Arsenal have been linked with a move for Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
The Belgian winger is currently playing for Dalian Yifang in the Chinese Super League, where he has scored seven goals in 25 games. He joined them in 2018, leaving Atlético Madrid after just two and a half seasons, and Arsenal are being linked with a £27m deal to bring him back to Europe.
Obviously, concerns abound over Carrasco’s quality. If he was good enough for a club like Arsenal then why did Atleti sell him to China? Well, to be clear, Dalian Yifang are owned by the Wanda group, who part-own Atleti and sponsor their stadium. So there’s a financial link there, which is why he went to Dalian instead of to another European club. There are also obvious financial reasons.
Make no mistake, Carrasco is good enough to play for Arsenal. Is he quite good enough for the level Arsenal aspire to be at? That’s less certain, but it’s worth considering that Carrasco may have something to offer the Gunners besides draining half their transfer budget.
Of course, even if the link with China is explained – why did he leave Atleti at all? Well, the reason for that is partly linked to why he’s so well-suited for Arsenal right now. You see, Carrasco is a maverick. He loves to dribble a lot and shoot frequently. This can often lead to him doing unpredictable things, which for a defensive coach like Diego Simeone is heresy.
Here’s the thing: Arsenal desperately need a touch of unpredictability. That may sound strange given that Arsenal were wildly unpredictable during the season, at first going on a long unbeaten run and then becoming a Jekyll and Hyde side who were sensational at home and garbage on the road.
But that’s the bad kind of unpredictability, a team-wide issue of consistency. What Arsenal need is a player who can inject a degree of unpredictability into their football, and that unpredictability best comes in the form of a dribbler who loves to shoot.
Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League in 2018/19 and they scored an impressive 73 goals. That total puts them third in the league. Only Manchester City and Liverpool scored more. But the thing is, Arsenal took just 339 shots, which is 11th most in the Premier League. Southampton had more shots than the Gunners.
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You may think that proves how great Arsenal’s strikers are, and sure enough, Arsenal had the fourth-best shot accuracy in the league. But those numbers are not sustainable; eventually, shots will just start going wide or not hitting the target with any ferocity, and you’ll struggle to score goals.
Worse comes when looking at dribbling: here Arsenal attempted 583 dribbles, completing 304. That’s good, right? Wrong. 583 is the 14th highest total in the Premier League, and 304 dribbles completed is 12th. For Arsenal to place in the bottom half of the table on such a key offensive stat is mind-boggling.
Routinely you would watch Arsenal play and their inability to open sides up through dribbling was plainly obvious, and only the individual striking genius of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rescued the Gunners from a crippling mediocrity because with the ball at their feet Arsenal were too often listless.
Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette both completed 46 dribbles, that’s the highest in the squad and yet only 25th best among all Premier League players. But even those two are outliers, their next best dribbler, Aubameyang, completed just 29 dribbles despite attempting 59.
Yannick Carrasco, meanwhile, is averaging 4.7 take-ons and 4.7 shots per game in the Chinese Super League for Dalian Yifang. And in his last full season in La Liga, back in 2016/17, Carrasco attempted 179 dribbles and completed 71 (seventh in the competition). In the Champions League that season he completed 27 dribbles (sixth in the competition) after attempting 60.
Carrasco is not the flashiest name nor the brightest prospect, but in terms of filling a need you’d be hard pressed to find someone who better fits what the Gunners need more than the Belgian. He’s skilled, he’s quick, he does the two things Arsenal simply don’t do and with a goal in a Champions League final, he’s shown that he’s not afraid of the big occasion either.
Should they sign the winger, Unai Emery could play a lightning-quick front line where Carrasco and Aubameyang flank Lacazette. Or he could play Iwobi and then pick one of his star strikers to start and another to come off the bench. Either way, he’d have a player in Carrasco who is constantly ready, willing and able to wreak havoc on opponents with the ball at his feet. And that, in turn, would make Arsenal the good kind of unpredictable, which is exactly what they need if they ever want to get back into the Champions League.