Arsenal’s never-ending quest to find a defensive midfielder will continue this summer, there will be no shortage of players to consider, but could the right man be AS Monaco’s Fabinho?
The 24-year-old Brazilian, who is a staple of Leonardo Jardim’s midfield, has the highest performance score from Squawka of any Monaco player so far this season and 6th of all midfielders in Ligue 1.
What I like about Fabinho is that he actually used to be a defender, having played at right back for a good part of his career. The problem with Arsenal’s current defensive midfielder, Granit Xhaka, is that he doesn’t have fundamental defensive instincts. How many times this season has Xhaka watched an opposition player make a run from a midfield position towards the box and failed to track him? It was the direct cause of a goal in each of the defeats to Bournemouth and Swansea. That’s not down to a lack of ability; it’s a lack of common sense when he doesn’t have the ball. So much of playing in a defensive midfield role is about using your brain. Frankly, Xhaka doesn’t have the right mental makeup for the position. This shouldn’t be a problem with Fabinho. His ability to play in defence could come in handy, Arsenal don’t have a clear backup at right back behind Hector Bellerin, and he could even play as a centre back, at 6’2 he’s certainly tall enough.
That’s not to say that Fabinho as a midfielder is the equivalent of having an extra defender on the pitch, he still has the attacking flair that Arsenal covet in their players, just with more awareness of his defensive responsibilities. To my point, the Brazilian has scored 19 goals in his 92 Monaco appearances, that’s an average of a goal every 4.8 games, not bad for a holding midfielder. He has also has 3 assists and 24 “key passes” per Squawka, the second of those stats is the same number as Monaco’s star winger Thomas Lemar. To compare, Granit Xhaka has one more assist and one less key pass than Fabinho, showing that what Arsenal would be getting on the ball is likely not noticeably worse.
That all sounds great, but the big question is, are Arsenal capable of convincing Fabinho to come to The Emirates? There is reason to believe he could be coaxed away from Monaco. This summer the Brazilian will have been in The Principality for five years, the Premier League looms as a potential new challenge for Fabinho as he approaches the prime years of his career, with Monaco seemingly destined to play second fiddle to PSG in France for the foreseeable future. Playing in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Arsenal over a staggeringly low 18,500 at Monaco could be another pull for the midfielder.
The problem for The Gunners though is that they will not be the only team interested, both Manchester clubs have been heavily linked with a move for Fabinho, with City and United more than likely able to offer him Champions League football. Arsenal’s only route to joining them appears to be through winning the Europa League. The significance of success for Arsenal in that competition cannot be overstated, the best players want to play on the biggest stage and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Arsenal will be able to offer that privilege to potential new signings.