Arsenal are reportedly lining up a move for Lyon midfielder, Houssem Aouar. Going all-in on the Frenchman would be no bad thing.
Arsenal need to restructure their central midfield. There are many reasons for this. Mesut Ozil is ageing and no longer suits modern football. The defensive midfield options are restricted or raw. Dani Ceballos is only on loan and will be difficult to sign permanently this summer. And, perhaps most foundationally, Mikel Arteta stems from Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3, which features a different midfield formation from his 4-2-3-1.
In very simple terms, Arteta has played with holding midfielders — Granit Xhaka and either Lucas Torreira or Ceballos — and one attacking midfielder — Ozil. Guardiola, however, uses one holding player and two ‘half-eights’, which are essentially attacking midfielders with slightly more defensive responsibility than in a 4-2-3-1.
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Arteta has used the 4-2-3-1 to incorporate Ozil. The German does not have the legs, stamina or willingness to play in a ‘half-eight’ role. He is an out-and-out number 10, and that reduces the tactical fluency that Arteta can shift between.
And so, we are left with limited players, a manager playing a system that he likely does not think is the best to play, and a team that has struggled for production from its central midfield — the entire central midfield combines for two goals and seven assists in the Premier League this season. A restructuring, then, and the recruitment to do so, is absolutely necessary.
Enter Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar. The 21-year-old Frenchman is reportedly attracting interest from around Europe, including Arsenal and Manchester City. And for good reason. While Ozil does not have the defensive awareness and physical fitness and energy to play deeper in midfield, that is where Auoar is at his most comfortable. He is the ideal modern midfielder.
After Lyon played Manchester City last season, Guardiola himself singled out Auoar for praise:
“Houssem Aouar is a very good player, he is incredible. He’s always very calm with the ball at his feet, with an excellent technical quality.”
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Auoar has three goals and three assists in just under 2000 Ligue 1 minutes this season. He has also a goal and three assists in five Champions League matches. He scored seven goals with eight assists in Ligue 1 last year, with another three assists in the Champions League, and that came after a six-goal, five-assist league campaign when he was just 19. He is not immensely productive, but when allied with his ball-progression and tempo-dictating distribution, it is hugely impactful.
Of under-25 midfielders that have played at least 1000 minutes a top-five European League, Aouar ranks 12th in progressive runs per 90. He also ranks 13th in smart passes per 90, which Wyscout define as a ‘creative pass’. His progressive runs per 90 come just under Ceballos while he plays approximately 0.3 more smart passes per 90 than the Spaniard. He is a technical, sharp, creative midfielder who can play in an advanced role or deeper in the system. That versatility is ideal for Arteta.
In Arsenal’s attempts to restructure their central midfield, going all-in on Auoar would be no bad thing. He would not come cheap, and they will do well to beat the competition, but he is a special talent who performs a role of need. You could do a whole lot worse.