Arsenal

Mikel Arteta already has the solution to Arsenal’s midfield problem amid Gini Wijnaldum latest

Arsenal are not expected to do big things in the January transfer window, but if there was one area where you could argue they need to strengthen most, it is in central midfield.

Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are expected to head off to join up their countries for the AFCON later this month, and although Granit Xhaka has returned from his knee injury far earlier than expected, it would be still be a lot to ask the Swiss to play almost every game for the next two months after such a lengthy layoff.

Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have both shown themselves to be viable options in the position, but if something were to happen to either then the Gunners would be somewhat light on options.

Youngsters Charlie Patino and Salah Oulad M’Hand have impressed at under-23 level, but are probably not ready to make the step up just yet, and with Miguel Azeez on loan at Portsmouth, some short term cover could be required. It is this that makes recent links to Georginio Wijnaldum so interesting.

The Dutch international is reportedly unhappy with the amount of game time he is getting at PSG and would like to make a return to the Premier League next month.

Arsenal are among the teams said to be interested, and, on paper, he ticks a lot of their boxes.

At 30 years old, the Premier League and Champions League winner would provide some welcome experience to this young Gunners squad.

Wijnaldum also carries a significant goal threat, which given that Arsenal have managed just 18 strikes in 15 matches, could be a welcome addition at the Emirates.

However, if you analyse why Mikel Arteta’s side are struggling so much in that department, then the wisdom of signing the former Liverpool man can be called into question.

Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Everton was among the worst games of the season for the Gunners so far, not just because of the result, but also the toothless nature of the performance.

It would be easy to blame the club’s strikers for this. Alexandre Lacazette has taken just five shots all season, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks to be struggling for confidence and Nicolas Pepe is currently being left on the bench in favour of the wantaway Eddie Nketiah.

However, with a front line undoubtedly capable of scoring plenty more goals than they currently are, it’s safe to say the midfield are playing their part in this issue too.

At Goodison Park just five passes were made into the penalty box in the first 79 minutes, while only 24% of Arsenal’s possessions included a pass into the area (as per the Arseblog ‘By the numbers’ column ).

This would suggest an issue both in controlling matches with threatening possession and progressing the ball from defence into attack.

On Monday you could argue that the returning Granit Xhaka was a factor in this. The Swiss international was visibly tired as the game went on and by his own admission likes to play the game from a deeper starting position where he can see the play, drawing the Arsenal attack back in the direction their own goal instead of towards the opposition box.

However, this does not explain the problems Arsenal have had in this area during the three months where he has been absent from the team.

There is an issue when it comes to midfielders who are capable of progressing the ball up the pitch in a quick manner, and if they are looking to fix this then Wijnaldum is not that guy.

While his pass completion statistics are relatively impressive across the past year, when compared to other midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues, he ranks in just the 20th percentile for progressive passing distance per 90 (148.66 yards as per fbRef) and just the 17th percentile for progressive passes made per 90 (2.79).

He is a decent carrier of the ball – ranking in the 65th percentile for progressive carrying distance per 90 (112.28 yards) and the 68th for progressive carries per game (4.66) – and could progress Arsenal up the pitch that way instead.

However, if this is a tactic the Gunners want to pursue then they would probably just be better served restoring Albert Sambi Lokonga to the side, with the Belgian ranking in the 91st percentile among Premier League midfielders this season for both those metrics.

Of course there can be little doubting that Wijnaldum is a good player who has achieved incredible things with Liverpool, but in terms of a stylistic fit the 30-year-old does not seem to possess what is needed in the Arsenal midfield.

If Arteta and Edu are looking for solutions to the issues of the past two matches, then they may be better served looking elsewhere in the market or gambling on the talents that they already have at their disposal.

 

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