Welcome to Sensible Transfers; a video series
in which we make transfer suggestions that suit the style of the club we’re discussing.
If you’re unfamiliar with the rules or methodology, you can watch our Sensible Transfers Rules
video as linked below. Today’s club is Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has only just taken over at Arsenal
in real terms – he’s played four games at the time of writing this video, overseeing
wins against Manchester United and Leeds United, drawing against Bournemouth, and losing to
Chelsea. That makes it tough to say much about how Arteta might want to set Arsenal up tactically.
We can infer two main things from his matches in charge so far: he likes a 4-2-3-1, and
he likes to push the left back higher and tuck the right back inside to make a third
defensive midfielder, an inverted full back if you like. He’s likely to favour a possession-based
approach with fluid positional interchange between players, but Arsenal are a bit of
a mess at the moment and it will take time for him to show his real coaching philosophy. So where do Arsenal need to strengthen? Probably
not up front, where Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are both good players,
even if fitting them in together is tricky. Nicolas Pepe has looked good in bursts, while
Gabriel Martinelli is an exciting prospect. In attacking central midfield, Arsenal have
Mesut Ozil and a number of prospects who should all get a chance to impress, should Arteta
keep the 4-2-3-1. Full back is a tricky area, because Kieran Tierney is a good prospect
who has had injury issues, while Saed Kolasinac is offensively good but defensively shaky.
On the other flank, Hector Bellerin has again barely featured because of injury, while Ashley
Maitland-Niles is probably a stop-gap but Arteta’s inverted full-back move on the
right could suit him. We’ve therefore identified defensive central midfield and centre back
as the most pressing areas of concern. We’ve looked for players 27 or under who
have racked up more than 700 minutes, so that there’s a reasonable data set and each player
is either entering their peak or is still a prospect. It’s always trickier mid-season
so we’ve adjusted minutes played down from our summer benchmark. These players could
be useful pick-ups for January, but they should also be considered longer term options – Arsenal
are in a building cycle, again, so that should be factored in. Arsenal don’t want a purely destructive
midfielder, especially if Arteta persists with the 4-2-3-1: both axes in a double pivot
need to be able to do something with the ball, especially against good pressing teams who
can tie up the more creative passer. There’s actually a good argument given Arsenal’s
midfield options to deploy a 4-3-3, flanking a destroyer with Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas
Torreira, but so far Arteta seems to prefer using Mesut Ozil as a ten. So we’ve looked for midfielders who show
up defensively well, but are able to use the ball too. That’s why some good defensive
midfielders in the Premier League like Philip Billing, Marvellous Nakamba, and Tom Trybull
have been discounted – they don’t currently show enough with the ball. We looked at a few other options, all of whom
could do a good job but with caveats: Torino’s Daniele Baselli (at the top end of our age
bracket at 27), Hoffenheim’s Florian Grillitsch and RB Leipzig’s Konrad Laimer (both potentially
expensive and more likely to move to a Bundesliga side). In the end, though, two players stood
out. A raw, but nonetheless persuasive option,
is Le Harve’s Pape Gueye. He’s only 20, 6ft2 in height, and has huge potential. In
terms of passing, for Ligue 2 players under 28, he’s eight for through passes with 1.5
per 90, fourth for passes to the final third with 11.1 per 90, and 25th for progressive
passes, with 9.4 per 90 – those above him are mostly defenders who tend to rack up better
progressive passing numbers. Defensively, he manages 6.6 interceptions per 90 adjusted
for opposition possession, 6.9 defensive duels per 90, and he’s second for percentage of
aerial duels won among the Ligue 2 midfielders we considered. The numbers only tell some
of the story though – watching Gueye, it’s clear that he has huge talent. He’s always
looking to progress the ball, turns with it well, has the skill and strength to shield
it, and can pass well with both feet. He’s dynamic and has an intelligent range of passing.
