Thursday, March 23, 2023

Arsenal sign one midfielder, but lose two along the way

So, that’s it. The transfer window is closed and we can concentrate on football again.

I love a good transfer as much as the next person, but every year there’s a collective madness that envelops football fans around this time. James sent me a Tweet yesterday where a reporter said something about Chelsea, and his mentions were awash with their fans viciously complaining about not doing enough. When spending north of £600m since the summer on 15+ players isn’t enough, you know there’s something wrong with the way people view this stuff.

Anyway, from an Arsenal perspective, we got the midfielder we needed, even if it was one that was hardly everyone’s first choice. Jorginho arrived from Chelsea after our attempts to buy Moises Caicedo from Brighton for what would have been a club record fee failed. Honestly, he’s a good player but to put £70m+ on the table for a player that cost Brighton less than £4m two years ago was more than fair, in my opinion. They weren’t for budging though, and that’s entirely their prerogative.

It meant we had to look elsewhere at the last minute, and our need in this area was made abundantly clear when the club announced the seriousness of the injury to Mohamed Elneny. They don’t put an exact time-frame on it, but if we see him again this season it would be a huge surprise. That made our need even more acute.

Jorginho is a player Mikel Arteta has admired for some time, the deal appears to have been relatively easy to do, and he signed yesterday for a reasonable fee – even if giving Chelsea any money is a bit annoying. The manager said:

Jorginho is a midfield player with intelligence, deep leadership skills and a huge amount of Premier League and international experience. Jorginho has won in his career, but he still has the hunger and huge willingness to contribute here.

While the player himself said:

I’m very excited for this new challenge, and I just can’t wait to be on the pitch to be honest! Everything has happened so fast. I was a bit surprised, but I took the opportunity of this amazing challenge.

It’s an important shirt. It’s an amazing club, a big one, and I’m really excited and happy to be here.

As I wrote yesterday, the reaction to this one from a fan’s perspective was completely understandable. Our 30+ signings from Chelsea haven’t really been a success. To be fair, Petr Cech wasn’t awful, just quite average. David Luiz did make a good contribution off the pitch between red cards, with some good performances on it – not least in the FA Cup winning run. And obviously the less said about Willian the better. Nevertheless, there is some deep-seated trauma there. The Jorginho links scratched at old wounds that weren’t particularly well healed.

Which is why I was looking at the fee and the duration of the contract very closely. £11m + £2m in add-ons is fine in this market, and the 18 month deal with an option for another suggests we’ve learned something from handing out lucrative three year contracts to players who are in the late stages of their careers. He’s also been playing regularly this season, 15 PL starts, so it’s not as if he was twiddling his thumbs on their enormous bench. He’s a regular, not a cast off. It’s also not the kind of signing that provides any kind obstacle, financial or otherwise, to a summer signing which genuinely raises the level – and we all know that’s something the club are keen to do. Finally, unlike Willian, he’s a player we actually need.

On a technical and tactical level, Jorginho is a very good player. I know stats don’t tell you the full story, but he stacks up well enough in comparison to Thomas Partey:

I suspect the big worry will be the physical side of his game. He’s not quick, so if he gets caught trying to cover a lot of ground in big spaces, it might be an issue. Then again, players whose game isn’t dependent on having a lot of pace tend to cope better than those who lose that fleet-footed advantage they had when younger. I don’t think he’ll need a lot of time to settle in, to understand what the manager wants from a tactical perspective, and as a short-term, stop-gap replacement for Elneny, if you leave the Chelsea stuff to one side – which isn’t easy to do, I know – it’s a sensible signing in that regard.

Where there might be a little bit of head-scratching is the decision to loan Albert Sambi Lokonga to Crystal Palace. If you look at it in purely footballing terms, it makes sense. He’s very clearly not happy, it’s not working for him at Arsenal, the manager doesn’t really trust him, and for his own development – and for his transfer market value – a loan where he plays often could be really beneficial. Patrick Vieira can teach him a thing or two about midfield, but I fully expect him to be sold in the summer.

However, his departure leaves us light in midfield, so what is the thinking? I hope it’s something the manager is asked about, but my feeling is that they didn’t see Lokonga as a ‘6’ anyway, and in that position we have Thomas Partey and now Jorginho. That leaves him as cover for Granit Xhaka in the left 8 position, and I suspect Mikel Arteta sees players like Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira as potential options there. Internal solutions if you like.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when you consider our pursuit of Mykhaylo Mudryk – a left winger – along with the presence of Gabriel Martinelli who also plays on that side, it only really made sense if they saw Smith Rowe somewhere else. Even though that’s where he’s played most often, you don’t overload with three players for that one position. I’ve always thought his skillset lends itself to playing more centrally, so I do wonder if he’s seen as someone who can play in the same area as Xhaka. With plenty of minutes still to play this season, and now with Trossard and Martinelli on that side, it seems feasible to think he’ll be deployed in a different area of the pitch.

Time will tell, I suppose, but Lokonga has hardly set the world on fire this season when called upon, and I think now is the time when Smith Rowe really needs to plant his flag and kick on in his career. Fitness is the main issue at the moment, obviously, but he’s at a point where he needs to nail down a position and really kick on. That could easily be midfield, and given the numbers, we might need it to be.

The only other senior business, among a clutch of Academy loans, was Cedric joining Fulham on loan. Not being funny, but I bet he’s going to love slinging in crosses for Mitrovic. He loves a good cross that lad.

Right, that’s just about it. Over on Patreon, Phil and I did a New Player Podcast, examining the Jorginho deal from all angles and in the context of the window. I think it’s well worth your time and you can check it out here.

For now, take it easy.

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