It’s precisely one year since Sven Mislintat was confirmed as Arsenal head of recruitment.
In that time, the revered talent-spotter has spearheaded an impressive recruitment drive, pulling off a string of impressive coups including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who he also scouted for Borussia Dortmund – Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi.
With clear signs of progress under Unai Emery, expectations for the January transfer window were tempered accordingly.
However, following Danny Welbeck‘s injury and the anticipated eventual departures of Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners may look to strengthen their squad as they attempt to secure Champions League football for next season.
One man tipped to succeed Ramsey in Arsenal’s midfield is Villarreal’s Pablo Fornals and, while the Welshman is expected to move on for free, any money gained from Elneny’s sale could fund the pursuit of the Spanish playmaker.
And Fornals would fit the current trend of shrewd, forward-thinking acquisitions helping to usher in a new era at the Emirates and, with a release clause rumoured to be just £17.8million, he has the potential to be a bargain in a transfer market which throws up astronomical fees with alarming regularity.
A Malaga youth academy graduate, Fornals moved to Villarreal in 2017. Having initially struggled to make his mark in Castellón, the 22-year-old has been a bright spark under Javier Calleja, who succeeded Fran Escribá.
Last season, Fornals was a major factor in The Yellow Submarine securing a fifth-place finish in La Liga, scoring three goals and notching 12 assists, equalling Lionel Messi’s creative output.
— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) October 4, 2018
A stunning late winner at the Santiago Bernabéu to stun Real Madrid in December marked him out as one to watch and he has comfortably lived up to that hype this term despite Villarreal’s struggles, his eye-catching form earning him a recall to the Spanish national side after two years out of the frame.
A technically gifted midfielder with a sumptuous array of trickery, Fornals would be a hugely exciting prospect for Arsenal. He has often been deployed in the No.10 role but is capable of operating from deep, too, making him an ideal replacement for Ramsey.
The Castellón-born starlet’s stats are mightily impressive, too. No central midfielder has completed more open play key passes than his 18 while he also tops the position’s rankings for scoring attempts per 90 with 2.8. A quick and intelligent player with an ability to find space, his average of 2.9 touches in the opponent’s box per 90 illustrates how influential he can be in the attacking third.
He also tops the open-play expected goals (xG) category with 2.38 overall while nobody has been able to eclipse his total xContribution (xG + xA) of 4.23 or the 19 open-play shots he has assisted this season.
In other words, Fornals is some sort of stats juggernaut; a sparkling creative talent who influences games with startling efficacy. Having spent five years in their youth academy, Villarreal is a place he can call home, but it’s clear that Fornals’ future lies at a club with loftier ambitions.
And, just as a taster of what he’s capable of, see 0:37 into the clip below.
— Football Whispers (@FB_WHISPERS) November 20, 2018
Scoring goal-of-the-season contenders, leaving defenders in a haze of discombobulation or silencing Real Madrid fans; Fornals has it all.
A special talent who seems to be developing more and more with each passing week, he could be the next impressive capture under Mislintat and the next step in Arsenal’s evolution as Emery continues to shape the club in his image.