With Arsenal FC closing in on Bayern Munich midfielder Luiz Gustavo, we take a look at how he can prove to be a shrewd piece of business by Arsene Wenger.
The Premier League is about to start in four days time and Arsenal are yet to sign any of the big-name players, the press and media have linked them with, this season. But considering how thin the squad looks at the moment, following the departure of a host of first-team and reserve players, it is unlikely Arsenal will end this transfer window empty-handed. The present squad is too thin for a club which will compete in four competitions next season.
Arsenal’s primary requirements this summer are a striker, a holding midfielder and a defender. As the Luis Suarez saga drags on with each passing day, we focus on the other two options. Luiz Gustavo has been linked with the Gunners, and the Bayern Munich midfielder is versatile enough to fulfill the requirements of a defensive midfielder and a fourth-choice center-back.
The London club does have competition on their hands in their efforts to sign the Brazilian international. German media have reported that Wolfsburg are the favorites to land him, Italian media would have you believe that Napoli and Rafa Benitez are looking to add him to their already impressive squad, while English media believes Arsenal are the favorites. Gustavo meanwhile has spoken of his desire to play in the Premier League and has publicly expressed his delight at being linked with Arsenal. The Telegraph has earlier reported that the Gunners are close to completing a £14m deal for the Bayern Munich midfielder, and if and when this move is completed, it will be money well spent.
Gustavo might be surplus to requirement at the Bundesliga club but make no mistake, the Brazilian international could become a key player for Arsenal, as could for most of the top sides in Europe. Following the arrival of Javi Martinez last season, Gustavo has largely been restricted to the role of a substitute for the Bavarian giants. The midfielder has made only 16 starts in the league last season and now under new manager Pep Guardiola it looks he would even struggle to reach the double figure, if he stays back this season. Bayern Munich arguably have the best midfield in Europe presently, at least in depth. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Javi Martinez and Luiz Gustavo competed for two spots under Jupp Heynckes, although Kroos was also played as the play-maker. Now with the arrival of Thiago, the midfield is more crowded than ever. It must be noted even Rafinha and Alaba can play and has played in that role.
Guardiola has changed the tactics upon his arrival, although it is yet to be seen how successful this change will be, it has surely reduced Gustavo’s chances of earning a first-team place. The former Barcelona boss has moved away from the successful 4-2-3-1 formation used in the treble-winning season last time around. Guardiola deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation in a lot of preseason games and their opening match against Borussia Monchengladbach. Bastian Schweinsteiger was deployed in the role of the holding midfielder with Kroos and Muller playing ahead of him. Even Javi Martinez was restricted to a role on the bench in the opening game. However, it is believed Pep Guardiola has different plans for the Spaniard. Martinez is likely to be used as center-back this season as Guardiola looks to do away with a proper defensive midfielder in the starting eleven. This means Gustavo will now have to fight with Schweinsteiger, Martinez, Kroos and Thiago for that one place in Pep’s 4-1-4-1. Gustavo’s only need in the Bayern squad at the moment is as a back for the left-back spot, behind David Alaba. His versatility as a footballer means, Gustavo can play both as a center-back as a left-back if needed.
Gustavo has already discussed his future with Pep Guardiola and is almost sure to leave the club now. He is too good a footballer to play for the reserves and Arsenal will do well to sign him.
Where would he fit into Arsenal?
After the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona, Mikel Arteta has taken up the role of playing as the holding midfielder in Wenger’s 4-2-3-1. While Arteta has done a good job in this new role, Arsenal’s lack of steel in the midfield has been exposed far too often last season. Moreover, the Spaniard is now 31 years old and it will be asking too much for him to appear in every single match henceforth. Frimpong’s injury has halted his progress, where as Francis Coquelin, currently on loan to Freiburg, has an uncertain future at the club. Arsenal will need someone to take up Arteta’s role in the side, someone whose best years are ahead of him, someone like Gustavo.
While Arsenal’s defense was heavily criticized in the first half of the season last time around, they have been left exposed far too often, especially from counter-attacks. Arteta is not the type of midfield destroyer who can disrupt opponent’s attack. He had to resort to tactical fouling, which again puts Arsenal under pressure from set pieces. This is where Gustavo comes into the picture, specially against strong opponents.
