One Year On, Houssem Aouar is still Perfect for Arteta’s Arsenal
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
The saga continues.
Following a 2020 Summer Transfer Window filled with speculation of a potential move to Arsenal for Houssem Aouar, here we are in Summer 2021 with more links of a switch to north London for the Frenchman. Alexis Bernard of Le 10 Sport in France reports Arsenal have submitted an official bid for the midfielder with Lyon expecting an offer of around £20 million.
While the credibility of said report is up for debate, the ever-reliable @TheAFCBell have confirmed on Twitter that Arsenal hold a ‘degree of interest’ in Aouar. Here we go again.
Arsenal fans across the world were enamoured by the prospect of signing Aouar last Summer. Off the back of a brilliant 19/20 Champions League campaign with Lyon, Aouar looked destined for greatness. His performance against Manchester City in the quarter-final was particularly notable, with the youngster using his outstanding technical quality to brilliant effect in the transition.
Many have suggested Aouar’s availability at a cut-price is due to a poor season with Lyon. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In terms of goal contribution, he had his joint second-best season with Les Gones. Furthermore, from the perspective of statistics which scratch a little below the surface, he was superb.
So why is Aouar said to be available for so cheap this Summer? Well, it’s a combination of factors really. Firstly, finances across the board in French football are in a dire state. After Ligue 1’s deal with Mediapro, worth around €814 million per year, collapsed, Amazon Prime swooped in. However, the deal with Amazon is worth just €275 million per annum.
While the agreement with Amazon Prime will thankfully keep Ligue 1 afloat, it’ll still leave most French clubs with a fairly sizeable hole in their pockets. Of course, the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with no money brought in via tickets sales for French sides last season. Thus, many a club are willing to sell players at a cut-price to bring money in quickly.
On this occasion, Lyon’s misfortune leaves Arsenal in a strong position. With interest in Aouar at a minimum from other clubs across the continent this Summer, Arsenal are confronted with the prospect of signing the Frenchman without using up too much financial resource. This is in-part also due to Aouar having just two years left on his current Lyon contract.
Arsenal would be simply mad not to take advantage of this opportunity.
While he isn’t the pure creator many were suggesting he was during the months of speculation last year, Aouar possesses a very attractive profile for Arsenal. A key reason for this is his versatility in the middle of the park. He is certainly at his best as an #8 in a 4-3-3, but he also has the capacity to operate as a #10, at a push as a #6 in a double pivot and also out on the left flank if required.
Mikel Arteta has stated in the past that he’d like to transition to a 4-3-3 in the future. Thus, if this is the season of such transition, Aouar would be a very useful player for Arteta to have on his books. He’s the sort of player who can bridge that transition process. Aouar can initially do a job wherever he is required to do so in 4-2-3-1 before seamlessly adapting to an #8 role in a 4-3-3. Exactly what Mikel Arteta needs.
Nevertheless, Houssem Aouar is a player who offers much more than simply positional versatility. The 23-year-old also boasts immense quality in the engine room.
Ball carrying is one of his most attractive assets. His 8.08 progressive carries per 90 for Lyon last season speak for themselves. For context, his 163.1 yards of progressive distance covered/90 for Lyon in 20/21 was superior to all midfielders in the Arsenal squad last season other than Dani Ceballos who is something of a statistical oddity.
Aouar was also notably productive in an attacking sense from midfield last season. His 4.65 shot creating actions and 3.25 shots/90 evidence his consistent offensive threat. This is strong return in both regard for a midfielder and such threat would be welcomed into an Arsenal midfield which severely lacked attacking impetus last season.
Where Aouar has tended to struggle over the years is in his defensive contribution. That trend was continued last season with Lyon. His production in terms of tackles and blocks was notably poor, registering some of the worst return in Europe in comparison to his fellow midfielders in the Top Five Leagues.
It’d be naive and short-sighted to suggest that this wouldn’t be problematic in the Premier League. This will doubtless be a worry for Mikel Arteta. However, there is a silver lining. Aouar was often deployed in a more offensive role for Lyon last season, often behind the striker and even as a false #9 on a couple of occasions. So, his defensive record can be excused somewhat.
In a 4-3-3, Aouar would need to contribute more defensively. Thomas Partey will likely adopt the primary defensive role at the base of a three man midfield, but there is an onus on the free #8s to press effectively and put a foot in once in a while. Therefore, if Aouar were to join Arsenal, he and Arteta would need to put some work into improving his defensive discipline and effectiveness.
That said, Aouar’s attacking profile is just too attractive to turn down. He has it all in that regard.
One year on, here we are again, I’m in love with the prospect of Houssem Aouar joining my club.
All stats courtesy of FBref.com.