Jack Grealish or James Maddison: who’d be the better signing for Arsenal?
By Rob Worthington
After the promising start Mikel Arteta has made as Arsenal’s head coach consisting of 8 wins, 5 draws and just 2 losses, I can’t help but think about the future. With better resources, it is almost certain Arteta will be able to deliver even better results.
I think a pivotal area of the squad which needs to be addressed is our creative midfield department, specifically the no. 10 position (or some variation with an attacking 8). Mesut Özil is clearly past his best and on the decline, whilst Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock are far from the finished product and may never be good enough to fill this role consistently. For me, the two obvious choices of player who would instantly upgrade this area of our midfield would be one of either Jack Grealish or James Maddison; but who would be the better signing? Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has received attention this season from Premier League fans from across the globe. The Villa talisman has been absolutely phenomenal this term, scoring 8 goals and managing 7 assists. These contributions have single-handedly kept Villa fighting at the bottom of the Premier League and he has brought a consistency to his game which he was lacking a few years ago, prior to the Midlands side's relegation. The Englishman has registered an impressive 0.21 xG/90 and 0.2 xA/90 in the league, very impressive numbers for a playmaker playing for a club that is struggling at the foot of the table. What’s more is that goal contributions are not all that Villa’s talisman offers. He also possesses some of the league’s best ball carrying abilities.
Over the course of this season, Grealish has been the most fouled player in the Premier League, drawing 122 fouls from opponents, 42 more than Maddison in third, indicating the difficulty Premier League defenders have stopping him. Grealish has also completed the 10th highest number of dribbles this season out of any player in the Premier League, demonstrating his willingness to drive with the ball.
James Maddison is another player who is regularly talked about as one of the most promising English talents in the Premier League. Since joining Leicester City from Norwich at the beginning of last season, he has slotted seamlessly into the foxes starting XI, starting an incredible 64 games. In that time, he has contributed to 23 goals and has become one of the 2015/16 Premier League Champions’ star players, certainly something worth noting considering he only made his Championship debut in April 2017. The Leicester City man offers something completely different to Grealish. He has been the creative spark in Leicester City’s midfield ever since he joined the club in the Summer of 2018. Since his debut against Manchester United in the Premier League 2018/19 season’s opening game, he has averaged 3 key passes every single game and has managed 10 assists, which is a mean feat for a player of his age. To put this into perspective, Trent Alexander-Arnold is the only player his age or younger to have delivered as many assists then and the number of key passes is unrivalled. He would add some much needed attacking vision which we have been sorely lacking this campaign.
Maddison’s xA/90 of 0.25 in the league this season is bettered by only three other midfielders in the division (of whom have made in excess of 10 starts). This demonstrates perfectly just how consistently he is able to create high quality chances- the main aspect of a player’s game we are looking for in our Ozil replacement. The Englishman has also been deployed as an eight in a 4-3-3 formation, a system I expect Arteta to revert to in the future.
When Maddison is in form, there are few players better than him in his role in the Premier League. Furthermore, like Grealish, goals and assists aren’t all Maddison offers. He is also one of the League’s best corner takers and he also poses a threat from free kicks. Currently, we are lacking a right-footed set piece specialist so this is a void Maddison would certainly fill. His pace and ball carrying ability would also certainly be an upgrade on Özil’s too. Which player would suit Arsenal more? It is hard to tell. Both have very strong cases behind them. I’d say Grealish is the more complete player out of the pair but Maddison is the player who would solve our attacking problems more effectively. I would not be complaining if we signed either of these talents as they both clearly have huge futures in the game.
Nevertheless, Maddison would be my personal preference. He’s got more experience at the top end of the Premier League and he’d slot perfectly into the number 10 role in our system, whilst also being able to offer the capability of playing as a wide central midfielder in a midfield 3 which I envisage Arteta favouring in the long term.
What’s clear to me is that these are unquestionably the creative prospects we should be targeting as long-term Mesut Özil replacements and these are two players who MUST be starting for England at the Euros this Summer. Whether or not we have the resources or will boast the Champions League football to attract and fund these players, they are certainly two we should be having a look at.