Arsenal must strengthen central midfield – here are some January transfer options

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Arsenal’s stodgy performance in a lamentable FA Cup exit to Nottingham Forest was a collective failing, but the lightweight nature of their central midfield was striking. 

With Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny away at the Africa Cup of Nations and Granit Xhaka absent due to Covid, Arsenal’s engine room lacked presence and composure with 22-year-old Albert Sambi Lokonga partnered with 18-year-old full debutant Charlie Patino. Two promising young technicians, but they struggled to win enough duels and second balls against a competitive Forest side. 

With Steve Cooper’s team happy to drop off and let Rob Holding and Ben White have time on the ball, Arsenal failed to find their two midfielders who could have accelerated their build up play with more incision. The result was Arsenal’s centre-backs carrying the ball into traffic, from where Forest launched some dangerous counters. 

Lokonga has delivered some eye-catching performances since his summer move from Anderlecht, but the pick of them have come alongside Partey. Lokonga had not started a game since the 2-0 win over Newcastle in November, so this could have been a case of working off rust. Patino is feted as a talent to rival any of Arsenal’s academy graduates, but was used out of necessity and perhaps prematurely despite his best efforts.  

Mikel Arteta has stated his desire to strengthen in the January transfer window, with striker and midfield Arsenal’s priorities. The difficult balance to strike though, is that Arsenal need long-term upgrades on Xhaka and Alexandre Lacazette to be starters for seasons to come, but also have an acute short-term need to add numbers. Partey will only miss two league games at AFCON, and you do not spend big on that basis. 

Telegraph Sport looks at some potential midfield options, ranging from expensive statement purchase to the bargain basement. 

Premium rate dream signings

Bruno Guimaraes (Lyon)

One of the most complete midfielders around and the ideal age at 24. Guimaraes is a player Arsenal have tracked for several windows, and technical director Edu enjoys a good relationship with fellow Brazilian and former Lyon technical director Juninho who stepped down this month. 

Guimaraes ranks highest for progressive passes in Ligue 1 this season, while attempting an average of 75.45 passes per 90 minutes, which replicates the volume Arsenal prize in Xhaka. Unlike Xhaka though,  Guimaraes has the ability to evade pressure through dribbling, averaging more than eight progressive carries per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 this season. 

The Brazilian has played more passes into the final third than any player in France’s top flight. Guimares is also a defensive presence, ranking fourth for pressures applied and third for tackles won in Ligue 1. 

Likely to cost a pretty penny though, at around £40m. Lyon owner Jean-Michel Aulas is also a fierce negotiator and the source of much consternation in boardrooms across Europe.  

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