Five midfielders Arsenal should have signed in the summer transfer window
The transfer window has come and gone, leaving us to reflect amongst ourselves or in our Twitter and Whatsapp groups on whether or not the respective clubs we support have done enough to push forward during the 2021-22 Premier League campaign. If you are an Arsenal supporter, that topic is a tricky one to negotiate.
Both technical director Edu Gaspar and manager Mikel Arteta were not shy about player recruitment this summer, topping the league spending table while introducing six new faces to the club’s London Colney training center that fit perfectly into the Gunners reinforcement directive.
Arsenal spending this summer:
🏴 Ben White – £50m
🇵🇹 Nuno Tavares – £7m
🇧🇪 Albert Lokonga – £15m
🇳🇴 Martin Ødegaard – £30m
🏴 Aaron Ramsdale – £24m
🇯🇵 Takehiro Tomiyasu – £25m
Rate it out of 10.👇 pic.twitter.com/eUiuIRSItM
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) August 31, 2021
Deals for Brighton’s Ben White, RSC Anderlecht starlet Sambi Lokonga, Real Madrid’s Martin Ødegaard, Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, SL Benfica youth product Nuno Tavares, and a deadline day deal for Bologna’s Takehiro Tomiyasu saw business concluded for Arsenal with a clear view on the long-term progression of the club.
But what Edu and Arteta failed to do was properly address the thin numbers in midfield. Despite the season not including a jaunt around Europe, four midfielders for the long and arduous Premier League campaign – while factoring in AFCON this winter – makes for a scenario where any casualties in the engine room could prove fatal to the overall survivability of the whole ship.
With just Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, and Mohamed Elneny added to new boy Sambi Lokonga in the center of the park, to say that the center of the spine is stretched would be an understatement.
Considering that, here are five midfielders Arsenal could have made a move for this summer to alleviate those central concerns.
Teun Koopmeiners | Atalanta (bought from AZ Alkmaar for £12million)
As a Dutch football enthusiast and an avid follower of AZ Alkmaar, this one was frustrating to witness, especially in a summer where Arsenal was so close to mutually moving on from Granit Xhaka while being in desperate need for increased balance in midfield, former AZ captain and Dutch international Teun Koopmeiners ticks all the boxes of the Gunners transfer directive.
Now 23 and with a considerable amount of European experience on his resume, while being at the heart of De Kaasboeren‘s midfield, the AZ youth academy product exudes maturity, intelligence, and technical quality. Arsenal missed a trick by not targeting the Dutchman, who would have been the ideal long-term replacement for Xhaka and for a similar price to what AS Roma was prepared to offer for the Swiss international. Taking any fee received and immediately deploying it to strike a deal for Koopmeiners would have been business that was commensurate with the other profiles of players the club brought into the fold this summer.
Yves Bissouma | Brighton (still at club)
The one name that continued to circulate more than any other amongst the Arsenal fanbase on social media, Yves Bissouma was largely viewed as the end-all, be-all solution for all that ails you regarding the club in its current iteration.
Under Graham Potter at Brighton, Bissouma has been molded into one of the premier central players in the English top-flight, with the Malian midfielder being lauded for his calmness under pressure, technical qualities, physical presence, and influential performances as the undeniable key link for the Seagulls.
The one question surrounding him came from concerns of his status regarding AFCON. Though he has not been selected for Mali in three years, Bissouma was due to potentially rekindle his relationship with the national team set up for the upcoming tournament. Whether or not that is a good enough reason to not target him remains to be seen, but there is also reason to suggest that Brighton would have only let him go for a fee in the same region as Arsenal paid for Ben White. Stumping up another high figure could easily have put the club off, so too would his similarities with both Thomas Partey and Sambi Lokonga which would do little to afford the club tactical balance. Though a move did not happen this summer, it would not surprise if the club earmarked him as a target further down the line.
Houssem Aouar | Olympique Lyonnais (still at club)
Coming in second for the most talked-about midfielder in the Arsenal Twittersphere, Olympique Lyonnais’ prodigious midfielder Houssem Aouar was without a doubt one of the most gifted midfielders that were actively being shopped on the market this summer.
Despite the level of talent that the OL academy product possesses and the influential displays he has on his resume for Les Gones since breaking into the first team back in 2016, the Lyon-native is held back by issues off the pitch that continue to strip him of chances to leave the Rhône valley.
Arsenal was among a handful of clubs linked with considerable interest in him this summer, including rivals Tottenham, Liverpool, and previous interest from Serie A giants Juventus. But recent behavioral issues cited by manager Peter Bosz and club sporting director Juninho, which Aouar was named as being a part of, was hardly something any interested club would have wanted to contend with. Certainly, Arsenal’s recent issues with Mesut Özil, Matteo Guendouzi, and potentially William Saliba could have very easily put the club off the scent as Edu and Arteta shifted away from any potential deal. For this one, it is less of the club missing out on the player and more of what could have been if the player did not come with so much baggage.
Alex Kral | West Ham (bought from Spartak Moscow; £4.5million loan fee with option)
West Ham United continue to turn to the Czech Republic in recent years when they completed a loan move for Czech international midfielder Alex Kral from Russian capital outfit Spartak Moscow. Kral joins duo Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal – all three with direct ties to Slavia Prague – as part of David Moyes’ Hammers revolution.
We are delighted to announce the signing of Czech Republic international midfielder Alex Král.
— West Ham United (@WestHam) August 31, 2021
Despite his age profile being perfect for the “project” at Arsenal, as well as the type of player he is – a work-horse deep playmaker that reads the game well and has considerable experience despite his age – the finances behind a move for Kral would have made a lot of sense for the club given how finances have been deployed elsewhere.
An affordable loan payment to Spartak was more than doable, and with a non-committal option to purchase next summer not tying the club to forced business without having seen the player at the Emirates yet, Kral could have presented a very balanced yet needed midfield profile under Mikel Arteta. This could end up being a move that many clubs – not just Arsenal – regret not honing in on this summer.
Ilaix Moriba | RB Leipzig (bought from Barcelona for £14million)
RB Leipzig has done it again; doing that whole going around Europe and collecting young players to feed the never-ending development pipeline in Saxony. In Ilaix Moriba, boss Julian Nagelsmann found an affordable deal for a burgeoning talent in the Spanish youth international who was adamant at departing the Camp Nou this summer.
Still just 18-years-old and with his entire future ahead of him, Moriba would have fallen in line with a signing like Sambi Lokonga; on the young end of the spectrum and not expecting to receive a ton of minutes in the starting XI, but would give the club a highly-touted long-term option that would fit the future approach eluded to by Vinai.
Perhaps his youth worked against him, as Arsenal already have a number of young midfielders who are in the pipeline through Miguel Azeez, Charlie Patino, and Catalin Cirjan, but the fact that Moriba already broke into the Barca first-team setup and made 18-appearances last season for the Blaugrana shows that he was likely ahead of the curve by comparison. It would have been difficult to convince him to join the club without Europe on offer, but his price and his wealth of potential would have made an attractive proposition.