They tried to sign him last summer – but then they tried to sign a lot of players. The most surprising thing about Arsenal’s deadline day purchase of Mesut Ozil was not the fee but that they’d actually managed to sign someone.
Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez and Lars Bender all found themselves in protracted courtships with Arsenal only to turn the Gunners down. As did Luiz Gustavo. The then Bayern Munich midfielder had spent much of the season on the bench and his priority was to gain first-team football ahead of 2014 World Cup. Arsenal pursued, so did Barcelona, but the Brazilian opted to stay in Germany with Wolfsburg. And what a season he’s had.
Gustavo settled almost immediately at Wolfsburg, establishing himself as a permanent fixture at the base of their midfield. The Brazilian was one of the star performers in a Wolfsburg team that finished 5th, four points short of Champions League qualification. Gustavo was only outshone by one Ricardo Rodriguez, who if rumours are to be believed, is wanted by every club needing a left-back, and even some that don’t as well.
Gustavo did a lot of the work that has traditionally gone unsung. The midfielder was in the top 10 Bundesliga players in terms of tackling, with an average of 3.4 tackles per game, putting him ahead of Sven Bender at Dortmund and Javi Martinez at Bayern. Gustavo also found himself in the Bundesliga top 20 players where interceptions are concerned, making on average 2.4 per game.
However, the Brazilian also had an influence going forward as well as back. Gustavo’s pass completion rate of 86.6% was again good enough to put him in the top 20 bracket in Bundesliga terms, a feat that is particularly impressive given the this was a field largely dominated by Bayern Munich. The four goals Gustavo scored in his 29 appearances was a decent return for a player whose responsibilities are mainly defensive.
This form is somewhat of a mixed blessing for Wolfsburg. Although it’s hard to paint of any of their players performing well in a negative light, this may be the case for Gustavo. The contract that the midfielder signed with the German club is believed to contain a clause that would let the player leave after the World Cup if a ‘big’ club were make an offer in the region of £20m.
However, Wolfsburg’s bad fortune is Arsenal’s good news. Nearly a year on after being rejected by Gustavo and Arsenal have yet to acquire of central midfielder of his ilk. Aaron Ramsey’s exponential leap forward was a boon for the club but the Welshman is different sort of midfielder. Mathieu Flamini appeared to offer an answer only to find himself falling out of favour as the season went on.
With Wilshere injury prone and Arteta turning 33 next year, again, Arsenal go into a summer needing reinforcements in central midfield. Gustavo would not be the most imaginative signing of the summer, and pursuing a player that rejected you is certainly odd, but this time round Gustavo’s priorities are different. And this time round his quality is only of greater certainty.
At 26-years-old, Gustavo is still young enough to represent value for money and could be the combative midfielder that the club has been missing since Gilberto Silva left. Luiz Gustavo was the man Arsenal needed last summer and he’s still the one they need now.