There hasn’t been much applause in the Emirates this year as Arsenal made their worst league start in over 40 years before a crushing 4-1 defeat to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday (rebroadcast on ESPN + in the U.S.) added to the pressure on manager Mikel Arteta.
With only 12 goals in the Premier League this season (Liverpool has 36 leaders), the Gunners need creativity and leadership on the field. Although the problems of Arsenal are deeper than those of any player, it is clear that they do not create enough in the last third and an inspired playmaker could have the same galvanizing effect on the team as Bruno Fernandez had on a struggling Manchester United in January.
Although it is rare that the new signing sessions of January have the same direct impact as the Portuguese side of Old Trafford, a strong character with the right mentality and experience could help to revive the indisputable ability of an Arsenal side, especially since it would make Tomas Partey, a 50 million euro signing session in the summer, shine in his deeper role once he returns from an injury.
The obvious candidate, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, would be overvalued at around £80m, while Mesut Özil is unlikely to get out of exile in the Arsenal any time soon, despite his salary of £350,000 a week. So here are five players that Arsenal can reasonably land in that window.
Games of chance
Fault! The file name is not specified. Christian Eriksen’s past in Tottenham may be a problem. SportsInfoto/DeFody Images via Getty Images
Christian Eriksen, 28, Inter Milan.
On paper, the Danish midfielder is probably the most obvious candidate because he has a wealth of club experience, has made his mark at the highest level, has 103 caps for his country, knows the court of playmaker inside out and is certainly well versed in the demands of the Premier League, which has played more than 200 league games with North London rivals Spurs. He also has to win the confidence of coach Antonio Conte after a year in the Series A and is available for about 15 million euros.
But while Eriksen is looking for a move, his past at Spurs can make a move to Arsenal more difficult. While the fans forgive their former allegiances, there is nothing in the Dane’s recent game that suggests he will necessarily fly to the Emirates, as long as the player makes an immediate impact.
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Fault! The file name is not specified. Isco and Mikel Arteta know each other well. Burak Akbulut Agency/Anadolu via Getty Images
Isco, 28, Real Madrid
Just like Eriksen, Isco has seen his star fall in recent months and his influence at Real Madrid has diminished to such an extent that he has become a peripheral figure. Zinedine Zidane chose the youth and only gave him three performances in the league.
Few players can contribute more – in terms of goals, well executed passes and general possession in the last third – and if Arteta can spark a spark in one of Europe’s most creative midfielders, the reward could be enormous. Despite Isco’s status at Real Madrid this season, the Spanish giants still have to pay significant transfer fees, which could be a problem.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Arsenal could do with a more versatile player like Rodrigo De Paul (right). Getty Images
Rodrigo de Paul, 26, Udinese.
Although the Argentine international resembles more a central midfielder than a playmaker, his skills will certainly improve and the sometimes slow-moving Arsenal midfielder will accelerate. He is at his best when he is able to move the ball forward quickly, pass his markers with brilliant care and show his creativity. He also has great leadership skills, a mentality and consistency that has been seriously lacking this season at Arsenal.
The Paul’s 27 goals and 25 assists in 158 games for Udinese, who have failed to go beyond 12th place in the last four years, is an impressive achievement given how limited his environment is. He is also versatile because he has been used as a wide right midfielder for his country, and has a skilled right foot for defensive passes or a sharp movement.
Fault! The file name is not specified. For low funds, the answer may be a move to an older player like Papu Gomez. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images.
Alejandro Papu Gomez, 32, Atalanta.
Drawing a veteran is not really Moneyball’s choice, but it is sometimes necessary. The 1.80m Argentine will probably leave Atalanta in January, after a well-documented dispute with head coach Gian Piero Gasperini in the Champions League match against Midtjylland earlier this month. Although the player has since apologized for his role in the shock and rejoined the team, his departure seems increasingly likely.
Thor-Christian Carlsen is a Norwegian football recruiter and manager, and former general manager and sports director of AS Monaco. He will write regularly for ESPN about football activities and the screening process.
Although Arsenal doesn’t need to weaken, there is no reason to believe that Gomez is guilty of anything other than winning – the captain of Atalanta has a rather poor disciplinary record in recent seasons – and that extra effort and will to win would help the northern Londoners.
Not only is Gomez one of the best attacking midfielders in Series A in recent years, but he also has a powerful shot, a low center of gravity and is always looking for the ball. A short-term solution perhaps, but one that can have an immediate effect. And while Juventus, Inter and Milan would be interested in Gomez, Atalanta would probably rather move abroad than to a Series A rival.
An incredible dream?
Fault! The file name is not specified. Arsenal has missed Hussem Aouar before, but can he get in now? Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Husem Aouar, 22, Lyon.
He is one of Arsenal’s main targets this summer and it is likely that the Arsenal hierarchy will return to Aoar in January. Although the French midfielder was interested in a transfer to the Gunners a few months ago, his hunger for a transfer to the Emirates probably hasn’t fulfilled his hopes of playing in the Champions League next season – especially after Lyon missed Europe completely this season – and his club will offer strong resistance to selling a winter window.
As one of Europe’s most promising (and already very effective) offensive midfielders, the 22-year-old may not yet have the necessary experience, but his performance in the Champions League against teams like Manchester City last season showed that he is certainly capable of surpassing himself, and he wouldn’t be afraid to take on another challenge in his career, even one as difficult as that of Arsenal.
Technically and tactically, the midfielder has the quality to shape and orchestrate the offensive flow of the team in the last third. He is agile, can run well with the ball when under pressure, wants the ball constantly and has a collective attitude to help his teammates. Technically brilliant and gifted with great intuition, Aouar has a great understanding of the game and the ability to play different roles behind the striker, which has been seriously lacking at Arsenal this season.