Now that the season has ended Arsenal’s focus can officially turn to the transfer market.
Mikel Arteta and Edu are expected to be on the hunt for recruits in up five positionsfootball.london understands, as they seek to overhaul a squad that failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in 25 years this season.
With Dani Ceballos having returned to Real Madrid and the futures of Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka all uncertain bringing in a central midfielder is high on their list of priorities,
Two names they have looked at are Brighton’s Yves Bissouma and Sander Berge of Sheffield United, but there could now be another name to add to that list.
Still only 24, the Portuguese international has just two years left on his contract at Molineux and is set to be available for around £35 million when the transfer window reopens next month.
Having spent £45million to bring in Thomas Partey last summer it’s safe to say that Arsenal’s main aim in their central midfield recruitment drive this summer will be finding someone who can get the best out the Ghanaian when he is fully fit next season.
The Gunners have generally played a 4-2-3-1 formation this campaign so finding someone who can play alongside the 28-year-old at the base of the midfield will be key to doing that.
For the most part this season that role has been played by Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international has had a terrific campaign there and was even named in the CIES team of the season earlier this week.
However, when Arsenal convinced Partey to leave Atletico Madrid last October one of their big sells was that Arteta would allow the Ghanaian to show his true box-to-box abilities in a way that Diego Simeone‘s restrictive tactics had prevented him from doing.
While Xhaka has his strengths, he does not quite provide the defensive security in transition to ensure that the Ghanaian can go forward at will.
This though is where Neves shines.
The Portuguese international spends most of his time away from the final third of the pitch and in fact only had 25 touches in the opposition penalty area all season – three of which were for penalty kicks.
He instead prefers to patrol the middle of the park where he provides cover for the Wolves attackers as they seek to go forward and create.
He is defensively solid, and has completed 46 interceptions to Xhaka’s 25 this season, while he has completed 73.3% of his tackles in comparison to Xhaka’s tally of 63.8% (as per fbRef).
Arteta likes to have one of his central midfielders drop deep to help Arsenal form a Guardiola-esque 3-2-5 shape in possession and Neves’ defensive proficiency and ability on the ball (he has completed just under 85% of his passes this season) make him the ideal candidate to do that.
The deal would of course not be without its drawbacks.
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Any approach for the Portuguese international would involve dealing with ‘superagent’ Jorge Mendes whose Gestifute agency represent the midfielder. Arsene Wenger was famously opposed to engaging these types of figures within the football industry although Edu and Raul Sanllehi before him have shown more of a willingness to entertain them.
This should not be misread as a criticism of Xhaka who has been largely tremendous for Arsenal since Mikel Arteta took over.
But if the Gunners want to find a way to truly bring the best out of Thomas Partey next season, then it seems Ruben Neves could be the man to help them do it.