Today’s scouting report is brought to you by the excellent Mike McDonald. He’s a coach and a love of all things transfers. This is a good one, enjoy and follow him @mike_mmcdonald. Also stay tuned until the end because there’s a BANGER of a new podcast for you with Janan Ganesh.
Arsenal, as a club, is lost. We’re in the desert. We’ve been searching for water to no avail. Dehydration is kicking in. The mouth is parched. Our tongues are dry and we’re praying to the footballing gods on our knees.
It’s creativity juice Arsenal pine for. The situation is so desperate, we can’t stop talking about a player who isn’t even registered and lost his thirst for football 3 years ago.
Creativity can come from four directions in the modern game.
It can come from the South. An on or off the ball ‘8’ that penetrates from midfield.
The East and West are providing most of the creativity these days. Wingers that wander.
The North offers a ‘Firmino type’ striker who connects for the benefit of others (see upcoming Striker blog).
Beyond the four compass points there are only a few teams left that still play with a ‘10,’ normally in a 4-2-3-1. As the game is becoming more compact the ‘10’ has to wander too, often to the wing to overload and slide balls behind the full-back into zones 16 and 18.
Before the detective work ensues, it’s fair to state that Arsenal has options in all 5 of these areas already.
They are yet to work or haven’t been trusted, yet (against decent oppo at least).
The North could be where Aubameyang or Martinelli rescue us. Nketiah too but I feel he needs us to play a certain way to get his best.
The East and West hasn’t seen Saka visit much or Nelson trusted. Willian created much for Chelsea there and Martinelli finds his natural home there. Pepe would be a success out East if only he’d play as an inside forward like Salah. Touch, shoot!
The South is where Willock could arrive from as he has done so well in the Europa League. I’d love to see Maitland-Niles given his chance here and I believe Partey was signed on a promise to be let off the leash and free to go box to box too.
The concept of Willian as a ‘10’ was what we thought we were signing too.
Emile Smith-Rowe in my mind is multi-talented and could play in at least 4 of the 5 positions if he can avoid the sniper at Colney that seems to show up every Tuesday of a Europa week.
In a perfect world these players would find fitness and form so we’d truly know if the transfer market were needed. As of now, fitness and form is not happening so here is a list of potential targets. I’m a fan of all these players and would be thrilled with any of them at Arsenal. Not sure if I’m indecisive or there are slews of players that would improve Arsenal right now as once again, we are panting for creative water.
The Zone 14 player
Firstly, there isn’t a list of players that exclusively play centrally as a ‘10’ and are potentially available. Those days are mostly in the past. These players play wide if you look at the pre-game formation but frequently find themselves in Zone 14 if you watch the game.
Martin Ødegaard (Real Madrid) 21
Perhaps my favourite European player. If I had endless money and a way to hypnotize this move into reality I’d have Grealish on the left and Ødegaard on the right.
Martin Ødegaard is the modern 2013/14 Ozil. Same eye, modern work ethic. Makes complicated situations look easy and unafraid to try what most would pass up. I think Real Madrid would be mad to sell and I don’t think they will as they move on from Kroos and Modric. I include him as Madrid has always changed with the wind and they have a history of not having faith in him.
Ideally, Ødegaard would play at Arsenal in a ‘modern 10’ way. Feeling the game, the opportunity to overload but most importantly be available behind the ball as the transition player, much like how Villa use Grealish. This would need Arteta to relax his desire for all players to be ball facing and allow such a player to simply position himself for the transition. This switch would change everything at Arsenal. We’d have a forward pass and a player capable of turning and utilizing Pepe, Auba or Martinelli for a far more effective counter-attack.
Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) 26
Might be the perfect Arteta player. Plays in multiple positions and is effective in all of them. More of a goal threat than creator but we need both. I’ve seen Sabitzer at RB, DM, CM, RW and AM but I see him as the new Thomas Muller. A player who senses opportunity in the final third and needs freedom in order to feel the game. Due to his versatility and game intelligence, Sabitzer would need that freedom. To incorporate him at Arsenal I’d play him as a ‘free 8’ much as Ramsey should’ve been utilized. He could be our connector and offer a true goal threat too. Joe Willock offers the latter but can’t do the former. An upgrade allowing Willock to watch and learn.
