Arsenal are in a difficult situation in the league and the January window cannot seem to come soon enough for a side devoid of ideas and variety. Arsenal have a creative void in the centre of the pitch and have rightly been linked to the likes of Houssem Aouar, Dominik Szoboszlai and Emi Buendia.
However, it is not the only position on the pitch which needs addressing and behind the clear lack of a number 10 is the second central midfield position occupied by one of Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny or Dani Ceballos. Thomas Partey was brought in and looked to be a transformative figure and has shown glimpses of greatness.
However, injury trouble and the disparity in quality to his midfield partner have caused gaps and vulnerabilities to show against Aston Villa, Wolves and more recently Spurs.
Arsenal’s transfer history has typically centred around spending on talents from the continent. The Gunners have rarely invested in players from within their own league, put off by the seemingly exorbitant price tags placed on players.
However, for a club that spent over £200 million on Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi, Nicolas Pepe, Sokratis and Alexandre Lacazette it seems counterintuitive to argue the Gunners could not stretch to sign some proven Premier League talent either in their prime or approaching it in their early twenties.
This is where the option of Brighton’s Yves Bissouma becomes a legitimate target for Arsenal to add quality, defensive security and progressive passing to the deeper region of the midfield.
The frustrations of passive and negative play from the likes of Xhaka have grown throughout the current season. The Swiss midfielder had a excellent end to the 2019/20 campaign and was good for Arteta’s side in a 3-4-3 which earned an FA Cup. But the current season has seen a dip in form and a reversion to the negative passing also reflected in the Brazilian Willian and the switch to a 4-3-3 has again exposed weak attributes of the 28-year-old.
Bissouma provides a difference in both pass decision-making and mobility on the ball. The Malian midfielder likes to pick up the ball and progress it through either travelling or a simple or complex pass. By looking at the matches against Burnley (h) Everton (a) and Newcastle United (a), in which across the three matches Bissouma completed 23 accurate passes into the opposition’s final third, the variety and accuracy is clear.
Typically Bissouma, according to Wyscout, has attempted 53 passes into the final third with an 88.7% accuracy in the 10 Premier League games this season. The graphic above shows a variety of passes not only to the wide areas but also centrally, between the midfield lines to the central strikers.
Xhaka meanwhile, has attempted more than double that at 110 with a reduced accuracy of 80.9%. However, a staggering third of those passes were attempted against Tottenham (with 88% accuracy) during the period Arsenal’s north London rivals were absorbing pressure in the second half which has buffed the statistics.
A good example of the passes Bissouma makes can be seen in the below example. The key pass, highlighted in pink in the above graphic, was a lofted through pass from Bissouma after receiving the ball from deep.
The passing and progressive play of Bissouma would be an asset the Gunners do currently have but split between a number of players. Ceballos can progress and Xhaka can play decent passes into wide areas, but Bissouma can combine the assets of both plus additional quality at the same time.
The criticisms of Arsenal’s central midfield has been how easily opposition players are able to simply drive the ball through it. Often not even with incisive passing but driven runs directly through one of the three channels of the defensive third. Bissouma has shown to win duels across the entirety of the pitch and his coverage in many areas, if combined with Partey’s own quality defensive work ethic, is a scary thought.
Typically skewed to the right-hand side, a position which Partey does occupy but thankfully both players can operate on the opposite side, Bissouma likes to progress and win the ball in many areas. The immediate downside is to think that this will leave gaps but with both Partey and Bissouma having the recovery pace and consistent tackling ability, the worries should be quelled somewhat.
Bissouma has committed to just over 20 duels per match this season and won 47.1% of these. The Malian’s loss-to-recovery ratio is positive with the midfielder recovering 8.86 balls compared to his 6.56 losses but interesting 53% of Bissouma’s ball recoveries occur in the opposition’s half allowing for effective counter-attacking.
What you notice from the above graphic is the coverage of Bissouma’s duels. The 24-year-old covers a huge area of the pitch thanks to his stamina, acceleration and speed. Able to press and get back quickly to recover situations. The two below examples show the recovery speed when tackling Timo Werner and also the positional discipline when standing up to Jeffrey Schlupp.
It is clear that Arsenal’s recruitment policy needs to change and an increased focus on acquisitions with Premier League experience needs to occur. Bissouma is a strong option which the Gunners should look to consider. The price? Likely Brighton will not allow the highly-rated 24-year-old to move on the cheap especially with two-and-a-half years left on his present deal.
The price may be steep but if Arsenal are going to continue their form of spending big, their targets need to be more grounded and fit specific needs of the team and the system which the manager wants the club to use.
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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