Statistics for the first half of the season suggest Arsenal should perhaps have held onto a couple of players a little longer, and that Ever Banega would be a better signing than some think.
Over the summer, Arsenal let go of Santi Cazorla and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, as they pursued a deal for Ever Banega which never came to fruition. After half of the 2018/19 season, all three are demonstrating that they have a quality to their game that not many in Unai Emery’s squad possess.
Michael Caley posted on Twitter a ranking of the leaders in Europe’s top five leagues in terms of progressive passes and runs per 90 minutes:
progressive pass and run leaders midway through the season
please have at it with your takes
good lord messi is still magic pic.twitter.com/WANa0YoXLu
— Michael "Chopsy Mug" Caley (@MC_of_A) December 28, 2018
As you can see, Cazorla finishes in the fourth position, Reine-Adelaide in 11th and Banega in 15th. That means all three are excellent at picking up the ball and progressing the move up the pitch.
No current Arsenal player places as high on the list, though Alex Iwobi finishes just behind Banega in 16th. So are the club lacking players who can progress the play in this way, and did they make a mistake letting Cazorla and Reine-Adelaide leave?
As always, it’s best to take the statistic in context. It’s very impressive that Cazorla is so high on the list, but at 34 years old and with his injury problems, it would’ve been a risk to give him another contract. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have added something to the team right now though.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide is performing impressively for his age, in this regard, but he’s lagging behind a bit in other areas. He’s yet to score a goal since his summer transfer, and he only has one assist, suggesting he needs to be making more of the positions he picks up.
In Banega’s case, his ability to move the play forward is combined with an impressive return in terms of his final ball. He’s created 47 chances this season in the league and in Europe, more than anyone in the Arsenal squad, by far. The midfielder has also scored eight goals, which puts him level with Alexandre Lacazette.
As a result, you can understand why Unai Emery might be keen to bring the midfielder in. As well as Matteo Guendouzi has started his Arsenal career, his playstyle is a bit too similar to Granit Xhaka’s for the pair to start together in the current system. Banega would provide something different.
That doesn’t change the fact that Arsenal’s priority in January should be a defender, as we saw all too clearly in the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday. However, with a reported price tag of £18m, Banega would be a low-cost addition who could really add something to the team as well.