Under the experienced coach Paul Le Guen, who won Ligue 1 three times with Lyon, Gueye
is developing well and should become a genuinely dominant midfielder for a Premier League side
to build around. Our choice, though, is Toulouse’s Ibrahim
Sangare, who is 22 and 6ft3. He’s made 11.1 final third passes per 90, 7th of all the
midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues considered by age and minutes played. He’s
also made 2.2 passes to the penalty area per 90 and 1.5 through passes per 90. Defensively,
he’s winning 8.2 duels per 90, which puts him 27th of the top five midfielders we looked
at, but combining this with creativity, he’s outperforming the rest of that group with
the exception of Marco Verratti and Joshua Kimmich, both different kinds of players in
very dominant sides. Even for deep completed passes he’s up there – on that list sorted
by defensive ability, only Casemiro, Verratti, Konrad Laimer, Florian Grillistch, and Pierre-Emile
Hojbjerg (who would also be an interesting signing for Arsenal) manage to find their
teammates in dangerous areas more. Sangare is very quick and covers defend his
left back well, which would be useful in Arteta’s set-up. He looks slightly less comfortable
on the ball than Gueye, but he’s a more dynamic defender, has more experience at a
higher level, and is closer to being the finished article. But that’s why he’d cost significantly
more. It’s a rather boring assertion by now, but
Arsenal still need a centre-back. At least one, possibly two. Of course, William Saliba
is on loan at St Etienne, where he was purchased from, but he’s not been a regular by any
means due to his injury issues. In the four league games he’s played the full match,
St Etienne managed three wins and one draw, and three clean sheets. Saliba has played
on the right of a three man back line, impressing with his positioning and defensive abilities.
But, a loan spell that was supposed to continue his development has been frustratingly hampered
by those injuries, so it’s very hard to say if he’s going to be the kind of dominant
defensive presence Arsenal need next season. He’s certainly an excellent prospect, though,
and Arsenal should be pleased to have secured his services. The good young centre-backs in Europe, players
like Dayot Upamecano, Nico Elvedi, Felix Uduokhai and Sebastian Posch, who we recommended for
Arsenal last season, should still all be under consideration, especially Posch – though
Upamecano is likely out of Arsenal’s price range. There are other intriguing prospects:
22 year old Keven Schlotterbeck has only managed just over 700 minutes for a surprisingly successful
Union Berlin side but looks like an accomplished defender, albeit with a bad disciplinary record,
with one red and three yellows in that limited sample of minutes. Another St Etienne product,
19 year old Wesley Fofana, has similarly limited game time, but is making 10.4 successful defensive
duels per 90 and winning 70% of his seven aerial duels per 90. But Arsenal need someone
more experienced, ideally in the 24-27 age range, who can challenge Sokratis and David
Luiz (or just replace them), defensively solid, especially aerially, and with a decent range
of passing. Alexander Djiku of RC Strasbourg is an intriguing
possibility. He’s played as a defensive midfielder, as well as a centre back in both
a back four and back three, as well, so he’s versatile. Six foot tall, left-footed, and
25 years old, Djiku is part of an RC Strasbourg side punching above their weight under coach
Thierry Laurey. Djiku makes just under nine successful defensive duels per 90 and wins
68% of his 4.4 aerial duels per 90. His interceptions numbers are relatively low but RC are a league
average pressing side and Djiku is able to adjust and be more aggressive as a defensive
midfielder, so he would likely be able to play in a more front-foot defending side if
required. He’s not the most adventurous passer, high in volume but low in progressions,
but RC’s defence are conservative passers generally, preferring to give the ball to
the keeper Matz Sels or midfielder Dimitri Lienard to hit long. Djiku is one of three
RC Salsbourg players we really like, along with 22 year old full back Anthony Caci and
Mohamed Simakin, a 19 year old centre-back – Arsenal might do well to acquire several
of them! Our pick, however, is 27 year old Austrian
Martin Hinteregger of Eintracht Frankfurt. He’s 6ft tall, quick enough, and possesses
a good all-round game, with six league goals and one assist to go with his 8.4 successful
defensive duels per 90 and 4.9 aerial duels won at 61%. He’s a front foot defender,
in line with Eintracht’s high tempo, aggressive style, making 7.5 interceptions per 90; this
approach does mean he gets caught out sometimes, and Eintracht can look flimsy out wide so
as a left-sided centre back in a three he’s constantly being drawn that way. However,
in a more disciplined back four, these issues should be smoothed out. He’s not afraid
to carry the ball, making 1.8 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 45%, and he also makes
8.1 final third passes, 1.4 passes to the penalty area, and 11.6 progressive passes,
all per 90. From an all-round perspective, then, he ticks a number of boxes – experienced,
old enough to lead a defence without being past his peak, defensively strong and capable
of moving the ball forwards well, and chipping in with goals. He’s not a glamour signing,
but then Arsenal need solidity over sparkle at the back, and Hinteregger would be an upgrade
on their existing options and bring a variety of skills to the side. And here’s how our team would line up, showing
several options: