Four creative midfielders who could revitalise Arsenal in January - Aouar, Brandt, Buendia... Ozil
Arsenal will be hoping to make a charge towards the European positions after recording a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day. But the Gunners have suffered creatively all season long and could use a midfielder to complement the grit and running of Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey behind him. We look at four possible options...
Julian Brandt of Borussia Dortmund in action during the Champions League match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Borussia Dortmund
Published 27/12/2020 at 17:35 GMT | Updated 28/12/2020 at 10:40 GMT
Mikel Arteta will be hoping the rot has stopped. If Arsenal have turned a corner with a 3-1 win over Chelsea, January provides a much-needed opportunity to refresh his squad as they look to make a push towards the European spots.
After the promise of his side's FA Cup-winning run last term, a dour autumn had Arsenal looking over their shoulder, fearing their first ever relegation to the second tier, having avoided the drop before the First World War thanks to the expansion of the top flight.
The win over Frank Lampard's side at the Emirates Stadium featured a number of young players. Bukayo Saka has consistently outperformed his older team-mates across the course of the season but the performances of Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe will have been hugely encouraging, considering the struggles the likes of Willian, Nicolas Pepe and even Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have suffered this term.
Arsenal have suffered all season long with creativity and it is hardly a surprise, or a particularly new trend having lost the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in recent seasons, along with freezing out Mesut Ozil. And a man to step into that void is said to be on top of Arteta's shopping list...
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Aouar was linked with a transfer to the Emirates throughout the summer but the Gunners' and Lyon's valuations were too far apart for the 22-year-old to seal a move to north London. The picture has changed somewhat for the French side, however. They were prepared for a financial hit with a failure to qualify for European football after Ligue 1 was curtailed prematurely last term, but the collapse of Mediapro's broadcast deal has French clubs in a perilous position.
Should Lyon decide to cash in on Aouar, Arsenal will likely be in pole position to sign him. The Gunners have sorely lacked creativity in their underwhelming season so far and the attacking midfielder would provide a vital link between the anchormen and Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang. Smith Rowe was excellent against Chelsea but is still young and injury-prone. A player like Aouar would stop too much pressure from falling on inexperienced shoulders and provide some goals from midfield, another ongoing issue for the Premier League side, to boot.
Dominik Szoboszlai has gone to RB Leipzig and so Arsenal have turned to Julian Brandt as an alternative to Aouar, according to reports. The north Londoners have a fruitful history of raiding Borussia Dortmund, having plucked Aubameyang, Tomas Rosicky and Jens Lehmann from the German side and Brandt would certainly plug a couple of holes, with his versatility allowing him to play either as an attacking midfielder or as a left winger.
Tipped for greatness since moving to Bayer Leverkusen from Wolfsburg as a youngster, he had played over 100 games for the club before his 22nd birthday. But, after a productive first campaign at the Westfalenstadion in which he contributed to 20 goals in all competitions, he has slipped down the pecking order and has only started six Bundesliga matches this term. The Gunners reportedly believe that he would relish the opportunity to become a central figure at the Emirates, with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard, Giovanni Reyna and Marco Reus keeping him benched at his current club.
There can be no doubt that Norwich were an entertaining side during their 2019-20 Premier League campaign, which ended in relegation. That was hardly the fault of their attack, though, with their defence shambolic at the best of times as they suffered from organisational and injury problems.
It is therefore something of a surprise that Emiliano Buendia did not remain in the Premier League after registering eight goal involvements in the top flight. He is currently flying in the Championship, scoring six and assisting seven so far, with the Canaries four points clear at the top. They would clearly love to hold on to the Argentine to boost their chances of an immediate return to the big time. But everyone has a price, and for Buendia, that price will be considerably less than that of Aouar or Brandt. And at 24, he has plenty of scope to develop.
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There has been no decision bolder in Mikel Arteta's short managerial career than the one to leave Mesut Ozil out of his Premier League and Europa League squads. Reintegrating him would arguably be even bolder, but understandable given the creative struggles his side have suffered in his absence. Ozil has always divided opinion but remains a largely popular figure with the wider fanbase and it is reported that a caucus of senior Arsenal players have been lobbying Arteta to bring him back into the fold. It would not be universally popular in the squad, though.
'Like a new signing' is a cliché among Arsenal fans, with Arsene Wenger using it to describe perennially injured players like Rosicky and Abou Diaby as they neared their various comebacks. But Ozil would not need a transfer fee, can showcase his ability to find a new club in the summer, and presents an intriguing internal solution. Smith Rowe showed that No 10 is still a viable position in the modern game and, if the Croydon-born youngster is to become a first-team fixture in the years to come, he could benefit from a few months of playing understudy to someone who has performed the role with aplomb for over a decade.