Arsenal have encountered serious problems in midfield this season. Summer signing Granit Xhaka has taken time to settle and has spent time out with suspensions; Spanish creative fulcrum Santi Cazorla has suffered with injury; and Aaron Ramsey has struggled for form and fitness at various stages.
With Mohamed Elneny not quite living up to expectations as of yet, Arsene Wenger has been forced into trialling natural attacking midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a central midfield berth alongside Francis Coquelin. And, while the makeshift duo have performed reasonably well together, they are not a long-term solution.
Xhaka has the class to operate in a slightly deeper central role once he has fully acclimatised to English football, but Arsenal should be considering who will partner the Swiss to bring midfield balance going forward.
In the 2014-15 season, Allan won more tackles than anyone in Serie A. The Brazilian midfielder put in a particularly memorable defensive shift when his Udinese side came up against Juventus that season, as he stifled Paul Pogba. That form earned him a move to Napoli in 2015, where he has since continued to play with relentless hustle.
The 26-year-old has lost his regular starting spot this season to the more adventurous Piotr Zieliński, but with his aggression, defensive nous, mobility and occasional forward forays, he would nonetheless represent a solid addition to Arsenal’s team.
With 4.8 to his name, nobody in the Premier League makes more tackles per game than Idrissa Gueye. The Senegalese is widely regarded as one of the finest defensive midfielders in English football today, though he also possesses the athleticism and technique to get forward and support in an attacking sense.
While he won’t contribute regularly in the final third — indeed, he scored his first and only goal for Everton in their most recent win over Sunderland — he would ensure stability in Arsenal’s midfield.
RB Leipzig have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season, both for their style of play and the results they have achieved in Germany’s Bundesliga — and Naby Keïta has been at the heart of it all.
Fast, powerful and a consistent contributor in all areas, the 22-year-old is the definition of an all-round midfielder.
Keïta wins his fair share of tackles and makes plenty of interceptions, though he is also an excellent runner with the ball at his feet, and is capable of bursting beyond the opposition’s midfield line when the opportunity arises.
Atalanta have a wonderful history of producing outstanding young Italian players, but in Franck Kessié they have also shown an ability to sign and develop prospects from outside of the peninsula. The 20-year-old Ivorian has been one of their best players this term, and with six goals to his name he has also been their second-highest league goalscorer.
With an imposing physique, Kessié is an incredibly strong midfielder willing to put his foot in and track opponents. However, he is also dynamic, a clever player with an eye for a pass and the ability to carry out penetrative forward runs. With his physicality, smooth technique and tactical intelligence, he would make a good addition to any Premier League club, Arsenal included.
If Arsenal are searching for a like-for-like Cazorla replacement, they need look no further than Mateo Kovačić. The Croatian playmaker is at once an energetic, purposeful ball-carrier and a visionary playmaker able to split defences with a single pass.
The 22-year-old is a refined technician and, as well as offering viable passes to his defensive team-mates, would up the tempo of Arsenal’s possession game. However, having impressed when given the chance at Real Madrid, it may be difficult to sign him.
When Paris Saint-Germain bullied Barcelona to a 4-0 defeat in their recent Champions League second round first-leg tie, one of the standout performances came from Adrien Rabiot. The 21-year-old Frenchman, who has flattered to deceive for large parts of his career thus far, finally looked like the player many felt he could be. This was confirmed emphatically in a single moment when he nonchalantly nutmegged Lionel Messi.
While he naturally prefers to play as a pivot, Rabiot possesses the flair and creativity necessary to operate alongside Xhaka at Arsenal, who are said to be interested in the youngster. Furthermore, he recently opened the door to a potential move, telling the Daily Mail that, “If there are offers from big clubs, that obviously demands that they are considered.”
During Luis Enrique’s first two seasons as Barcelona boss, Ivan Rakitić proved hugely influential in allowing the new manager to implement his own style on the team. Moving to a faster style based more on attacking transitions than concerted possession, the Croatian midfielder’s dynamism and passing were crucial in ensuring the Barcelona front three of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez received the ball quickly and efficiently.
Yet, despite an admirable work ethic and an exceptional passing range, Rakitić has found game time harder to come by of late, sparking rumours that he could be on the move this summer. If this does turn out to be the case, the classy 28-year-old would be a major coup for Arsenal.
Okay, so Jack Wilshere may already technically be an Arsenal player, but his return could act like new a signing. The 25-year-old has been one the most important players in Bournemouth’s battle to avoid relegation while on loan, and he deserves to be in the reckoning for a starting spot at the Emirates once again.
With first rate technique, close control in tight spaces and a left foot capable of finding teammates all over the pitch, Wilshere could bring greater connection to the Gunners’ midfield upon his return. And, with his fondness for a tackle, he also possesses the bite required to operate in a central midfield duet. If Arsene Wenger wants to avoid spending money unnecessarily, the Englishman should be seriously considered.