Wednesday, February 28, 2024

New signing profile: Jorginho

After Brighton stood firm on primary target Moisés Caicedo, Arsenal moved quickly to complete a deadline day switch for Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.

Phil Costa takes a look at the Italian international and what he might bring to the side.

It’s often said that sport is centred around moments and Jorginho credits one in particular with significant impact. The Imbituba-born midfielder was ready to quit football altogether after discovering he was being financially exploited by his agent – who left him just €25-a-week to live on during his teenage years – but an emotional phone call with his mother persuaded him to continue chasing his dream.

That phone call has since proven more influential than any agent could. The Italian played an integral role in securing Napoli their fifth Coppa Italia title in 2014 after leaving Hellas Verona, before joining Chelsea and winning both the Europa League and Champions League under two different managers. He even featured in every game as Italy won Euro 2020 on English soil, which led to him finishing third in the Ballon d’Or rankings behind Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski – the best performance of any Chelsea player since Frank Lampard was runner-up in 2005.

What makes Jorginho such an obvious signing for the club is his experience playing solely as the lone six. Moisés Caicedo is an exciting talent who attracted interest for good reason, but would currently be unable to replicate what Thomas Partey does on a weekly basis. His best work comes as a roamer, where he can hunt the ball, move it quickly and launch transitions. With Mohamed Elneny recently ruled out for the season and Albert Sambi Lokonga leaving on loan, Arsenal suddenly lacked cover for this position and now have the 31-year-old arriving to match Partey (stylistically) while needing little time to settle.

Throughout his career, Jorginho has excelled when allowed to dictate his sides’ tempo from the base of midfield. I wrote this month about Jakub Kiwior being tasked with first-phase responsibility at Spezia – the Italian took on similar roles for both Napoli and Chelsea who were point tally record breakers and European champions respectively. His superpower is availability, where he constantly finds space to receive the ball from teammates before creating triangles to bypass pressure. But he is equally comfortable fizzing passes through the lines and when afforded time, will spray diagonals out wide – although he clearly operates best in close quarters.

He currently sits in the 92nd percentile for progressive passes (5.4) and passes into the final third (7.3) per 90 among positional peers across Europe – Opta data – while his 35 short passes completed per 90 leaves him in the 95th percentile; highlighting his preference for playing out of pressure as opposed to shifting away from it.

Playing as the lone six also requires defensive output and while not the traditional bruiser type, Jorginho is more than competent in this area. Those unsure about the signing have focused on his (lack of) speed and while those concerns are valid, his reading of the game often mitigates that weakness. He lacks the physical stature to stroll into duels and come away with the ball, but instead chooses his moments to spring on people – capitalising on bad touches, under-hit passes and those unaware of their surroundings.

The 31-year-old is currently averaging more tackles (2.9), interceptions (1.4) and ball recoveries (8.3) per game than Partey this season, while no other Chelsea teammate can better his proficiency for winning the ball in the defensive and middle third. There will be times where the midfielder is bypassed too easily; one habit he will have to curb is over-committing high up the pitch and sticking out a tired leg, but those numbers should offer encouragement nonetheless.

Mikel Arteta will undoubtedly need to minimise how often Jorginho is left isolated in big spaces. But it’s worth noting that the deepest midfielder in his system is asked to cover lateral space – not vertical space – which makes a difference when analysing the flexibility of Benjamin White and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Arsenal rarely find themselves in basketball games anymore like they were under Unai Emery, which has since reduced the amount of stress being placed on players.

“Your six must understand the game – it’s vital,” Arteta told MARCA in 2019 when asked about potential Manchester City transfer targets.

“Few people can play there alone, to anticipate scenarios, who can be a coach on the pitch. The Jorginho or Busquets type – that player I love.”

Arteta and the club have long been admirers of Jorginho and tried to sign him in the summer of 2020, instead making a late move for Thomas Partey after their interest was rebuffed by Chelsea. Almost three years later, they have their man. Someone who, in a similar capacity to Leandro Trossard, joins with Premier League experience and technical quality to push this team over the line. Not in one year or two years, but in May.

There is understandable frustration about how Arsenal navigated the January window. Two clear targets, Mykhailo Mudryk and Caicedo were pursued and subsequently missed despite long negotiations and sizable bids being placed. There is a strong sense of being brought back down to earth for fans who invested themselves in those deals, sprinkled with the nauseating idea of signing another thirty-plus player deemed surplus to requirements from Chelsea.

But the uproar and frustration (largely towards Edu) likely stems from a collective anxiety about what’s at stake this season and sheer desperation to achieve it. The fact is, Arsenal are five points clear at the top with a game in hand, having strengthened their squad with three new additions. Yes, the Italian strays from recent acquisitions but having rebuilt so successfully with several young players, the club can afford to add one or two seasoned pieces along the way to support when needed.

Jorginho doesn’t make you dream. He does, however, arrive at London Colney as an upgrade on current options, with the ideal contract length and minimal fee which won’t impact future spending as Arsenal lick their wounds ahead of the summer.

We’ve got a title to win – and a dream without a plan is just a wish.

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