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5 midfielders Arsenal should target this summer

  • Arsenal have lacked creativity in midfield, and here are 5 players they should pursue in this summer.
  • Arsenal rank among the bottom teams in the Premier League in several metrics considered crucial for solid midfield play.
Rahul Iyer
ANALYST
Feature
Modified 10 May 2020, 13:07 IST

Arsenal may need to rebuild this summer
Arsenal may need to rebuild this summer

With the future of the Premier League season currently up in the air, several clubs in the league will already have started their planning for next season. These clubs would have an eye on potential transfer dealings, with the intention of getting them done as quickly as possible. One of these clubs surely will be Arsenal, who have a lot of work to do in the market before their squad can be considered up to scratch. 

With the Gunners potentially needing up to 5 new players this season, including centre-back, right-back, midfield and even up front. With the future of star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also uncertain, it is a case of the sooner the better for the club.

However, one of Arsenal's biggest issues has been a lack of creativity in midfield. With Mesut Ozil seemingly past his prime, the North London cIub's other midfielders haven't created enough chances in the recent past.

In this article, we will look at potential targets in midfield for Arsenal, with a couple of parameters.

Presumably, Arsenal would like to have a player who can cement a starting spot for several years, so all the players considered are aged 24 and under. Also, Arsenal will likely need to secure their signatures for cheap, which means we will only be looking at players whose market values are below €35 million.

5 midfielders Arsenal should target in the summer:


#5 Imran Louza (FC Nantes)

Louza is another off the French conveyor belt of talent
Louza is another off the French conveyor belt of talent

First on the list is Nantes midfielder Imran Louza. A product of the French club's famed youth academy, he joined them at the tender age of 7. Louza only made his first-team debut towards the end of last season, playing 88 minutes of Nantes' 1-0 defeat to Strasbourg.

However, under new manager Christian Gourcuff, Louza has thrived this season, appearing in 24 out of Nantes' 28 league games and racking up over 2000 minutes so far. A versatile, creative midfielder, Louza has been used in a variety of positions. He has featured in a defensive midfield position, as a number 10, and even, on occasion, on the right-wing.

Measuring in at just 5'10", Louza is not the most physically gifted player, but his quality on the ball and hard work off it are clear for everyone to see.

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Often operating in the space between the opposition's midfield and defence and constantly looking to find pockets of space to work in, Louza would fit nicely into the number 10 slot in Mikel Arteta's favoured 4-2-3-1 set-up. His creativity would bring to the team something they have been lacking in the middle of the park, given Mesut Ozil's sharp decline and the fact that Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka's talents lie elsewhere.

Averaging a total of 3.1 ball recoveries a game, Louza also shows a willingness to track back and win the ball for his team, a valuable trait in any player. He also completes 1.2 dribbles and 2 key passes per game, which give further weight to his reputation as a top-level creator.

Having just turned 21 and rumoured to be available for as little as €10 million, Louza could be an extremely shrewd signing for Arsenal as they look to rebuild this summer.


#4 Lorenzo Pellegrini (AS Roma)

Pellegrini has been one of Europe
Pellegrini has been one of Europe's stand-out players this season

Perhaps the most high profile name on this list, it is hard to believe that Lorenzo Pellegrini has not yet made a big move away from Roma. Like Louza, Pellegrini is also a product of his current club's academy, having joined the Giallorossi in 2007 and rejoining them in 2017 after spending 2 years at Sassuolo.

Pellegrini has long been touted as a future national team star for Italy. While it seemed for the longest time that such a prediction would never come to fruition, Pellegrini seems to be making good on the expectations placed on him from such a young age. With 12 appearances for Italy to date, he is an established member of the squad now, forming a mouth-watering partnership with Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella in the middle of the park.

As for his club form, Pellegrini has quietly been one of Europe's best performers in midfield this season. With 1 goal and 8 assists to his name so far, he has had his second-best season ever, in terms of goal involvements. But, digging a little deeper, it is clear that the man they call Montellino (Little Montella) has been on another level this year.

Often deployed as a 10 by manager Paulo Fonseca, although occasionally also playing as a number 8, Pellegrini is the beating heart of Roma's midfield. Averaging 3 key passes per game, along with 4.5 passes into the final third of the pitch, he would provide Arsenal with a conduit to progress the ball from deeper positions to create dangerous attacking scenarios.

Apart from enabling his teammates to create chances, he is also more than able to carry the ball himself, averaging 1.5 dribbles per game at a 65% success rate. Indeed, his progressed distance per carry value of 4.56 yards puts him 3rd among midfielders in Europe under the age of 24, only behind Gaetano Castrovilli and Aleksandr Golovin.

Pellegrini will turn 24 in June and is rumoured to have a €30 million release clause in his contract, which would be a steal for someone of his quality. If Arsenal want him, however, they will have to move quickly, as PSG, Inter Milan and Juventus are all said to be interested.


#3 Óscar Rodríguez (Leganes)

Óscar could well move away this summer.
Óscar could well move away this summer.

