The Gunners are looking for a midfield upgrade in 2024
Arsenal are enjoying a fantastic start to the Premier League season this year, and following Manchester City’s draw over the weekend, they currently find themselves three points clear of the defending champions.
One of the reasons that the north Londoners are once again atop the Premier League table is summer signing Declan Rice. The former West Ham United captain has been a revelation in red and white so far this campaign, and if there ever were such a thing as a £105m bargain, he is as close as you’re going to get.
That said, Mikel Arteta has been mixing it up with the 24-year-old this season, playing him as both a left eight and six at different points this season.
However, Fulham’s Joao Palhinha could be the perfect addition to allow the Englishman to flourish in that left eight role.
Arsenal transfer news – Joao Palhinha
According to a report from AFC Newsroom founder Connor Humm, Fulham midfielder Joao Palhinha has emerged as a “potential target” for the Gunners, either in January or at the end of the season.
Not much has been said in the way of a potential fee for a deal such as this, but considering that the Cottagers turned down a £47m offer from Bayern Munich in the summer before finally accepting a £55m offer suggests that it won’t be a cheap deal to complete.
Furthermore, the West Londoners reportedly demanded £60m for their midfield enforcer when West Ham were sniffing around in the summer, so that could potentially be the sort of offer that would see the player move.
Joao Palhinha could unlock Declan Rice’s attacking threat
So far this season, Rice has been included in every starting XI that Arteta has put out in the league, starting at the base of midfield ten times and in the left eight four times.
While the England international is clearly a fantastic defensive midfielder, his three goal involvements in those 14 starts indicate he could be even more useful to the team just slightly higher up the pitch.
Unfortunately for Arteta, though, Jorginhio, while a great bench player, lacks the quality to start every week, and Thomas Partey has become increasingly unreliable through injury.
So, how does Palhinha stack up to the Gunners’ current crop of defensive midfielders?
Well, the “tackling machine”, as described by Fulham teammate Harrison Reed, outshines his competition in practically every crucial defensive stat you can think of.
The former Sporting CP star certainly lives up to his moniker, making 5.39 tackles per 90 this season, compared to Rice’s 1.94, Jorginho’s 2.56 and Partey’s 2.14, while making more blocks, interceptions and winning more aerial duels per 90.
|Tackles per 90
|Blocks per 90
|Interceptions per 90
|Aerial Duel win %
|Stats via FBref
Described as “utterly sensational” by former Fulham star Steve Sidwell and a defender’s “dream” by Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand, dropping the Lisbon-born “monster” into Arsenal’s midfield certainly seems like the best way to involve Rice in the offensive side of games.
Despite starting the vast majority of games in the six role this season, the former Chelsea youth product still sits within the top 1% of midfielders in the Premier League for medium pass completion, the top 5% for passes into the final third, the top 8% for overall pass completion and the top 13% for progressive passes, all per 90, per FBref.
With numbers like this in a primarily defensive role, the prospect of what the 6 foot 1 titan could do from a more progressive starting position should excite the Arsenal faithful.
Ultimately, a midfield three of Rice, Martin Odegaard and Palhinha could be precisely what Arteta needs this season and help the men in red and white finally end their two-decade wait for the title.