Other options: Miguel Almiron (Newcastle), Nabil Fekir (Betis), Yusuf Yazici (Lille), Eriksen (Inter)
The wandering winger
This crew is similar to the Zone 14 players except they have more freedom. They float where the game takes them and can be of a goal threat.
Dominik Szoboszlai (RB Salzburg) 20
So, we all know a little or a lot about him as he’s the hot rumour. Firstly, his name is pronounced Sob-oss-lie, if you care about these things.
Szoboszlai has a first touch like Berbatov, power on the dribble and a creative eye. Freekicks to die for too.
A player with this level of grace doesn’t normally evolve until they are older. He has clearly got the ability to be a generational talent. I see a natural footballer. A player that makes football look easier, almost artistic. You could build your team around him.
He currently plays on the left side of two attacking midfielders in a 4-2-2-2 Salzburg formation. Arsenal could play Szoboszlai in one of many positions. As an inverted left winger in one of two current formations. As a central connector or a ‘free 8’ in a 4-3-3.
His talent and profile could see him evolve into either a DM or CM too. Right now, Arsenal needs creativity AND goals and he has both. The left side of a midfield three as a ‘free 8’ would best fit with Martinelli potentially returning to the left-wing shortly.
Michael Olise (Reading) 18
One of the most talented footballers playing in the UK. A head full of ideas and the skill and athleticism to match. I’d be scared that Arteta would coach the street football out of him if I pay attention to what I’m currently seeing. Much like Benrahma and Eze, he could make the step.
The sensible side of me says that you feed him in slowly at Arsenal and yet I think slightly differently. If it were me I might give him a game or three to check it out and then I’d give him my full confidence. You could play him anywhere across the front three as he has goals, huge creativity and elite weight of pass. Potentially he would offer Arsenal both the creative and goal threat. I understand that it’s a big ask to move from Reading to Arsenal but like Watkins, Phillips, Eze, Buendia and others, they were just in the wrong league and they needed faith in them and a chance.
If you are not one for clicking on videos pretend that you are and watch this ⬇️. You could be like the ‘told you’ guy in the office.
Michael Olise makes me dream.
Emiliano Buendia (Norwich) 23
I’ve been fighting myself for a while over Buendia.
I watched him the first half of last season and saw exactly the type of player we need. Dribbling looked easy. Creating looked like his first thought over ball retention. Most impressively he had the rare subtle through ball that tempted the keeper but fooled him. Pukki owed him big.
Then I watched the second half of the season and saw his effectiveness subside. Playing for a failing side or found out?
I thought that Willian was capable as he has the profile but it seems he doesn’t have the same first thought which is what Arsenal need… a player who thinks turn, look forward, slide behind the defense or dribble.
Buendia has a tendency to start on the right but dribble diagonally, leaving the wing vacant for an overlapping full back. This would be how I’d use him at Arsenal. Finally, we’ve all seen the repeated diagrams where Arsenal have a crater in the attacking midfield area (or leaden-footed Lacazette). Sign Buendia, problem solved.
Other options: Grealish, Coutinho, Bernardo, Isco
The ball carrier/ ‘8’
We have four of these at least but for various reasons we aren’t using them. Maitland- Niles could break lines but hasn’t mastered the final third. Willock the same except he offers a goal threat. Smith-Rowe lives in the doctors office. Partey could do it all if we had his twin brother to play DM. Willian has the skill set, but left his motivation in West London.
The likelihood is that whether one or more of the above can or will fulfill this role, we will sign an ‘8.’
Houssem Aouar (Lyon) 22
Will we go back? I think we might as Arteta is a big fan. He has the #1 quality that our current squad seems allergic to…. turning.
