Houssem Aouar is Arsenal’s primary attacking midfield target.
It’s just under a month until the 2020 summer transfer window slams shut and the Arsenal recruitment team still have a lot of work to do in the market if we are to finish in the top four this coming season. A lack of quality and depth in the centre of the park, coupled with potential departures, means we must be looking to bring in reinforcements in the engine room.
Two key midfielders have been consistently linked with moves to Arsenal throughout this summer. Firstly, Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, who would likely be brought in to play a role at the base of our midfield. In addition to Partey, Arsenal are keen on bringing in Lyon’s Houssem Aouar – one of Europe’s brightest offensively oriented midfield prospects.
The issue with targeting such high calibre players is that there’ll always be stiff competition for their signatures. Regarding Partey, we seem to be in a bit of a one-horse race to acquire him, but Atletico are adamant they won’t let their number five go unless his €50m (£45m) release clause is triggered. However, concerning Aouar’s situation, plenty of other clubs are said to be interested in obtaining the services of the talented 22-year-old.
Thus If I was to place a bet myself, I’d say out of the two players, Arsenal are more likely to sign Partey. Once his release clause is triggered, Atletico are left toothless. They simply have to let the imposing midfielder go. With Aouar, things are a tad more complicated. Lengthy negotiations will have to take place in order to agree a fee to bring the Frenchman to north London and Lyon are not obliged to sell him at all. Aouar himself may not even be interested in a move to Arsenal due to the fact we can’t offer him Champions League football this season.
Thus, while signing Aouar is not a complete impossibility, we should not be throwing all our eggs into one basket. We need other options. The French international is said to be worth around €60m, which would mean Arsenal would need to be prepared to pay the big bucks. So, here are three potentially equally expensive alternatives if Arsenal miss out on Aouar.
Initially, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was ridiculously snubbed of an England call up by Gareth Southgate for the latest round of Nations League fixtures. Nonetheless, after a few squad withdrawals and some major backlash, the Villa captain was welcomed into the fold. Deservedly so, as Grealish enjoyed a sensational 2019/20 season with Villa.
Over the course of the Premier League season he racked up eight goals and six assists, in an otherwise poor Villa side. Deployed either on the left flank or on the left side of a midfield three, Grealish was a shining light for the Midlands side. Similarly, Aouar also plays on the left side of a three for Lyon. So, it’s likely Grealish would be well suited to the role which Mikel Arteta plans to deploy Aouar in.
Grealish’s versatility would also be wholly welcomed. The 24-year-old is capable of playing in the aforementioned roles as well as in a number ten position, so would be able to adapt to a number of different formations – his direct running and eye for goal would certainly mean he’d offer us something different in midfield. Meanwhile, his impressive xA/90 of 0.19 last season suggests he’d help solve our creative crisis. It’s known that he has his heart set on leaving Villa, so he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
After a successful loan spell with Real Sociedad last season, it seems to be the case that Martin Odegaard is finally developing into the player that he was touted to become as a teenager. The Norweigen’s superb close control and unique left-foot mean he’d likely fit in nicely on the left hand-side of Arsenal’s midfield.
Odegaard’s creative numbers from the 2019/20 season are remarkably similar to Grealish’s. He notched six league assists and registered an xA/90 of 0.18. So, right now, Odegaard isn’t your archetypal Mesut Özil-esque creator. Still, neither is Aouar, who registered an xA/90 of just 0.14 last season. Like Aouar, Odegaard is known for his ability to tie up play nicely and consistently contribute to his team’s offensive play. So, if Arteta is looking for the sort of player who he can mould into a specific attacking midfielder role, at 21, Odegaard could be that man.
The sticking point with this one could be Real Madrid’s stance on the player. Thus far, reports have suggested that Zinedine Zidane wants to keep hold of the youngster who could yet prove to be a star for Los Blancos. Having said that, Zidane does have a plethora of midfield options available to him already. So, if a sizeable offer came in, Real could be tempted. If it were down to me, I’d be going all out for the Norwegian if we can’t get Aouar.
Finally, the quirkiest option out of the three. Yes, this one sounds unlikely, but please, hear me out. This week, it has been inferred that Juventus have dropped their interest in Aouar. So, that leaves us and Man City as the frontrunners in the race to sign the Frenchman. If City prevail in said race, that would leave Foden in the same position he was in last season. Second fiddle.
This may not satisfy the man Pep Guardiola once flaunted as the “most talented” player he has ever seen. The 20-year-old is said to have had a strong relationship with Arteta whilst the pair were together at City, so, could Arteta use that relationship to tempt the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ to north London? It’s not impossible. But very, very implausible.
Foden, who made his England debut on Saturday, would be an apt solution to Arteta’s attacking midfield issues. When deployed as a left-sided number eight for Mancheser City, the youngster has consistently excelled. For such a young man to have recorded an xA/90 of 0.20 last season certainly bodes well for the future. He’ll doubtlessly develop in to one of the finest creative players in the game if he continues on his current path. Will he do it with Arsenal? It’s unlikely, but not inconceivable.