Arsenal can look back fondly on their dealings with the Jupiler Pro League recently in the wake of their summer purchase of RSC Anderlecht starlet Sambi Lokonga.
The youthful Belgian international has been somewhat of a revelation this season and despite his tender age, he came to state his case as a first-choice option under Mikel Arteta at the Emirates Stadium.
Lokonga’s successful adaptation to life at Arsenal, although not perfect, has not just been credible but also stands as proof that the Belgian top-flight remains a viable option for top clubs to snag talent from all age groups for prices that will not force people to take out additional mortgages on their property.
Here are three options that Arsenal could look to target in January as they look to strengthen the first team under Arteta.
Dante Vanzeir; Union St.Gilloise
The talk of Belgian football is the resurgence of Brussels-based outfit Union St.Gilloise. The first dynasty of domestic football in the country, USG won seven league titles between 1903-13, and a further four from 1922-35 until they spent the vast majority of their history outside the Belgian top-flight until last season when they won promotion to the Jupiler Pro League, with striker Dante Vanzeir featuring prominently in their promotion bid from the Proximus League.
Albion target Dante Vanzeir has been compared to Marco Reus and would be “perfect” for Potter’s system.
I spoke to @FTalentScout and @svenclaes to get the low-down on Albion’s reported transfer target.#BHAFC 🔵⚪️ https://t.co/eyUNlg1d1N
— Henry Tomlinson (@HenryTJourno) November 30, 2021
A product of the vaunted KRC Genk academy set-up, Vanzeir never made the grade in the Blauw-Wit ranks, and instead, enjoyed loan spells at both Beerschot Wilrijk and KV Mechelen before landing at USG last season. His impact was immediate, scoring 19-goals and adding 11-assists in 2020-21. That form has carried over into the current 2021-22 Jupiler Pro season where he has played a starring role in USG’s unexpected rise to the top of the table as Les Unionistes lead the league with 41-goals in sixteen matches. His partnership with German striker Deniz Undav remains the top in the country, as no duo has combined for more goals (23) and assists (17) than the leading men.
His success at club level saw his stock dramatically increase this term, earning him a call up to the Belgian squad under Roberto Martínez, subsequently winning his first cap against Wales during World Cup qualifying. Vanzeir’s technical gifts, ability in close quarters, pace, and combined threat as both a goalscorer and creator offer a full package player capable of being deployed as a striker or as a wide option on the right flank. That tactical versatility, his age (23), his technical qualities, and low fee (currently valued at just £2.5million) could offer Arsenal the perfect long-term and affordable option as they look for an attacking option for both now and in the future.
Hans Vanaken; Club Brugge KV
When you think of Club Brugge, football fans immediately gravitate towards two prominent names; Noa Lang, and Charles De Ketelaere. The young attacking duo is two of the chief protagonists for Blauw-Zwart under manager and former Belgian international Philippe Clement this season, combining for 9-goals and 11-assists in the league. But 29-year-old midfielder Hans Vanaken has been just as influential this season if not more.
🔵⚫️ Hans Vanaken has now scored his last 4 games in the Champions League for Club Brugge🔥#UCL pic.twitter.com/FRbdPhFOBM
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 28, 2021
Vanaken recently added his name to the top-five list of Belgian goalscorers in Champions League history, drawing level with national icon Eden Hazard on 9-goals and just one behind superstar Kevin De Bruyne. His five goals in the Jupiler Pro this season places him as joint-leader in goals for the club along with Bas Dost and the aforementioned De Ketelaere, but recently turning 29 could put some clubs off his scent. It shouldn’t, especially Arsenal.
At the minute the Gunners are lacking when it comes to their center-forwards being consistent goal scorers, and much of the same could be said for the center of the park. Emile Smith Rowe is the leading goalscorer (5) in the Premier League for the Gunners, one ahead of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but no other player in the Arsenal camp can boast more than two goals after fourteen matches. Vanaken offers a serious goal threat from either the heart of midfield or further forward in an attacking midfield role while being a capable passer, highlighted by his 87.7% completion rate. Vanaken is also known to be given the armband at moments, and his experience and leadership could go a long way in helping to balance the credible youthful look of an Arsenal outfit looking to re-establish itself in domestic football.
Vinicius Souza; KV Mechelen
“For all players there is this possibility, but we need to do our job at the club and leave it to the father in heaven.”
According to Sport Witness citing a recent interview with ESPN Brasil, on-loan midfielder Vinicius Souza reflected on his move into the City football Group pipeline in 2020 but is currently spending his time with Belgian Proximus League outfit Lommel SK. The chance to ply his trade at flagship club Manchester City will loom large over the head of the Brazilian starlet as he shines for Jupiler Pro outfit KV Mechelen this season, and the 22-year-old is currently sowing the roots of progression and development at a credible rate.
Vinicius Souza foi emprestado pelo Lommel ao K.V. Mechelen, da primeira divisão da Bélgica. O volante foi destaque do Lommel que acabou nao subindo de divisão e, por isso, foi emprestado para uma equipe de mais competitividade. pic.twitter.com/ViAtqnPvEn
— Raisa Simplicio (@simpraisa) June 26, 2021
But a club like City is so difficult to break into, especially in a position as key as the holding midfield role currently occupied by Fernandinho and Rodri. Souza may never get his chance at the Etihad, but he certainly could draw attention from a club like Arsenal as some begin to question whether or not Thomas Partey is the right man for the club. Central options continue to look thin at the club after Granit Xhaka went down injured, and it left the club scrambling to turn to out of favor Ainsley Maitland-Niles at times with increased pressure put on Sambi Lokonga.
The spine certainly needs continued improvement at the Emirates, and a true holding midfielder like Souza offers a very enticing player profile. Highly capable of winning duels both in the air and on the ground as well as intercepting the channels, Souza has been a revelation on loan at the AFAS Stadion this season as he quickly outgrows both Mechelen as well as Lommel but without a pathway into the City first-team in the immediate future. His age profile also suits Arsenal to the ground in terms of their recruitment policy, and the steely midfielder could bring a throwback field to the heart of the Arsenal midfield of the not-so-distant past.