For most of the season it had been pretty clear that Arsenal needed two types of creative midfielder; such was the extremity of the gaps in our squad earlier in the season. We needed someone to operate in the final third behind the striker, and someone to operate from deep in the role that Santi Cazorla used to operate in.
For that first position, the traditional number 10, we tried a number of different ideas to get around not having a natural attacking midfielder. We had to change our entire system to accommodate this flaw in our squad. We started off playing 5 at the back, then went to a flat 4-3-3 and then eventually to a 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette behind the striker. None of these permutations were working, until eventually Arteta trusted ESR in that role and he has been second to only Bruno Fernandes in creativity ever since. His ability to pick up space and the link-up he has developed with Lacazette and Saka have catalysed an Arsenal resurgence that finds us 2 points behind Chelsea half way through the season.
This has not stopped links to a number of number 10’s. Namely the likes of Julian Brandt and Julian Draxler. In my opinion, it would not be wise for Arsenal to sign one of these names. Both players would come in on a significant wage and would immediately expect to start above a 20 year old with only a handful of appearances in his fledgling career. It would effectively force Arteta to hinder the progression of Smith Rowe. If he gets to the end of the season playing the way he currently is, by next season he will be a mainstay in the team, much like what Saka has become. In saving this money and not getting a traditional number 10, and once we have gotten rid of some more deadwood, Arsenal need to go all out for Aouar in January. Someone to bring more quality to the side in the deep lying playmaker role next to Partey.
Aouar is a guy whose quality I need not remind you of. Everyone knows what he would bring to the team and the fact he is just 22 is brilliant. His passing range, his ability to carry the ball, to play the ball out of a tight spot rather than have to turn around and play backwards. He would genuinely be the perfect signing. I think with the steel and discipline of Partey next to him, he would have the freedom to control every game of football.
It is not just the individual quality that would be so valuable, but his versatility too. He can play in a deep-playmaker role, he can play in a traditional 4-3-3 and he can even play behind the striker. One signing, albeit an expensive one, would be like three signings because of the options he would bring to Arteta.
Lyon’s position remains the same, in that they will only sell him if the deal makes sense financially. January can be tricky to get these deals done, but Arsenal simply have to. If we fail to do so, there will likely be a list of other suitors in the summer. So how do Arsenal stump up the money? Well we have already freed up some finances in the departures of Ozil and Kolasinac, with Sokratis also highly likely to leave in January. Rumours also suggest Bellerin could be heading to PSG for around £25 million. And I for one would be comfortable at least until the summer with AMN and Cedric as our only right backs.
At first I thought that we would have no chance unless Kroenke stepped in, which I am not ruling out; if Arteta can convince him of the importance of the signing, the funds I’m sure could be made available. Upon second inspection, you notice that Arsenal are starting to build through the youth and as such have certain players which maybe are no longer a part of Arteta’s project.
Here is my proposal; supposing Arsenal cannot raise enough funds quite for the £53 million that Lyon want, and Kroenke does not step in. Could we use Nicolas Pepe in part of the deal as a makeweight? For a long time, I didn’t want to give up on Pepe. And while I still believe he can turn things around, I do not see him ever getting ahead of Saka on that right hand side again. It has only been 18 months since his £72 million move to the Emirates and Arsenal would surely lose around half of that with his current market value at £36 million. This might make the board reluctant to get rid of him, but we cannot look at it this way. In simple terms, there is a player in Aouar who can have an incredible impact on the team. Currently, at Arsenal, we have a player in Pepe who right now cannot make an impact on our team, at least not in this league. We have to think about what is best for the team, and if Pepe cannot start for us right now, it is worth exploring the idea of using him as a makeweight.
That raises the question, would Lyon even be interested. And I think they would be. Remember, Pepe is the kind of player who needs space to operate in. He needs to play teams the try and attack, so that he himself can be a threat on the counter attack. This is why he is so influential in the Europa League and why he was tearing up Ligue 1 prior to joining Arsenal. However, Lyon will be aware of his struggles at Arsenal and will not be looking to do Arsenal any favours with their valuation of him. They will not value him as higher than what he is, meaning it would likely cost Arsenal Pepe plus around £20 million.
I’m not saying it will happen, but if Arsenal cannot fund the move in other ways surely it must be explored. If all Arsenal do this window is get rid of some deadwood and sign Houssem Aouar, it would be an excellent January transfer window.