Aouar is a player that glides. He changes the pace of the game with sudden changes of direction, especially on the turn when receiving with his back to goal. Due to this quality if he came to Arsenal he would have to be given freedom to move centrally as well as wide as his attributes suit both. Arsenal also needs a small spaces player so we can ditch the horseshoe football and give confidence to Arteta that we can play laser passes between the lines. Once Aouar turns, it’s all on. More than anything, he would offer our forwards the opportunity to be freed up. A player attacking the backline would bring a defender towards him. Slot passes to Auba that we’ve never utilized.
With Aouar being dropped from the Lyon squad and Lyon being in financial trouble, we might get a cut-price deal.
Again, I say watch this video and I challenge you to tell me someone who can turn/change direction quicker than Aouar.
Rodrigo DePaul (Udinese) 26
The ultimate modern-day midfielder. Offers absolutely everything from effective high pressing, two glorious fast feet and persistent defensive running ability. He can play in any midfield position, as a DM, CM or AM. An Arteta dream?
If Arsenal chose him I believe that he would be best used as a central midfielder but likely in a rotational midfield so as to use him to his optimum.
He would modernize Arsenal’s midfield in any way you asked.
Starting for Argentina in a talented midfield. A player that Leeds were close to this summer.
Other options: Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Julian Draxler (PSG), Julian Brandt (Dortmund), John McGinn (Villa)
The traditional winger
Creative individualists. A traditional winger. If we switch Aubameyang and/or Martinelli to CF and if we saw Saka elsewhere then maybe creativity comes this way.
Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal) 21
Speed and skill galore. Won’t be a yellow submarine long. I’m somewhat surprised that he’s still there actually but probably better for his development. This would likely only happen if we gave up on Pepe as Chukwueze is a very similar player arguably with more power, speed and consistency.
He currently plays in Pepe’s position and would likely play there for Arsenal. He would hopefully solve the manic inconsistent performances of Pepe and get the same product but more frequently.
I’d think we’d all agree that Pepe at his best is deadly yet we never know which guy has jogged out of the tunnel.
Jeremie Boga (Sassuolo) 23
The former Chelsea wonder kid has flourished in Italy. Electric pace and directness but very one-footed. Getting rave reviews and definitely worth consideration. Likely to go to one of the Italian big boys but the PL are aware of him.
Boga at Arsenal would offer Auba levels of speed from the left but elite dribbling ability that neither Auba or Martinelli offer. Would probably see the end of Nelson as he is a very similar player. Maybe we should trust Nelson before we dive into the market?
Other options: Silas Wamangituka (Stuttgart), Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Milot Rashica (Bremen), Ousmanne Dembele (Barcelona), Wilf Zaha (Palace), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig), Raphael Leao (AC Milan),
Marcus Thuram (Moenchengladbach)
Free Thomas Partey
Is part 1 of the creative solution to free Thomas Partey to play box to box? Not the end game but part of the plan. Step one might be to get a defensive midfielder or a central midfielder with strong defensive qualities.
Yves Bissouma (Brighton) 24
It takes a while for me to recognize a top player at the other end of the PL table. I should start to realize that all teams in the league have gems and much like how Liverpool has snagged Southampton players and made them elite, they are there.
If you write a list of skills needed in our midfield I’d say it looks something like this… athleticism, speed, quickness, aggression, intimidator, fast feet, two-way running ability and comfort on the ball. This is a long list of which Xhaka and Ceballos have only one of these qualities at best.
Bissouma may play for BHA but he has all of them. Not necessarily top level at all but a far higher ceiling.
We’d use him as a natural DM in a 4-3-3 allowing Partey to advance. This would solve so many issues as it would give emotional and mental comfort and freedom to those in the back and upfront. A true DM (Vieira, Silva) gave wings to so many. Game changer.
Renato Sanches (Lille) 23
Similar feet to Santi. Quickness of a winger and strength of center-back. I’m very interested but would want to know why he was so poor at Swansea before I fully believed what my eyes have recently seen. I predict that Real Madrid will go for him. If Arsenal took the chance they’d receive Arteta’s dream. A hybrid modern athlete who can destroy and create.
