Arsenal may well be looking for a new defensive midfielder this summer despite being well stocked in this area.
Matteo Guendouzi has been frozen out by Mikel Arteta, putting his future in doubt, while Granit Xhaka can sometimes lack the defensive clout needed to make Arsenal into a physically competitive team, and give freedom to the likes of Mesut Ozil.
Dani Ceballos has impressed in a deeper role in recent months, but there have been no talks yet to sign the Spaniard on a permanent basis.
The Gunners are unlikely to be able to afford to buy a star player in this position, and will instead need to unearth a gem.
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Leicester City seem to have cornered the market in securing the best up-and-coming defensive midfielders. They won the league in 2015/16 with a midfield two/three which Steve Walsh memorably described as being “Drinkwater in the middle with Kante either side”.
The French World Cup winner then moved to Chelsea, but the Foxes have since replaced him with Wilfred Ndidi. Not everyone can be as good at recruiting holding players as Leicester though, so let’s have a look at some of the best prospects out there who can solve Mikel Arteta’s defensive midfield problem.
Manuel Locatelli – Sassuolo
When looking at defensive statistics, it’s often players on teams who don’t have much of the ball who make the most actions. Stands to reason, no? So ideally you want somebody who makes lots of interventions for a team who has a high possession average, and Manuel Locatelli is one such man.
Despite their mid-table position, Sassuolo have averaged 55.7 percent possession in their matches this season, the joint-third highest figure in Serie A. While Locatelli can play in various midfield roles, he has logged the fifth most tackles per 90 by young defensive midfielders in Europe’s big five leagues when he’s played there.
Arteta’s Guardiola-inspired possession football means he must pursue someone with experience playing that kind of football, making Locatelli an intriguing option. His tackling stats are certainly more impressive than Arsenal’s current midfield options.
Santiago Ascacibar – Hertha Berlin
The 23-year old only joined his current club in January, having previously been at Stuttgart. But following their relegation last summer, he was too good to spend too long in the second tier.
He has always been around the three tackles per 90 minutes average throughout his career, both at Estudiantes where he started out, and then in Europe. With 2.9 loose ball duels won per 90 this season, he’s comfortably ahead of the competition there, and he will hope to add to his three caps for Argentina soon.
Picking up the 50-50s is something that, historically, Arsenal have struggled at. Ascacibar’s international experience makes him a good option for a very young…