The second half of Arsenal’s trip to Brighton was reminder that while the Gunners have improved under Unai Emery, there’s plenty of work yet to be done.
Lucas Torreira has been a revelation but there are still a too many square pegs in round midfield holes.
Mesut Ozil is captain one week, dropped the next.
Departing Aaron Ramsey and inconsistent Henrikh Mkhitaryan seem unsure of their roles.
At 19-years-old, Matteo Guendouzi’s youthful exuberance is being moulded with every game, changing shape and purpose.
And Granit Xhaka is… well, Granit Xhaka.
You get the sense Emery is still searching for the right balance in midfield, and with the January transfer window around the corner he will have the opportunity to add new personnel into the mix.
If rumours prove to be true, Arsenal are willing to activate Ever Banega’s £18million release clause.
The Argentinian midfielder played under Emery at Sevilla for two seasons between 2014 and 2016, retaining the Europa League crown at the climax of both campaigns.
A few years ago, £18million for a 30-year-old would have raised a few eyebrows.
These days it’s a fairly nominal fee, particularly for a club of Arsenal’s stature and when you consider the form Banega has displayed this season.
Sevilla currently occupy third place in La Liga and Banega’s talismanic performances have been a decisive factor in maintaining touching distance with league leaders Barcelona.
Both tenacious and technical, many consider him to be the standout midfielder in Spain’s top flight this season — though plenty have also praised Banega’s compatriot Giovani Lo Celso’s efforts on loan at Real Betis.
Those who don’t follow La Liga will remember his efforts at the World Cup.
Banega was probably Argentina’s best player in Russia — although that’s a bit like singling out a Brussels sprout for being the least inedible.
Typical of a Sevilla player, he has saved his very best form for Europa League games.
Banega has scored four goals and provided one assist in his five European games this campaign — he takes most of Sevilla’s set-pieces, including penalties.
The Gunners midfield does not lack talent in its current state, it just needs a bit of direction, an identity.
A former Emery favourite would help in this regard as Banega could form a potential double-pivot with Lucas Torreira if the Spaniard wanted to to give 4-2-3-1 a whirl.
Get it right and the Gunners will prove stiff competition for Chelsea in the hunt for the final Champions League spot — assuming Liverpool, Spurs and Man City maintain their podium places.
Arsene Wenger was heavily criticised for fielding teams without enough steel and industry in the middle of the park.
Banega, like Guendouzi and Torreira, puts himself about.
Arsenal could soon boast one of the most combative midfields in the league.
How’s that for a hallmark of a new era?
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