Arsene Wenger is believed to be an avid fan of the industrious Frenchman, whose stock has soared this season due to a string of impressive performances for the Magpies, particularly against Chelsea and Manchester City, whilst Sissoko described Arsenal as ‘the club of his heart‘ during an interview with French TV show TeleFoot over the weekend.
A match made in heaven then; an athletic midfielder of Wenger’s fancy that’s actively pursuing a move to the Emirates, reportedly available for the reasonable price of £16million.
Then again, perhaps not.
Measuring in at 6 foot 2 and famed for his robust energy – particularly, those surging runs forward in central areas on the break – the France international certainly meets the demand for a ‘physical presence‘ in Arsenal’s midfield, made by Wenger during an interview with BeIN Sport back in September.
Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere are all fantastic technical talents, but the one-dimensionalism of their diminutive nature often renders the Gunners too predictable in the middle of the park – a case of too many likeminded cooks spoiling the broth; or should that be, too many cooks trying to walk the broth into the saucepan? Sissoko, although perhaps not a world-beater, would at least offer that intrinsically-required variation, a more diverse, dynamic avenue of moving the ball forward.
Yet, the 25 year-old’s speed and power, throughout his Premier League career thus far, has served him best in more offensive capacities. Last season, he became Newcastle’s unorthodox right winger and, subsequently, their most prolific creator with six assists in that role, whilst this term he’s been utilised almost as a poor man’s Yaya Toure, protecting without possession and driving determinedly on the break, in the pocket just ahead of midfield.
Another offensive midfielder, or at Sissoko’s most conservative description, another box-to-box, is the last thing Arsenal currently need. In fact, an overload of such personnel, the subsequent imbalance and the resulting requirement to field many in ill-fitting positions, is the precise conundrum that appears to be holding them back this season. It’s also the exact reason Wenger gave for his lack of interest in Real Madrid contract rebel Sami Khedira last summer.
The successes of the German World Cup winner’s career and that of Sissoko, thus far, are incomparable, despite allegedly being available for significantly cheaper this month; if Arsenal are to buy an unnecessary box-to-box, it may as well be the Bernabeu want-away.
What the Gunners require most is a proven holding midfielder – their seemingly eternal blind spot in the transfer market – offering others the licence to get forward and perhaps most importantly, plugging those gaps on the counter-attack taken advantage of so consistently by Arsenal’s opposition this season.
Physically, Sissoko possesses the natural requisites for that role, but it’s a transition that smacks of Wenger’s arrogant lust for pet projects and his adversity towards paying for the real deal. Mikel Arteta is an incredible footballer but his limits defensively, lacking the power, height, pace and awareness of the holding midfield talents on show at Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, have undoubtedly held Arsenal back over the last few seasons – manifested best by their continually poor results against top quality opposition.
If Wenger is to insist on such a conversion, perhaps highlighting the current dearth of world-class anchormen at reasonable prices, once again, it may as well be Khedira – an equally physical midfielder to Sissoko, proven at the highest levels of the European and international scenes.
In my opinion however, Khedira would neither truly fit the bill, being equal to Sissoko in his potentially detrimental adventurousness. Both constitute half-measured solutions to what has now become arguably the most important long-term issue Arsenal’s starting Xi currently faces.
Of course, Wenger, amongst others, will be quick to remind me that the January transfer window is never the ideal opportunity to buy, and with Arsenal’s Champions League status coming under threat this season, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.
But why spend £16million on a player that fails to fully address the issue at hand, purely to improve Arsenal’s form between now and May-time? A Sissoko should be for life – or at least, a good three or four years – not just for Christmas. Apart from ruining Wenger’s 18 year-record of participation – grab the tissues now chaps – would missing out on one season of Champions League football actually affect Arsenal that much?
It may be a rather unexciting, almost paradoxically-Wenger-esque suggestion, but if the Gunners can’t sign an out-and-out, well-established holding midfielder this month and Sissoko is the only viable alternative, they’re better off waiting until the summer.