Arsenal will enter the January market for a defensive midfielder and we select the three possible options Mikel Arteta can consider.
Arsenal fans are immersing themselves in the joyous victory at Luton Town, courtesy of a late Declan Rice winner at Kenilworth Road. The win extended their lead at the top, but proceedings on Wednesday could see Manchester City and Liverpool retain their positions, although the Gunners will remain at the summit.
Mikel Arteta will surely hope they maintain their current position at least until January when Arsenal will have another chance to shore up their squad. The Gunners have struggled with injuries to different players at various stages.
Rice rises highest in the last-minute 😍
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 6, 2023
Arteta has seen some of his key attackers miss games here and there while ruing the early loss of Jurrien Timber to a severe knee problem. After the Luton game, the Spaniard also confirmed Takehiro Tomiyasu’s scans did not look good, with the Japanese defender now expected to miss at least a month of action.
Tomiyasu might soon go away with Japan for the Asian Cup, which raises questions about whether Arsenal will look to sign a defender in January. Since the season began, all the talk has focused on everyone urging Arteta to sign a striker, with Ivan Toney’s name echoing everywhere.
Sure, the Gunners might benefit from someone like Toney or a traditional No.9 in their ranks. But they have been exceptional this season in spreading the goals. Eleven different players scored Arsenal’s last eleven goals until Kai Havertz struck against Luton. Moreover, they also have Gabriel Jesus, who remains an underrated force in that squad.
Arsenal’s last 11 goals in the Premier League:
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) December 5, 2023
Arsenal teams under Arsene Wenger and Arteta have come to use a keyword each season that describes them in a big way. The Frenchman constantly used ‘Cohesion’ as a term, while the Spaniard started with ‘Process’, and now this season, it’s ‘Control’.
Arsenal have achieved total control in games, the way Arteta wants. Ideally, the manager envisaged a season where he could play Thomas Partey and Rice in the midfield together. While the idea was bright, the Ghanaian’s constant unavailability has thrown those plans into tatters.
Partey’s prolonged absence (it is still unclear when he might return) has put Arsenal back in the market for a new defensive midfielder. Rice has been phenomenal in that No.6 role and continues to give Arteta the ‘control’ he needs in games.
However, with reports suggesting that Arsenal will sign a new defensive midfielder, the options in front of Arteta are few, with most coming with multiple complexities. There are players the manager would like, and in all probability, he will urge the likes of Edu Gaspar to get the deal done to push forward with their plans to win titles this season.
Here we have three options for Arteta to consider, with Fulham’s Joao Palhinha, Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi and long-term target Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz.
The Portuguese international was on the brink of signing for Bayern Munich in a big deal, but the early closure of the German window all scuppered the deal. He has remained at Fulham, and in recent days, Arsenal fans have been tested to consider this name a potential option for Arteta’s side. Meanwhile, other bigwigs like Manchester United, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich are also keen.
João Palhinha is good player, but his elite quality is his ability to win ground duels and interceptions. Is that what #Arsenal need in January, given that most weeks we face low blocks? There’s no doubt he’s talented, but he’s not the player we need in possession. #AFC pic.twitter.com/qVrtZhFvTj
— Adam Keys (@adamkeys_) December 5, 2023
The idea of Palhinha is all very fascinating from a tactical perspective. He offers plenty of bite in the midfield and will quickly pounce on loose balls or easily win tackles. Is that something Arsenal need at this stage? Probably?
The argument is that Palhinha’s limited contribution in possession could hinder a top team’s attacking dynamics, potentially reducing them to ten influential players on the pitch. That is concerning, but he does make the Gunners’ midfield stronger beyond anyone’s imagination.
There are questions about his age (28), but Palhinha has not played as many senior minutes as a player of his quality and age should have. Hence, there is an argument that the Portuguese is a late bloomer, which makes him a viable option. Arteta should look at him and how he can change his game for Arsenal. But he should be third best on their list and only targetted if they fail with other targets.
Going by multiple reports linking Luiz, it is clear Arsenal have retained a significant interest in the Brazilian and could make another attempt to sign him. Aston Villa’s rejection of a series of bids from the Gunners a few summers ago remains well documented. Still, the midfielder has brought himself to a different level and is in an indifferent position in the market.
Douglas Luiz on his Aston Villa future 💪 pic.twitter.com/4q8M5nZvcf
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 5, 2023
Aston Villa have shown signs of competing for a top-four place and so far have not shown any signs they are ready to sell their crucial star. However, Luiz could quickly point out the events when they rejected that Arsenal bid and how committed he has been since. His new contract does allow the club to get a significant fee from suitors. But much will come down to the Brazilian’s choice.
Arsenal are in a stellar position to win the Premier League title and go the distance in the Champions League. Arteta and Edu could convince Luiz that he is that crucial cog they are missing from achieving greatness, which could entice the Brazilian towards the Emirates.
Now Arteta needs a player of Luiz’s talents in his side and believes the Brazilian can complement Rice or Partey this season. The manager is also looking beyond the Ghanaian and may view the partnership between Luiz and Rice for the long-term future. In all, the Brazilian should be the Gunners’ top priority, and reports suggest they are ready to make their move with all efforts.
The Spaniard has always been on Arsenal’s list, with Arteta considering signing the Real Sociedad man on multiple occasions. For some reason, he seemed like a fallback option then and appears the same now. While Zubimendi remains a formidable talent, he will cost a sizeable sum, that too upfront. Meanwhile, he is also highly sought-after, with Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Manchester United also interested.
But he will cost less than Luiz, but the club must pay his release clause in full to take him away. Also, Real Sociedad will not sell him mid-season, triggering that exit clause, which seems to be the only way to sign him.
Tactically, Zubimendi appears like a “lite” version of Rice. He has the bite in midfield that Arteta seeks and would undoubtedly shore up that midfield for Arsenal. He can also play different roles, like the left-sided eight or in a double pivot. But the Spanish international is equally capable of playing the lone No.6 position independently.
Arsenal must seriously give Zubimendi a thought and consider making a move a priority if they cannot sign Luiz in January. Other clubs keen on the Spaniard, but the Gunners may have done their groundwork over the midfielder before, which might give them the edge in this transfer.