – is also rather telling. Playing Xhaka for his creativity as opposed for his defensive guile, telling too. These three things suggest that Mikel Arteta is not seeking an out and out defensive midfielder to fill a gap in the defensive midfield hole, but is looking for another partner to compliment Xhaka and Ceballos that is capable of bringing the bull forward, breaking through the opposition lines and that is comfortable playing Arsenal‘s now direct style under Mikel.
Whilst Partey has shown his ability to get forward, he comes from a very rigid defensive approach adopted at Atletico Madrid by manager Diego Simeone. The most confusing element of Arsenal‘s move for Partey is that Torreira is being brought in to the Spanish club, possibly as a makeweight for any kind of Partey deal to North London. In numerous articles on the web, Partey is complimented for his « underrated vision », not just seen as a defensive midfielder but also comfortable at pushing the ball forward from a defensive position. His ability to sniff out danger has seen accolades given, amongst those being « one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe », so Arsenal know they will be signing a strong all-round defensive player in Partey.
With a price tag of 40 million euros, and Simeone apparently keen to hold on to the player, there is likely to be some push back from Atleti to sell the Ghanaian international.
One of Europe’s finest young creative midfielders, Aouar is not renowned for his non-stop goalscoring feats, but rather his ability for goal-creating actions. The Lyon star completed the 5th highest number of dribbles in Ligue 1 last season and was amongst the most effective players in carrying the ball forward in the top flight. At Arsenal, he would add competition for Ceballos, but would certainly not fill any kind of defensive void likely to be left by a departing Torreira, and if anything Egyptian incumbent Elneny has more defensive ability than the incoming Aouar.
Having already seen a rejected bid of £45.5 million, Arsenal will need to invest more money in order to seal a transfer deadline swoop for the talented French youngster.
Who do Arsenal need?
Partey and Aouar are both very different types of players.
Arsenal look brittle on occasion against top flight teams, despite occasionally winning the actual game, and part of the reason for that is their lack of defensive midfield quality. A few « lucky » victories against Liverpool does not display the true picture in that Arsenal were on paper crushed in the statistics, both possession and in creation of chances.
The Gunners already have Ceballos, and Aouar and the Spaniard are rather similar. Perhaps with Ceballos set for a return to Real Madrid at some point, Arteta is seeking to add Aouar now in a fragile transfer market to ensure he has an eventual replacement for Ceballos. Either way, a midfield of Xhaka, Ceballos and Aouar does not seem to cover all bases in terms of attack.
Transfer Market Activity
With Arsenal having already had a bid rejected for Aouar, there is still some likelihood that the midfielder will make a move to England.
Partey’s move has been discussed for many months but Atletico have yet to confirm whether the Ghanaian has an offer to consider.
Lyon appear to be in a more precarious financial position than Atletico due to the coronavirus crisis; and so would likely to be more willing to sell; yet Aouar is a much more important player for the French side in comparison to Partey, who plays amongst several top world class players.
Can Arsenal sign both?
This seems rather unlikely due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and with Arsenal‘s limited budget. Despite departures for Sokratis, Torreira and Kolasinac all on the horizon, that would only bring in revenue of around 25 million euros – and the Gunners would need to cough up close to 120 million euros to procure both midfielders.
But, who do Arsenal need to sign?
We feel that Partey ticks all of the boxes for right now. He is not just a defensive midfielder, but also a comfortable attacking type of midfielder. He can bring the ball out of defence, play line-splitting passes, has some strength in the air. He has big league experience and also competition winning success.
Aouar appears to be a hot prospect for the future, an eventual successor for Ceballos. He would add some value immediately, but not the type that Arsenal actually need in their defensive unit.