Real Madrid have put Isco for sale this summer, and if Arsenal are to sign one of their long time targets, they could integrate him in three possible ways.
Isco was tearing apart La Liga and the Champions League at the peak of Real Madrid’s dominance over Europe last decade. Once deemed untouchable by the Spanish giants, the player is seemingly in the market, available in a cut-price deal. How did that downfall come about?
As soon as it was clear that Real Madrid’s powers were waning away, Isco’s dip in form was rather parallel with it. The attacking midfielder first lost his place at club level, then it was his international career which has since stalled. Is there a way back from this impasse for Isco? There certainly could be, in the Premier League probably, at Arsenal.
Arsenal are not the cash-rich club they used to be anymore, nor are they as attractive as before. Yet, the North Londoners have a pull about them, making them an attractive prospect for players. More important to the subject here, are they attractive enough for Isco to join them?
Yes, they are. Not because Isco is a player on a downward curve, but it could be the case that the Spaniard has hit rock bottom at Real Madrid and needs a new challenge somewhere else. There are interested clubs around Spain, such as Sevilla, but they are not favouring paying a relatively high fee for a 29-year-old.
Real Madrid are reportedly demanding a €20 million fee, and it certainly falls in budget with some Premier League sides. Everton were interested and want to follow up on their relationship with Real Madrid after taking James Rodriguez off their hands last summer. The Merseysiders would want a creative player after the problems with Gylfi Sigurdsson, who might not play for the club owing to off-field concerns.
However, it is Arsenal who could be a more attractive prospect for Isco if he moves away from Madrid. Considering he has only a year left on his current deal and a new contract nowhere in the picture, the Spanish giants would prefer to cash in now than let him go on a free.
The Hard Tackle now looks at the different scenarios that can transpire if a move to Arsenal materialises. We look at three possible ways the Gunners could play with Isco in their squad or starting lineup.
The Dani Ceballos replacement?
Several Arsenal fans are happy Ceballos does not play for their club anymore and relieved that his deal was only a loan. The Spaniard’s high profile errors late in the Europa League campaign and his overall performance levels last season did not please the fans.
Ceballos was never considered a sure starter at Arsenal during his two seasons, but he did get more than enough game time, especially last season. While there were hardly any fitness concerns during his stay, Ceballos got used in a particular way by Mikel Arteta, which did not change even after the signing of Martin Odegaard.
Odegaard got recruited to fill the creative gap in the side, and before the Norwegian’s arrival, Ceballos used to take up similar positions on the field. However, the Spaniard was also deployed extensively in an advanced midfield position, wherein he would come from a No.8 position into the No.10 to join the advancing attack.
Arsenal need to replace Ceballos’s minutes than the player himself. The Spaniard garnered 2369 minutes across 40 appearances in all competitions for the club last season. Could Isco be the man to get those minutes under his belt next season for the Gunners?
The Real Madrid outcast will be more in a utility player in this role but is guaranteed plenty of game time next season. However, Isco could have a greater influence on the Gunners’ style of play, especially if he could add goals and assists.
Filling the No.10 void?
Arsenal have prioritised signing a creative No.10 this summer and are extensively searching for the right candidate. The Gunners lacked an edge over their opposing teams last season and their struggles during the first half of the season were proof enough they needed creative injection into their group.
Not only did the north Londoners score few goals, but they also failed to create decent chances. Things got better when Arteta introduced Emile Smith Rowe into the mix, and his side soon found the tempo back, which was missing. However, the 21-year-old’s inexperience and fitness record forced Arteta to sign Odegaard in the January window.
The Norwegian was initially seen as an alternative to Smith Rowe, but soon Arteta got them playing together in the side. With Odegaard returning to Madrid to fulfil his dream of playing in their first team, Arsenal must fill his shoes. However, the Norwegian could be available again and could be back on Arsenal’s radar.
James Maddison remains on the club’s radar, but Leicester are demanding an astronomical fee of over £70 million for their playmaker. Arsenal have shown no indication of backing away from such a deal but could look at cheaper alternatives to fulfil their requirement one way or another.
Isco could be that player. Available for €20 million in this window, the Real Madrid playmaker could be a solution to Arteta’s requirement, albeit on a short-term basis possibly. The Spaniard can play the role and could bring loads of creativity into this Arsenal side.
However, Isco does not fit the profile of the players the club are targeting. Odegaard is 22, Maddison 23 and another one of the Gunners’ targets, Houssem Aouar also 23. So it is clear what Arteta wants from this player. Isco sure has a lasting reputation, but not the age profile. But in general, he could be an interesting option.
An ideal component in a new look 4-3-3?
The emphasis at Arsenal remains to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, going by how Arteta mostly lined up his team last season. However, the Spanish manager could implement a 4-3-3 style in the long-term. The style requires focusing on possession-based football and generally does not require an outright defensive midfielder.
However, Isco is more of an attacking threat and is well versed with such a system. For most of his time at Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane had deployed a 4-3-3 that won him three Champions League titles in a row alongside the La Liga on one occasion.
Isco could be a solid option in this scenario and combine well with the attackers ahead of him on the left wing and the central striker. In this role, he also complements his fellow central midfielders well, and his possession football style makes him all the more ideal in a midfield three.
However, Arteta has too many attackers to cater to in his squad. The likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe etc. are the main stars of this team, and the manager is inclined to design a formation to suit and accommodate those stars in the lineup.
Arsenal’s extensive search for a No.10 attacking midfielder suggests this season we might see a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than a 4-3-3. Moreover, the club are willing to ship out Joe Willock, another player suited for such a system. The other issue could be to recruit another midfielder suited to this role, and there are not many targets in that mould which the club are pursuing.
Isco could be a gamble for Arsenal. Sure he would be a cheaper alternative to many of their reported targets, but a risky one. The Real Madrid star has not performed well in the last three seasons, and his club are actively looking at buyers not to lose him on a free next summer.
Losing his spot in the Spanish team is also an indication of his waiting powers. Once heralded as a generational midfielder, Isco faces the prospect of sitting on the Real Madrid bench for another season. There are so many options at Real Madrid’s disposal to replace the Spaniard from within the squad.
As for joining Arsenal, it has its merits as well as demerits. The Gunners want someone in their midfield who is young, dynamic and could be a pivotal part of their long-term project. Isco might have certain qualities that suit the North London side but is far too old for their liking.
He could be a good signing after all, but Arsenal would be better off pursuing other targets, one that fits their style of play. The Gunners should sign someone versatile, defensively sound and who can produce moments that significantly change the tempo of their game, and Isco is not that player.