Dani Ceballos’ mesmeric performances in the past month have justifiably received plaudits. Most pertinently, it has raised questions as to whether he should be signed on a permanent basis. The Athletic has reported that a fee would sit in the region of €40m, which seems steep despite his recent performances. In this piece, I will discuss cheaper alternatives who can inject new life into the Arsenal midfield which lacks attacking verve.
Before I discuss these targets, I must stress that I don’t view this as our most important area to strengthen in midfield. A complete central midfielder, such as Thomas Partey, as well as a Mesut Ozil replacement must take priority. However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to invest in a cheap, young midfielder with high potential.
Several key criteria have governed my selections. The players in question must possess strong dribbling ability and be able to progress the ball quickly, whilst having an athletic frame. I have also selected these players with a 4-3-3 setup in mind. Whilst Arteta has implemented a 4-2-3-1 so far at Arsenal, this could be largely attributed to the players he has at his disposal. With the addition of one of these box to box midfielders, he would be enabled to implement such a system.
Dominik Szoboszlai is a name that may not be foreign to Arsenal fans. He has been incessantly linked to the Gunners since January 2018, but a deal has yet to materialise. However, if it were to, he would provide the attacking impetus that our midfield lacks. Szoboszlai possesses impeccable dribbling ability, with his stature making him difficult to dispossess. Better yet, his expansive passing range and rapid distribution are what is most striking. There are several instances, in which Szoboszlai is deep on the left-hand side of the field and picks out his right-back with a pin-point ball. Another string to the Hungarian’s bow is his set-piece delivery. Despite only scoring 1 goal from direct free-kicks this season, (per Transfermarkt) he hits his deliveries with venom and precision. It has been rumoured that his release clause sits at a paltry £22m, which represents great value for a potentially world-class talent.
Ever since Edu Gaspar’s appointment as Technical Director at Arsenal, the Brazilian market has been exploited on numerous occasions. Both Gabriel Martinelli and Pablo Mari have represented good value for money, whilst the likes of Bruno Guimaraes and Yan Couto were plucked from beneath our noses. A player of a similar ilk to the afore-mentioned Guimaraes is Matheus Henrique.
The Gremio midfielder has been compared to his former teammate and now Barcelona star Arthur Melo and would slot seamlessly into Mikel Arteta’s midfield. Despite standing at a measly 5’6”, Henrique doesn’t shy away from the action. He exhibits great tenacity off the ball, completing 1.6 tackles per 90, at a 67% success rate, as well as intercepting the ball once per game. But what is most impressive about the Brazilian is his skill in possession.
He is the fulcrum of Gremio’s midfield, completing 74.2 passes per game at a 91.5% success rate, with 3.7 of these being long passes. Another facet in which Henrique thrives is bypassing the press, completing 84% of his dribbles with 2.7 per game. However, the Paulistano’s abilities stretch far beyond a stats sheet.
He possesses incredibly important intangibles. His leadership on the pitch cannot be quantified, however, it is absolutely prevalent in the way he asserts himself on the pitch. And whilst his passing and dribbling stats are brilliant, his execution is of the highest quality. The manner with which he beats the press has quality written all over it. With a simple drag back or by adjusting his stance, he circumvents the press nonchalantly.
Furthermore, his ability to create opportunities for his forwards with just a simple chip or line breaking pass is indicative of his sheer class. A €25m fee has been mooted for Henrique, which would be an absolute bargain for one of Brazil’s finest talents.
Dani Ceballos’ predicament will surely be one of the major talking points over the summer. Whilst he has been impressive under Arteta’s tutelage, the €40m fee which has been placed upon him seems steep given the options available on the market. If this value were to decrease, then it is a deal more than worth pursuing.
However, if Los Blancos remain steadfast in their valuation of Ceballos, Szoboszlai and Henrique are both intriguing options to replace him. Whilst Szoboszlai is a powerful and athletic specimen who offers rapid ball progression, Henrique is a far more refined player.
In many ways, these two players represent Mikel Arteta’s midfield conundrum. If he intends to continue his use of the 4-2-3-1, Matheus Henrique fits perfectly alongside an athletic defensive midfielder. However, if he seeks to emulate the 4-3-3 implemented by his mentor, Pep Guardiola, at Manchester City, the athletic and attack-minded Szoboszlai would be an astute acquisition.
It remains to be seen just how Arteta will refresh the midfield in the upcoming window.