What Could Houssem Aouar Bring to Arsenal?
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
In short: a lot.
A lot of the time, transfer mania seems fuelled by just that - mania. Twitter accounts of presumably prepubescent/teen boys scream for signings and announcements for a rush of dopamine and achievement, before the next rumour catches their eye and they're back at the start of the cycle. Look under any official Arsenal tweet now, and you'll see two names being repeated so many times you'd think the Arsenal Admin was doing the negotiations - Thomas Partey, and Houssem Aouar. It's long been clear that Arsenal's midfield requires reinforcements, but, according to reports, Aouar is Arteta's long standing top target.
Aouar's technical level means he is capable of doing a lot from his preferred position on the centre left of a midfield 3 / 5, depending on what phase you're talking about, and it quickly becomes clear at closer look why the Arsenal board and Mikel Arteta are described as "in love" with Aouar.
First and foremost, he has incredible close control, and can use both feet. He is able to manipulate the ball out from seemingly impossible situations, often receiving the ball on the half turn in the left channel and picking an eye-of-the-needle pass almost instantly - something we've missed since the Cazorla days. We saw the benefit of having an on form Ceballos last season, who isn't a massively dissimilar player to Aouar, and the ability to move the ball quickly through the transition is crucial in the modern game, and to Arteta's plans.
His position on the left side benefits us for a few reasons - Ceballos prefers the right, and with the way we appear to be setting up for the new season, Aouar fits in perfectly to a position Ainsley Maitland-Niles is sort of "half" doing at the moment in certain games, tucking inside in attacking phases. Especially in the left channel, we've lacked creativity - often opting for the riskier ball over the top to Auba. One can only imagine the balls over the top and through to Aubameyang with Aouar, and the combinations with Willian, Ceballos, Lacazette, his former team mate et al on the edge of the box - another of Aouar's strengths.
Aouar loves to drive to goal, and watching him, it's clear why he sees Zinedine Zidane as one of his idols. In 2019/20, Aouar attempted 4.79 dribbles per 90, more than anyone in his age group across Europe, with a success rate of over 60%. Physically mature and composed, he is able to wriggle out of tight spaces easily as well as receive it on the turn. The Cazorla comparison comes up again, but Aouar is somewhat of a different beast. While Santi tended to sit deep, link play and dictate tempo, Aouar is a driver, bursting forwards - he averaged 217 yards progressed per 90 last season - similar numbers to Frenkie De Jong at Barcelona.
With CL semi-final and top level league experience, competing for the title last season, and having turned 22 in the summer, he's in the perfect age profile for a club looking for long term investment, and has the right level of experience/potential. He also brings goal from the midfield - scoring 7 in 2018/19. Not a bad return for a 20/21 year old at the time. Now 22, you can imagine Arsene Wenger would be a big fan of Houssem, and it's interesting that Arteta is no different.
It will be interesting to see how Aouar fits in to the team, or more specifically, how it shifts to accommodate him. His inclusion may signal the start of a move to a back 4 now we have the top level central midfielder we need to link play, keep possession and screen the defence a bit more from the ball being lost in midfield, and we may employ him a bit further forward against top opposition - leaving it to him to start counter attacks on the break after soaking up some pressure. He also may help us to break down low blocks where we've struggled before, like in the Aston Villa game at the tail end of last season.
He's not slow either, and has that crucial ability/confidence to push the ball past the retreating defender and often get there. He's sometimes employed on the left wing of a three, dovetailing behind Dembele and Depay. With his ability with both feet, he's scored quite a few goals cutting in on his right from the left channels - imagine Pepe, but less explosive and from deeper.
In terms of his weaknesses, he's not incredible defensively, and his xG isn't fantastic for the positions we need him in. He may also be slightly out of our price range. However, according to Telefoot, Arsenal are preparing a bid, and it's not hard to see why. Regardless of his price, this would be a fantastic signing, and one I'm sure, with a National team call up incoming, would see Arsenal recoup the value ten fold on the pitch.
Arsenal fans have long bemoaned a lack of creativity in the midfield, and amid Ozil's continued absence and seeming lack of willingness to work for the team, Joe Willock's faltering development and a lack of other senior options internally, Aouar could be the answer.
Here's hoping - until then - maybe the Arsenal admin will listen and put in a good word.