Ruben who? Arsenal must drop January pursuit in favour of genius £60m swoop
The Gunners are understood to be on the hunt for a midfielder this January.
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On the one hand, we have Douglas - accomplished, dashingly handsome, Portuguese-speaking. On the other, we have Ruben - accomplished, dashingly handsome, Portuguese-speaking. Maybe Mikel Arteta has a type.
The accepted wisdom at this stage is that Arsenal, who spent £170 million on midfielders over the summer, will buy a new midfielder this January. Splurges beget splurges, I suppose. For a long while it has seemed as if Aston Villa stalwart Douglas Luiz would be their prospective candidate of choice, with widespread reports that the Gunners would look to rekindle an interest that stretches at least as far back as last year.
In a somewhat unexpected twist, however, 90min are reporting that Arsenal could switch their jangling attentions to former Wolves talisman Ruben Neves. Now a seemingly disinterested employee of Saudi Pro League outfit Al-Hilal, it is understood that the 26-year-old has had quite enough of dune buggies and uncomfortable moral quandaries, and would ideally like to return to the Premier League as soon as physically possible.
Given that his current contract in the Middle East runs until 2026, however, it is claimed that he may have to settle for a loan exit in January, rather than a permanent farewell. Alongside the Gunners, Newcastle United are also said to be interested in a potential agreement, but may run into obstacles if Premier League clubs vote through legislation banning loans between clubs owned by the same financial entities later this month. (Al-Hilal, in case you were wondering, are one of four Pro League clubs supported by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.)
As such, Arsenal's path to Neves may be fairly clear, and certainly less complicated than their pursuit of Luiz. Various reports have suggested that Villa, if they are to part company with him at all, may only do so for an exorbitant fee and an Emile Smith Rowe. You can see why a short-term agreement for Neves could be tempting - especially for a club who spent so ambitiously in the summer transfer window.
But here's the thing; they cannot - must not, even - stray from their efforts to sign Luiz. And if you don't believe me, believe the stats. If we compare the Brazilian's output this season to Neves' contributions for Wolves last term the contrast is almost staggering. As per Wyscout, the Villa midfielder averages more passes and a higher pass completion rate, as well as a higher xG, more goals per 90 minutes, more assists, more duels won, nearly three times as many dribbles, and a notably superior total action success rate. In short, he outstrips Neves in just about every attacking sense.
Defensively, the Portuguese midfielder may still boast the edge, but if you look at Arsenal's current squad, you have to ask yourself, would they benefit more from a traditional number six, or a more progressive, dynamic presence in the centre of the park? The impact the aforementioned Rice is already having would suggest that it is definitely the latter.
Of course, a deal for Luiz will not be cheap or easy. But then again, it is rare that anything worth having is either of those things. And a long term investment in a player of the South American's calibre surely has to be preferable to a temporary agreement for a talent who, while still a wonderful presence in his own right, can barely hold a candle to Luiz's current form.
Even at the £60 million or so Villa are said to be demanding, a swoop feels like an absolute no-brainer. Sorry, Ruben...