With the transfer window now in its final week, which of the Gunners’ primary targets would add more to Mikel Arteta’s troops?
Just to get this out of the way: in an ideal world, Arsenal would love to add both Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar in this extended transfer window.
However, the financial realities in a pandemic-hit world mean the Gunners, like every other club, have to be thrifty and smart in the market. Without question, acquiring the Olympique Lyon and Atletico Madrid midfielders remain possible, if the North Londoners free up space in the side by selling some of their unwanted or fringe players before October 5’s deadline.
Be that as it may, there’s a strong indication that Mikel Arteta will get at least one more big signing in this transfer window — failure would be disappointing but certainly not disastrous — to bolster his options as Arsenal seek to return where they feel they belong.
So, if Gooners could only choose one, which midfielder should they opt for?
Frustration for Arsenal at the moment over their Partey pursuit. Talks continue with Atletico over Torreira – but Atletico maintain it’s release clause or nothing for Partey.
Both players open to the move – told Partey is ‘calm’ over the situation 👇 https://t.co/l4zJ81uAWP
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) September 25, 2020
The prevalence of social media and highlight reels on YouTube gives nearly everyone access to assess both players, discovering their basic skill set and how it fits into the setup at London Colney. To the naked eye, Partey is a defensive midfielder with a unique collection of qualities, while Aouar thrives higher up the pitch and does most of his damage in the attacking third.
While there’s the lazy tendency to suggest the Ghana star is nothing but an anchorman incapable or limited in possession, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, the Atletico man has shown he’s adept at helping Diego Simeone’s side build-up play and progress the ball higher up the pitch with his line-breaking passing and underrated vision.
Furthermore, the West African’s awareness to read, predict and snuff out danger makes him one of the rare all-round defensive midfielders in Europe. Partey’s strength in aerial duels, an area of his game that rarely gets mentioned, also potentially benefits Arteta’s team given the current midfield men’s inadequacies in the air.
Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos and Mohamed Elneny (last season at Besiktas) won 45, 26 and 53 percent of aerial battles respectively, a significant drop-off alongside the Ghanaian’s 71 percent. In truth, there’s a feeling 2019/20’s dominance in the air was an anomaly, given Partey’s success rate in 18/19, 17/18 and 16/17 were 55, 57 and 57 percent respectively.
Before Arteta arrived in north London, Gooners wanted Xhaka out of the club, despite his importance to their build-up play. However, the Switzerland captain has had a renaissance under the Spanish manager, who has transformed the club’s ex-captain and tried to limit the regularity of his mistakes while harnessing the 28-year-old’s playmaking ability from deep.
The arrival of Gabriel from Ligue I side Lille, return to fitness of Kieran Tierney and retaining David Luiz for 20/21 indicates the Gunners can still do without the Atletico midfielder’s skill set in possession for another year at least.
Also, the return of forgotten man, Elneny, loaned to the Turkish giants last term, means Arsenal may have found the perfect stop-gap for Partey if a deal can’t be reached before next Monday. While doubts remain over the Egypt midfielder, his performances vs Liverpool in the Community Shield, the opening day win at Fulham and their EFL Cup defeat of Leicester City last week has won over some supporters.
Consequently, the continuing problem for the Gunners means a deal for Aouar instead of the Ghana international is in the club’s best interests.
With creative genius Mesut Ozil still out of favour and unlikely to return or, rather, play an important part of the side like he used to, the 22-year-old adds another dimension to the Arsenal midfield. The Gunners have struggled to fashion out enough clear opportunities without the ex-Germany international and last season’s tally of 67 put them 14th in the Premier League.
Interestingly, stats show that Aouar created three big chances last term, nine in 18/19 and six in 17/18. Still, there’s an argument that his ball-carrying, dribbling, technique and versatility — he can play in a two or three-man midfield, attacking midfield or as a wide playmaker — would add a lot to the Arsenal setup.
The Frenchman’s underlying numbers also make for good reading. He was the top-ranked Lyon player for shot-creating actions and goal-creating actions in Ligue 1 last season, finishing 20th and 12th respectively in a truncated season. For better understanding, Memphis Depay was next in line at 52nd for SCAs while Thiago Mendes ranked 17 places below Aouar for GCAs.
Unsurprisingly, the Lyon playmaker completed the fifth-highest volume of dribbles in the French top flight last term and came in at fifth for cumulative distance covered in carrying the ball towards opponents’ goal.
Perhaps more importantly, as seen in Arsenal’s defeat by Liverpool, where Arteta’s troops lacked a link-up player in midfield to dovetail with their attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was peripheral for most of the game, while Willian disappointed before his 68th-minute withdrawal.
Statistics will show that Arsenal created three big chances in 90 minutes but the first came about from a rare Andy Robertson mistake and Alexander Lacazette was offside for another. The reality is, for most of the game, the Gunners struggled to get to grips with Jurgen Klopp’s side.
The fact that the visitors’ fluidity improved after Ceballos’ introduction, further strengthens the perception that signing the Lyon man ought to take precedence in the final days of the window.
While the arrival of someone of Partey’s profile offers Arsenal several tactical options, acquiring Aouar may be Arsenal’s best bet for 20/21. Still, signing both — an eventuality Gooners will love — will cap off what will be tagged a ‘dream window’ and make supporters confident of a Champions League return.