Football Features

Eight creative midfielders in their peak Arsenal could try to sign in January

By Felix Keith

Arsenal transfer targets creative midfielder

Published: 19:27, 17 December 2020

Arsenal are in crisis as the January transfer window approaches.

The Gunners have not won a Premier League game since 1 November and are 15th in the table, closer to the relegation places than the top four.

Mikel Arteta has a multitude of problems on his hands, but the most pressing appears to be at the top end of the pitch where Arsenal have become blunt.

Arteta’s side have scored just 11 goals in 13 league matches this season, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the way with a meagre three to his name.

While Aubameyang and fellow forwards Alexandre Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah, Willian and Nicolas Pepe are clearly not pulling their weight, it is the lack of creativity which really stands out.

Mesut Ozil has been excluded from Arsenal’s Premier League and Europa League squads and isn’t going to be brought in from the cold before his contract expires next June.

Meanwhile, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s contract was cancelled in the summer and he moved permanently to Roma, where he has managed six goals and five assists in Serie A so far this season.

As a result, the centre of the Gunners’ side is desperately lacking in creativity, with none of Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Thomas Partey or Mohamed Elneny offering the forward-thinking, risk-taking, line-breaking contributions their team is crying out for.

That means Arsenal are on the lookout for a new addition in the January transfer window, with technical director Edu spelling out their needs this week.

“It’s quite clear what we need,” he told a fans forum on Tuesday night. “We need a player with creativity in the middle. We don’t have that in the squad right now.”

So now it is confirmed Arsenal will try to sign a creative midfielder next month, the question is: which one?

The charts below show a player’s stats compared to a position group – in this case attacking midfielders – where the outer and most inner boundaries represent the top and bottom 5% figures of the wider footballing population.

1. Papu Gomez (Atalanta)

Papu Gomez chart

Football Index value: £0.41 (Sell) £0.52 (Buy)

Gomez’s relationship with Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini has broken down, which is bad news for Atalanta and good news for clubs searching for a creative No.10 this January. While Arsenal may be concerned by the 32-year-old’s age, they should be encouraged by his consistent output in recent seasons.

Gomez has contributed 37 assists in the last three Serie A seasons, more than any other player in Italy’s top flight. Last season he managed seven goals, 16 assists and created 102 chances for his teammates across 36 Serie A appearances. 

He is contracted to Atalanta until 2023, but Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Roma are said to be interested with his future at the club up in the air.

2. Houssem Aouar (Lyon)

Houssem Aouar chart

Football Index value: £1.31 (Buy)

The name Houssem Aouar will be familiar to any Arsenal fan following the Gunners’ public pursuit of the Lyon midfielder over the summer. The 22-year-old hasn’t let the attention turn his head this season, returning two goals and three assists from open play in 11 Ligue 1 appearances so far.

Aouar is comfortable playing as an attacking midfielder, or as a more conventional midfielder and would offer an incisive passer in the final third; he has completed 135 final third passes in Ligue 1 so far, creating 17 chances, showing his forward-thinking mindset.

3. Pascal Gross (Brighton)

Pascal Gross chart

Football Index value: £0.20 (Sell)£0.36 (Buy)

Gross is maybe not the most exciting, ambitious transfer target, but he is a proven player at Premier League level. This season the 29-year-old German has created 19 chances, more than any of his Brighton teammates, while he has two goals from the penalty spot and two assists to his name in the league.

While Arsenal’s lack of creativity in open play is of primary concern, they could also do with an accurate set-piece taker, which is an area Gross would definitely improve.

4. Emiliano Buendia (Norwich)

Emi Buendia chart

Football Index value: £0.62 (Sell)£0.80 (Buy)

Normally a player who was relegated from the Premier League last season would not make it onto the shopping list of big clubs, but Buendia is not a normal case. The 23-year-old ranked fourth in the Premier League for chances created last season with 83, behind only Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne (136), Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish (91) and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (87).

It’s no surprise, therefore, to see him sit top of the list of chances created (47) and open-play assists (5) in the Championship this season, while the diminutive Argentine has also completed two of four attempted through balls and completed 19 of 33 attempted take-ons.

Buendia is a proven, exciting and creative player Arsenal should consider.

5. Luis Alberto (Lazio)

Luis Alberto chart

Football Index value: £0.88 (Sell)£1.12 (Buy)

Luis Alberto created the most chances in Serie A last season with 106, but Lazio’s sluggish start to the 2020/21 campaign means he hasn’t been quite so prolific yet this campaign. 

The 28-year-old Spaniard is still comfortably Lazio’s most creative player, with 22 chances created so far and 23 take-ons completed from 40 attempted. Despite topping the creativity charts, Alberto is still yet to record his first assist, but he has contributed one goal for ninth-placed Lazio. Last season, he set up 15 goals, the second-most in Serie A but in 2017/18 the the former Liverpool man topped the assist charts with 14.

AC Milan and Everton are reportedly interested in Luis Alberto, but the Rome club are apparently demanding a €60million transfer fee.

6. Hakan Calhanoglu (AC Milan)

Hakan Calhanoglu chart

Football Index value: £1.60 (Sell)£1.84 (Buy)

Calhanoglu is another name that frequently appears on the gossip pages, and the Turkish playmaker is once again being touted for a transfer ahead of the January window, with Manchester United credited with interest.

If AC Milan were to let the 26-year-old leave then they would miss him, because Calhanoglu is a key creative presence. He has completed 188 of 251 attempted final-third passes, comfortably more than any other player, while he has also provided three assists, two of which have come from perhaps his biggest strength: set pieces.

Even more revealing is the fact he has created 46 chances, a whopping 30 more than the next nearest Milan player, and 16 more than any other player in Serie A. If he really is available for £20million in January, then Arsenal should give him serious consideration.

7. Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese)

Rodrigo de Paul chart

Football Index value: £1.32 (Sell)£1.70 (Buy)

De Paul is Calhanoglu’s nearest competitor in Serie A when it comes to chances created, with the Argentine midfielder on 30 this season. Impressively, the 26-year-old is also top of the charts when it comes to completed take-ons, with 38 from 52 attempts.

De Paul is the heartbeat of Udinese. He has completed the most passes (470), final-third passes (181), attempted the most through balls (3), crosses (88, with 23 successful) and long passes (88, with 52 successful).

His talent has not gone unnoticed, with Inter Milan and Leeds United supposedly among those interested. De Paul said recently that he is happy and not pushing for a transfer, but a bid from Arsenal could change things.

8. Mattia Zaccagni (Verona)

Mattia Zaccagni chart

Football Index value: £0.28 (Sell)£0.46 (Buy)

Zaccagni is a less familiar name, but the 25-year-old’s qualities are such that Lazio are reportedly interested in signing him if Luis Alberto does move in January.

The 25-year-old has enjoyed a strong start to the season and has three goals and two assists so far in Serie A. His strength lies more in dribbling with the ball than passing: he has completed 21 of 33 take-ons, with a 74.41% pass completion. However, he has created six big chances, a tally bettered only by Mkhitaryan, De Paul, Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini and Bologna’s Roberto Soriano in Serie A. 

Zaccagni is certainly a more left-field pick, but at with a reported value of €20 million, he is an interesting option for Arsenal.