Third on our list is a slightly left-field choice- Leganes attacking midfielder Óscar Rodríguez. He is currently on loan at the club from Real Madrid, having come through Los Blancos' youth academy. Rodriguez is due to return to the Santiago Bernabeu this summer, after the completion of his 2-year spell with the relegation candidates.

Rodríguez has been one of Leganes' star players this season, becoming even more crucial since the turn of the year, when the club lost their two main attackers, Martin Braithwaite and Youssef En-Nesyri, to Barcelona and Sevilla respectively. It is perhaps a damning indictment on the rest of the squad when, despite his efforts, Los Pepineros still sit second-bottom in LaLiga, 3 points from safety.

More commonly known simply as Óscar, the Spain under-21 international is another player who is capable of playing either as a deep-lying playmaker, or one who looks to get between the lines and influence play. Along with his strong technical qualities and tactical versatility, he is also an excellent option to have over a dead ball, be it free-kicks or corners.

With 7 goals so far, he is Leganes' top scorer this season. Combining this with his 2 assists so far means that he has been directly involved in 9 of Leganes' measly 21 league goals thus far, a ratio of 42.8%. However, with an expected goals+assists value of 5.9, it could be fair to say that Óscar has overperformed this season.

By the same token, though, if he were to move to a side with better quality in front of him, those numbers could easily swell. With the likes of Martin Odegaard, Dani Ceballos, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde all likely to be ahead of him in the pecking order at Madrid, Óscar could well be tempted to move this summer.

An offer worth €20 million for the 21-year-old may tempt Madrid and would not dent Arsenal's coffers too badly, especially if he eventually develops into an elite-level player.


#2 Rolando Mandragora (Udinese)

Mandragora finally seems to be fulfilling his potential
Mandragora finally seems to be fulfilling his potential

The last two players on this list are both of a slightly different mould to the others, starting with Rolando Mandragora. One of Italy's current golden generation of midfield talent, Mandragora is a product of the Genoa youth academy, but played just 5 games for the club. He was then shipped out on loan to Pescara, and subsequently moved to Juventus in 2016.

In 2018, he was sold to fellow Serie A side Udinese, with Juventus inserting a €20 million buy-back clause into his contract, clearly indicative of the fact that the Turin giants still believe in the 22-year-old's long term potential.

This season, Mandragora has started to show glimpses of that immense potential. Udinese have usually lined up in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, with Mandragora playing as one of the midfield three, along with Rodrigo de Paul and Seko Fofana. While De Paul is tasked with pushing up to make things happen in the final third and Fofana is given the license to shuttle between both penalty areas, Mandragora plays the holding role, dictating play from deep and screening the defence.

His contribution to the attacking phases of play is minimal, but what Mandragora is excellent at doing is breaking the midfield lines with a raking pass. He ensures that his more creative team-mates can receive the ball in dangerous areas.

On average, each pass of his progresses the ball 5 yards towards the opposition goal, an impressive number. Furthermore, his 4.6 progressive passes per game and ball recoveries to ball losses ratio of 1.4 show that he is a solid, all-round midfielder.

Given the existence of the buy-back clause Juventus retain and whispers around Italy that the 'Old Lady' may look to exercise that option, an offer in the region of €25 million could be enough to tempt Udinese into parting with him.


#1 Weston McKennie (FC Schalke 04)

McKennie is one of the USA
McKennie is one of the USA's hottest prospects in recent years

Our final recommendation for Arsenal is American youngster Weston McKennie. A native of Texas, McKennie spent 7 years on the books of FC Dallas before moving across the Atlantic to Schalke, where he has swiftly become a fan favourite.

Still just 21, McKennie is one of the most talented players to emerge from the USA in recent years and forms part of an exciting young American national team core, with the likes of Giovanni Reyna, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest. Already capped 19 times by his country, McKennie has also scored 6 goals, including the fastest hat-trick in the history of the US men's national team.

Under former Huddersfield manager David Wagner, Schalke have more often than not lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with a diamond midfield. The diamond usually comprises of Omar Mascarell at the base, Amine Harit at the tip, and McKennie and fellow youngster Suat Serdar on either side as box-to-box midfielders. On the pitch, the American is almost terrier-like, snapping away at opponents' heels and always looking to make sure they are not afforded time on the ball.

McKennie is a pressing machine, with his 20.7 pressures per game testament to that. He also wins the ball back nearly 3 times a game, something which could prove vital to Arsenal's preference for a possession-based game.

On the ball, McKennie provides quality rather than quantity. He plays an average of 0.77 key passes per game, but also averages an expected assist value of 0.18 per key pass, effectively meaning that one in five chances he creates is likely to hit the back of the net. He is also adept at carrying the ball through midfield, and breaking the first line of the press before laying it off to more creative team-mates.

Having recently stated his desire to play in England, Arsenal could potentially make that dream come true this year. He may not be cheap, with rumours saying nothing less than €30 million will do for Schalke, but he could well be worth that and more.

Published 10 May 2020, 13:07 IST
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