Mikel Arteta was under no illusion of the task that faced him when he opted to take charge of Arsenal last year. Yet, almost 12 months on from his appointment, it’s likely the Spaniard expected to be further along in his project.
After the north London derby defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, the Gunners sit 15th in the Premier League table.
They are winless in four top-flight games and, more concerningly, have been outplayed in those matches by Aston Villa, Leeds United, and Wolverhampton Wanderers and out-thought by Spurs.
"We are planning, talking with Edu and with the club about the things we can do in January," the Arsenal boss said after the Europa League win over Rapid Wien. "But at the moment it's pretty difficult, unpredictable as well in terms of [squad] places we are very restricted at the moment.
"We'll see what happens, I think things will move in the market, we will be prepared, we will need to do something knowing the limitations of that market in January and the limitations we have as well to sign players."
The Gunners will likely have to move on players – especially centre-backs – before they can bolster Arteta’s squad. If that happens, there is one area of the side in urgent need of improvement: midfield.
The Gunners went into the summer transfer window hoping to add two midfielders to their squad. Lyon’s Houssem Aouar was a prime target but a potential deal dragged on and the Ligue 1 side eventually ended talks.
Arsenal were, albeit on transfer deadline day, able to bring in Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid. But it’s left Arteta short and the Gunners’ midfield has undoubtedly lacked creativity this term.
Which is why reports the north London side are considering a move for Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Yves Bissouma are somewhat curious.
The 24-year-old has impressed for the Seagulls, who have played far better than their record of two wins from 11 matches would suggest, during the opening months of the Premier League season.
He’s done so playing in a two-man midfield, and alongside a number of different partners. The former Lille star’s ability to weave beyond challenges to move Brighton forward has often stood out, as has his mobility and work-rate across the pitch to reclaim possession.
This season, per FBRef, Bissouma is completing 1.78 successful dribbles per 90 in the Premier League. That is far more than Arsenal midfielders Dani Caballos (1.16), Mohamed Elneny (0.60), and Granit Xhaka, but behind Partey (2.31).
He marries this with a defensive aptitude. The Brighton man has won 2.22 tackles per 90 this term and registered 6.44 successful pressures per 90. No Gunners midfielder can better Bissouma in the latter metric while only Ceballos wins more tackles (2.32).
There is certainly an argument to be made that Arsenal could do with a mobile, ball-carrying midfielder who can also break up opposition attacks. The performance of Xhaka in the north London derby highlighted his limitations once more.
But what the Gunners truly need, is a creator. They dominated possession at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but had nobody to unlock the Spurs’ defence. And if they were to sign Bissouma, the same problem would remain.
He is averaging just 0.78 open-play shot assists – a pass that leads to a shot – per 90 for Brighton this season, which is fewer than Ceballos (2.32), Elneny (1.2) Partey (1.15), and equal to Xhaka (0.78).
Of course, there is an element to this that will be down to the demands placed upon Bissouma in the Brighton system and the quality of the players around him. But for context, Pascal Gross, who has been the Mali international’s midfield partner in recent games, has averaged 2.71 open-play shot assists per 90 minutes.
Add in the potential fee for Bissouma could be as much as £40 million and it makes little sense for Arsenal to pursue a deal in January.
He would be a nice addition, and arguably an upgrade on Xhaka and Elneny, but wouldn’t solve Arteta’s most pressing problem.