Arsenal’s hot pursuit of a central midfielder in the summer transfer window has seen links to several candidates such as Frenkie de Jong and Houssem Aouar emerge.
Whilst bringing in a new forward amid interest in Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and securing an £18million deal for Bologna full-back Aaron Hickey to cover for Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu next season is a top priority for the Gunners, so is strengthening in the middle of the park so Mikel Arteta can complete an 18-month mission.
Back in December 2020, the Arsenal manager revealed his long-term plan was to transition into a 4-3-3 formation having favoured a 4-2-3-1 system at the beginning of his tenure: “We want to move to a 4-3-3,” he said. “But for that, you need a lot of specificity in every position but now in five or six positions, we don’t have it.”
This changed during the 2021/22 campaign. Arsenal’s most consistent run of form since Arteta took charge was over the festive period and it coincided with a subtle change of formation with Thomas Partey operating at the base of a midfield trio and Martin Odegaard slotting in perfectly as a right-sided No.8 where he was able to combine effectively with Bukayo Saka.
Though the popular opinion is that there is still one position up for grabs – and it’s on the left-side of the midfield three where, to his credit, Granit Xhaka did impress at times, but the reality is that the Switzerland midfielder is not quite regarded as a long-term solution for the role.
Therefore, as reported by football.london, Arsenal’s preferred midfield target is Youri Tielemans and there’s talk of a £25million move to the Emirates Stadium this summer. Although, it has also been reported that the north London outfit are leading the race to sign Aouar who has stalled on a new contract with Lyon.
If the Gunners do end up signing the 23-year-old for £12.6m, then technical director Edu can seal a transfer masterstroke by saving around £40.4million based on the midfielder’s initial asking price of £53m in the summer of 2020 to boost Arteta’s first-team squad ahead of the 2022/23 season.
However, if Lyon manager Peter Bosz’s claim that Aouar’s best position is as a number 10 when discussing his preference for Lucas Paqueta is taken under consideration by Arteta then he may have to revert back to a 4-2-3-1 formation to accommodate the Frenchman in his Arsenal side or perform a U-turn and decide against pursuing a deal.
“It’s for sure his best position,” Bosz said of Paqueta, as per Ligue1.com. “He has all the qualities to play in attack, good in front of goal, good at holding the ball up, and also his state of mind. When he’s in form he can carry us. Houssem’s best position is at No.10, I understand that. Everyone wants to play and it’s up to them to prove they can. It remains subjective and these are my choices.”
Of course, Aouar’s versatility and ability to “change a game when playing in the middle” would allow Arteta to continue with the 4-3-3 system if he was to arrive in north London this summer as he can be utilised as a no.8 on the left-hand side next to Odegaard and in front of Partey.