Gustavo is a dynamic footballer. He lacked tactical discipline initially in his career, but now with age and experience, he has developed into someone who can add immense solidarity to a midfield. In the recently-concluded Confederations Cup, Gustavo was a key component in the Brazil side, which won which lifted the trophy beating World Champions Spain. Gustavo formed a formidable partnership with new Tottenham recruit Paulinho. The Bayern Munich midfielder played the holding role, which allowed Paulinho to bomb forward and join the attack. He was the invisible shield in front of defense and considering the fact that Brazil have a very adventurous center-back in David Luiz, Gustavo was key in covering up for the Chelsea defender at the back. While on attack Gustavo almost played like a third center-back, dropping deep and waiting for the opponent to launch a counter-attack.
Interestingly, Arsenal have a very adventurous center-back of their own in Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgium international didn’t have the best of seasons last time around and faced heavy criticism from fans and experts. His tendency to move forward and join in attack left his partner exposed far too often, and Arsenal didn’t have a midfielder like Gustavo who could fall back and cover for him. Gustavo’s arrival will certainly help in allowing Vermaelen play with added freedom.
As with most of the defensive midfielders, Gustavo’s passing and ability to initiate an attack is often underrated. The Brazilian might not be have the flair one associates with a footballer from that part of the world, but he is effective and clinical. He has brilliant long-range passing and was crucial for Brazil in spraying out the ball to the likes of Neymar and Hulk on the wings. Interestingly, Gustavo had a 93% pass accuracy, more than any other Bayern midfielder last season, even more than Arsenal’s ever-reliable Mikel Arteta (91%). Last season Gustavo attempted 147 long balls in the Bundesliga, Champions League and Confederations Cup, out of which he completed a staggering 127 passes. So Gustavo could really prove to be the long-term successor of Mikel Arteta.
Moreover, it is not as if Arsene Wenger will have to choose between Arteta or Gustavo if the Brazilian arrives at the London club – both can play together. In fact one feels that with Arteta being played in that defensive role in the midfield, Arsenal are not fully utilizing his attacking capabilities. Arteta can contribute so much more in attack if he is relived of defensive duties, while playing alongside someone like Gustavo, and he could enjoy the freedom he had under David Moyes at Everton.
Gustavo can benefit from playing alongside Arteta as well. Like all Brazilians, he has a knack of moving forward in attack, when allowed the freedom do so. Arteta and Gustavo can alternatively decide to stay back and help out defensively. Gustavo was allowed that freedom when he played alongside Kroos in the Bayern Munich’s match against Juventus in the Champions League last season. Kroos almost played as a deep-lying play-maker, while Gustavo moved ahead and tried to win the ball before it reached the final third of Bayern’s midfield. This is similar to the role Javi Martinez was deployed in last season, where Bayern almost defended from the front, with Schweinsteiger initiating attack from the back. Arteta and Gustavo can form a similar partnership at Arsenal and it will provide Wenger with lot of tactical flexibility.
Defensively, Gustavo is the ideal man to stop counter-attacks. Last season he averaged 1.5 interceptions per match in the league and three interceptions per match in the Confederations Cup. He is strong in challenge, and unlike Arteta, he is actually a clean tackler. He has brought in a lot of discipline in his game over the past two seasons. Moreover, the Brazilian’s versatility will be a great asset for the side. With Arsenal lacking a experienced fourth-choice center-back in the squad, Gustavo can be a part of the back four if it is affected by injuries and suspension. He is also adept at playing as a left-back and provide cover for the injury-prone Gibbs and Monreal.
Truth be told Arsenal are yet to replace Gilberto Silva. The Brazilian was the invisible shield ahead of the Arsenal defense and did all the dirty work cleanly, while it can be preposterous to compare Gustavo with Gilberto, but he has all the talents to play a similar role at Arsenal. The need of a Gilberto Silva in a team can often be overlooked, but despite their anonymity, a good defensive midfielder helps in bringing out the best in the flair players around him. Gustavo can take Arsenal one step closer to challenging for silverware once again. He might not win Arsenal a football match single-handedly, like a Luis Suarez might do, but he could turn out to be as important a signing as the Liverpool striker for the Gunners.