Arsenal spent a lot of money over the summer, and while the jury might still be out on Kai Havertz and David Raya, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t see Declan Rice’s move as an unequivocal success so far.
The former West Ham United captain has arguably been the ‘the most influential player in the Premier League this season‘ – according to pundit Jamie Carragher – not only acting as a sponge in the centre of the park mopping up anything that gets through the press of his attacking teammates, but he has, at times, joined in on the attacking side of the game as well.
Last-minute winners against Manchester United and Luton Town have already solidified his place as one of the Emirates’ favourite adopted sons. Still, there is just that lingering feeling – somewhat spurred by these moments – that the Englishman could be even more influential in games were he playing as a number eight in place of the uninspiring Havertz.
The latter man is still yet to truly find his feet at the Emirates, with ex-Chelsea man Frank Leboeuf notably describing the German as an “enigma”, while going on to state:
“In the middle of the park, because you have [Martin] Odegaard you need two strong midfielders to get the ball back. So, you don’t need him.”
Mikel Arteta and Co might have the same thoughts, as the club has been linked to a number of impressive sixes that could unlock Rice’s potential as an eight this month, so let’s look at three of them.
Douglas Luiz – Aston Villa
The first name on the list, Douglas Luiz, has been touted for a move to the Emirates for well over a year now.
Arsenal’s interest in the Brazilian was first reported in summer 2022 when they saw several deadline day bids rejected by Aston Villa. That interest has seemingly not faded, though, as a report from Football Insider earlier this week revealed that the Gunners were still ‘pushing hard’ to get a deal done.
Unfortunately for the north Londoners, though, the midfield “monster”, as football writer Raj Chohan described him, is valued at around £100m, so Edu and Co will have to push the boat out to get their man.
That said, he would be worth every penny based on his performances over the last couple of seasons and his underlying numbers from this year.
Amadou Onana – Everton
The second player on the list is another that has been constantly linked with the Gunners this month, Everton’s Belgian titan, Amadou Onana.
According to a report from TEAMtalk earlier this month, Arsenal are big fans of the former LOSC Lille man and have been contemplating making an offer for the player that talent scout Jacek Kulig described as a “one-man army in midfield.”
He certainly looked like a one-man army when he singlehandedly played the Gunners’ midfield off the park last season when the Merseysiders emerged as shock 1-0 winners from their game at Goodison – a performance Havertz could only dream of as things stand.
However, the most significant problem for the north Londoners regarding this particular deal is the price Everton are supposedly after.
According to the report from TEAMtalk, the relegation-threatened side will not entertain offers below £70m and are looking for offers closer to the £90m mark, which could put him just out of reach.
Martin Zubimendi – Real Sociedad
The final player on this list could be the most realistic of them all: Real Sociedad’s midfield magician, Martin Zubimendi.
The Gunners have been reportedly chasing the young Spaniard since last summer, and according to reports from Spain (via Football365) earlier this week, he has now ‘picked’ the Gunners as his next destination.
His name might not be overly familiar to fans in England, but make no mistake, Zubimendi is an incredibly talented player and thought of just as highly.
For example, Kulig has made comparisons between the youngster and Real Madrid royalty Toni Kroos, and he isn’t the only one to do so, as the CIES Football Observatory ranked him as the seventh-best holding midfielder in 2023 on the same top-ten list as the German legend.
While his reported release clause of £51m isn’t cheap, it would make him the most affordable option on this list.
Arsenal could forget Luiz by signing £85m “generational talent”
The 20-year-old could transform Arsenal’s midfield.
If he can get even remotely close to the level of Kroos while continuing to develop his defensive attributes, then Arsenal could have a genuine world-beater on their hands – if they can seal the deal, of course.
Ultimately, any of these stars would improve the Gunners’ midfield and allow Rice to supersede the underwhelming Havertz as Arteta’s go-to number eight.