At Arsenal he could play in a 2 man midfield allowing us to play a true creator in front or in any of the three midfield positions in a three man midfield. Sanches is a very interesting player as bar goals, he has everything Arsenal lack in midfield. If we don’t sign him, I’d say we will sign someone with the same hybrid profile.
Florian Neuhaus (Moenchengladbach) 23
The unknown gem of the Bundesliga. Like Kalvin Phillips, he marries a strong defensive game with top passing ability. Moenchengladbach has many players (including his partner, Zakaria) that are catching the eye.
Like Bissouma he is a true DM, less athletic but better on the ball. Either way, a huge upgrade on the player that we bought from the same club. He would give Arsenal the ability to play through the middle without fear of transition and no chance of catching said transition.
Boubakary Soumare (Lille) 21
The modern-day player. Strong, fast, athletic and skillful.
Arsenal has interest but will they spend big on such a young player for such an important position?
Interestingly he tackles better with his left foot but passes better with his right. Two footed which is a big benefit and would offer balance to Partey.
Similar to Sanches and plays alongside him but taller and less experienced at big clubs and in the PL. Somebody will take the risk on Soumare and if it’s Arsenal then we get a central midfielder/DM combo with one of the highest ceilings of any young midfielder in Europe.
Other options: Berge (SHU), Ndidi (Leicester), Witzel (Dortmund), Merino (Real Sociedad), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds), Erick Pulgar (Fiorentina), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Kessie (Milan), Rodrigo Bentacur (Juventus), William Carvalho (Betis), Teun Koopmeiners (AZ Alkmaar), Amadou Diawara (Roma)
Set play wizard
I’m not going all American Football here, I’m aware that this type of player has to offer more and I have two to consider. It is fair to add though that most teams average 8–10 corners or attacking free kicks each game and many games are won by someone with creative feet at the dead ball.
Just wanted to give you two names to think on…
James Ward Prowse (Saints) 26 and Hakan Calhanoglu (Milan) 26
Firstly, if we had £100M and if he’d leave, I’d sign Grealish. He’d be perfect.
Not likely so…
I would sign two creative players as I wouldn’t want to put the burden on one. As you’ve seen with our midfield , when our only ideal candidate gets injured, we are back at square one.
I’d buy Szoboszlai and Buendia. You could get both for £40M.
Buendia could make a more immediate impact and offer the connector we are desperate for.
Szoboszlai could eventually be elite and this is a great opportunity for Arsenal and a good next step for him. He also has a more rounded game and Arsenal need a goalscoring threat as much as creativity and he has both.
I’d also love to wander to my dream state and sell as many of the 12 I feel need to depart. Unlikely until summer but if it were possible to sell a few we could expedite the transition and create a modern athletic midfield allowing Thomas Partey to move forward and be part of the creative solution.
I’d sign Yves Bissouma as a true modern DM who would give others behind and ahead of him the confidence to focus on their game.
I’d pursue Renato Sanches too.
Bissouma, Partey and Sanches would suit Arteta’s desire for hybrid, athletic, rotational players.
A beautiful dream and again, more likely in the summer.
What will Arsenal do?
I think that we will sign Buendia as his impact is both short and long term.
I also think we are after a ‘special’ player which I think will be a loan. A player discussed by Fabrizio Romano and a player discussed in my Striker blog upcoming.
In that blog I will look at choices of Strikers/Number 9’s. We will also discuss whether we go for more creativity and choose a False Nine instead.
Well, there you go! We got there without mentioning Dele Ali!
NOW LISTEN TO OUR NEW PODCAST.
We invited Janan Ganesh – elite columnist for the Financial Times – to contribute to a podcast about the state of Arsenal as we stand. We talk about Arteta is clear-eyed terms (even me), we discuss leadership, the failing football strategy, and we also deep-dive on the players. It is NOT to be missed.