What Houssem Aouar Would Bring to Arsenal

Houssem Aouar
Aouar is Arsenal’s top target | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Quality.

There, end of analysis.

That wouldn’t be much fun though, would it?

If Saturday’s laboured, fortunate and ultimately very poor win over West Ham was going to bring about anything, it was the hordes of keyboard warriors baying for Houssem Aouar to come to Arsenal bloodying their fingers ten-fold.

He’s the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, and for good reason.

Arsenal had seven shots to West Ham’s 14 in their 2-1 win, but it was the overall struggle to slice through the Hammers’ rigid five-man defence and four-man midfield that was the biggest cause for concern. Dani Ceballos returned to the starting lineup in place of Mohamed Elneny to add creativity to the centre of the park, but the underlying lack of a spark in the final third was telling.

Mikel Arteta has made it clear he needs added bite in forward areas, with the addition of Willian an effort to provide diversity in attacking phases. At the Emirates, neither he nor anyone else was able to get a strangehold on that respect of the game.

Aouar is not your typical number ten. He operates majorly on the left inside channel, but boasts every trait one could desire from a player of his ilk. Immensely calm on the ball and as technically sound as any player across Europe, his role as the key operator in between the lines would be the ideal buff to smooth out the considerable chink in Arsenal’s armour.

Using the West Ham win as an example, Arteta’s fluid formation allows any number of players to take up central positions and unsettle opposing back fours. Hector Bellerin was seen in the inside right channel, just as Bukayo Saka likewise on the other flank.

In the second half, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang even drifted into that spot to cause uncertainty to the Irons, but none of the plethora of players who tried to occupy those spaces are tailor-made for that role. In the end, two pre-assists from Saka were crucial to victory, but employing a player whose bread and butter is picking up those spaces and delivering a killer pass has to be Arteta’s number one priority.

To do so, there is nobody around better than Aouar.

Aouar is someone who can lift the mood when his side are in the rough. If Lyon are toiling and looking out for the count, the 22-year-old is always there to pick up the pieces of such rubble and restore structure. For Arsenal fans, they could use Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla as comparisons.

Cazorla had the nimble footwork and close control that would help him wrestle his way out of tight areas, while Fabregas had the drive and vision in advanced areas that could unpick locks and galvanise a side looking devoid of ideas.

Over on Merseyside, we’ve seen Thiago join Liverpool, but in the list of aesthetically pleasing midfielders, Aouar sits alongside the Spaniard on that list. His movement and style is done with such grace that makes him unbelievably fun to watch.

With Arsenal’s current setup, a four man midfield features two wing-backs and two central midfielders. 3-4-3 can be flexible, but there is no standout number ten in that approach. Aouar doesn’t play as a number ten, but instead loves to play alongside a more defensive operator – in this case it would be Granit Xhaka – where he can drive through the thirds with the ball at his feet.

When Arsenal are in possession and deep in the opponents’ half, he can drift into pockets of space and receive the ball in tight situations, where his elegant first touch and control mean the rest of the team gain precious split seconds to make runs of their own.

His dexterity in these situations is a nightmare to defend against. He forces players to commit to challenges with his feints, draws a second man in and opens the space for others.

Ceballos was the player who dropped deepest to collect possession when the Gunners were chasing a winner on Saturday, but while he has the drive and technical quality to do so, he doesn’t possess the nous in the final third that the Frenchman does.

While all of the above points to a player whose intentions are solely on the attacking side of the game, his defensive output is surprisingly noticeable. By that reckoning, he’s like a classic number eight. There is balance to everything he does, whether that’s literal, technical or tactical.

In an Arsenal side with the firepower of Aubameyang, but sorely lacking the service he thrives on, a player of Aouar’s outstanding quality is, quite simply, essential. The club captain has been the top scorer in the past two seasons, but has done so with nowhere near the volume of creativity to truly unearth his brilliance.

At the moment, Arsenal are trying to plug round holes with square pegs. Too many players are being tasked with being that source of creativity but without resounding success. Aouar fits that bill. He is that bill. He’s the round peg they’re in dire need of.

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