21-year-old Ismael Bennacer was one of the stars of the show as Empoli defeated Napoli on Wednesday, and the former Gunner could yet end up back with Arsenal.
Despite facing relegation and coming up against the team in second place in the table, Empoli pulled off a shock result on Wednesday by defeating Napoli 2-1. Undoubtedly, a large part of that was thanks to Bennacer, who assisted both of his team’s goals, as well as putting in a fantastic overall performance in midfield.
Bennacer spent two years with Arsenal from 2015 to 2017, before leaving on a permanent deal to Empoli. The Gunners planned ahead though, putting a couple of clauses in the player’s contract in case he really hit his stride in Italy.
The first was a matching clause, allowing them to match any offer Empoli accept from another club. Napoli were heavily linked with a €12m January move, so if Empoli decided that worked for them, Arsenal could swoop in and take the same deal for themselves. However, Empoli president Fabrizio Corsi has insisted Napoli haven’t made a bid just yet.
Alternatively, if the Gunners turn down the chance to resign the player, they’ll pick up 30% of his transfer fee through a sell-on clause instead.
Bennacer himself has confirmed the clauses in the past, and he’s admitted there’s a possibility he’ll return to Arsenal.
“I only have positive things to say about my time at Arsenal,” he said in 2017. “I was able to continue my development at a very structured club. It allowed me to have a professional formation and I needed that step. I regret nothing from my time there. I learned a lot. I just knew I needed to leave as I didn’t have my spot in the first-team.
“Who knows, maybe one day I will go back to Arsenal through the front door.”
Since then, Bennacer has really come on in leaps and bounds. WhoScored‘s statistical analysis of his abilities paints an impressive picture, with dribbling, passing, through balls, concentration and tackling all listed as his strengths. They add that he likes to play long balls and shoot from distance.
Corsi compared Bennacer to Arsenal’s summer signing Lucas Torreira, saying: “I think he looks like Torreira, the former Sampdoria player, only more technical.
“He’s a central midfielder who can play both 3 and 2. He’s very dynamic, he’s not so tall, but he’s as tall as Allan, he’s as dynamic as Allan, he’s skilled with his feet and he’s mastering the role. From a defensive point of view, he never gives in. Usually, a player of this quality is not aggressive.”
We’ll see if Arsenal decide to bring the player back to the Emirates Stadium this summer. Assuming they don’t, they could well benefit from a bidding war for the midfielder. We’ll see.