My piece for the Aspirer on why Arsenal Should Have Signed Asier Illarramendi.(Real Sociedad snapped him back up today, acting pretty quickly as rumours just surfaced recently)
Arsenal still need two key pieces to be considered title contenders.
The Gunners have been relatively quiet in the transfer market this summer. Petr Cech is so far the only arrival for the first team despite a number of departures. The former Chelsea keeper’s arrival sorted out a long-term issue with the goalkeeping position and heightened expectations that Arsene Wenger would finally complete the necessary team overhaul. In many eyes, the Gunners still need a world-class forward and a strong defensive midfielder to be at full strength.
While the club has arguably enough talent to get by in attack, it is defensive midfield that is a real concern.
Francis Coquelin emerged last season, putting in some impressive performances and helping shore up what was a soft Arsenal midfield. That he came at no cost, and ticked all the necessary boxes, means he has kept his starting spot. That was the worry heading into this season.
Wenger now has a pure defensive midfielder, one the fans have cried out for, but he didn’t have to pay a cent. Make no mistake, Coquelin has shown himself to be a solid player and should continue to play an important role for the Gunners moving forward. His constant inclusion in the starting lineup is also part of Arsenal’s problem though.
In Arsenal’s two games so far this season the midfield has been an issue.
Coquelin was ineffective defensively against West Ham and, not known for his range of passing, with Aaron Ramsey beside him Arsenal struggled to fully control the match. Arsenal’s defense was too open at times and that led to both the free-kick for West Ham’s opener and the eventual winner. Coquelin was nowhere to be seen in either situation. He partnered Santi Cazorla in the visit to Crystal Palace and the Spaniard’s presence enabled Arsenal to control the game. Therein lies the problem with having Coquelin as the defensive midfielder. He is still not at the level required to shut out the likes of Dimitri Payet and hinders the Gunners ability to control games.
The Gunners were expected to make a move for former Southampton midfielder, Morgan Schneiderlin, early in the summer to address that concern but the Frenchman moved to Manchester United. More recently, Sevilla’s Thomas Kryowchiwak was linked with a move to the club. One name that hasn’t been mentioned, but should be considered is Asier Illaramendi.
The Spanish midfielder has seen his stock drop since joining Real Madrid but a move to Arsenal would be perfect for both sides.
Illaramendi shot to prominence at Real Sociedad after some impressive displays in midfield during the 2012/13 season. The 25-year-old was brought in as the heir to Xabi Alonso at the Bernabeu but that hasn’t panned out. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are ahead of him in the pecking order for his best position and the recent arrival of the talented Mateo Kovavic means his time at the club is running out. He may still be in Rafa Benitez’s plans but he would be wise to consider his options should a club like Arsenal come calling.
Illarramendi wouldn’t be guaranteed a starting spot straight away but the odds are that he’d win the battle with Coquelin to be the club’s defensive midfielder.
The former Real Sociedad man combines the traits of both Cazorla and Coquelin in one player. Illarramendi has solid positional sense and is adept at tackling as well. He also has the technical skills to fit in well at Arsenal and the ability to pick passes from deep while helping his side control the game. His arrival could even allow Aaron Ramsey to play his best position at the base of midfield.
Looking back at that 2012/13 season, Illaramendi had one key pass per game and an 80 percent pass success rate. He also averaged 3.8 tackles and 2. 3 interceptions per game along with winning 1.5 aerial battles. Coquelin’s statistics last year are certainly better in the defensive categories, and he even has a better pass success rate of 85.9 percent, but Illaremendi wins in key passes and did improve his passing percentage to 88.9 in his first season at Madrid.
For Arsenal, the risk is certainly there in taking a player who may be short on confidence to improve the side, but the talent is without question. There is also the ever-present question of a player adapting to the Premier League. Still only 25, Illarremendi would benefit from the improvement in playing time and the competition from Coquelin. They both would.
Illarramendi’s arrival would also give Wenger greater tactical variety as the season progresses. Coquelin could be used to help the side close out tight games, or to start when the plan is to cede possession as Arsenal did against Manchester City last season. Illarramendi could start when the Gunners are looking to control the game, which is in keeping with Wenger’s preferred style.
While Illarramendi’s teammate, Karim Benzema, is the hot topic as far as Arsenal transfer rumours now, the Gunners should look to cover an even more problematic area in midfield. Illarramendi should be the man to join Arsenal before the window ends. Unfortunately, it seems as though Wenger’s hesitation in the transfer market will cost the Gunners once more, with Illarramendi’s return to Real Sociedad all-but confirmed.