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Luka Jović: Arsenal loan target?

A look at the out-of-favor Real Madrid attacker.

Elche v Real Madrid - Copa Del Rey Photo by Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images

The Luka Jović loan to Arsenal rumors came out of virtually no where this week. Well, I suppose they were born out of Dušan Vlahović heading to Juventus and the Gunners needing to look elsewhere for striker reinforcements. But we went from no connections between Jović and Arsenal to Real Madrid officially offering him on loan to the Gunners seemingly overnight.

The 24 year-old Serbian striker joined Madrid on a €60M transfer ahead of the 2019-20 season after a fantastic Bundesliga campaign at Eintracht Frankfurt where he scored 27 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions. He hasn’t found his scoring touch in Spain in large part because Karim Benzema has been playing so well and keeping him out of the lineup. He has really struggled for minutes — 0 starts, 11 appearances, and 250 minutes in La Liga this season.

I chatted with Managing Madrid managing editor Om Arvind to get the inside scoop on Jović.

Basically Jovic hasn’t worked out at Madrid because of Benzema. That lack of playing time compounded and was compounded by Jovic’s form — he had a bad game or two, missed a chance here and there, and suddenly he’s hardly playing and had little chance to find his level in Spain.

There was some small off-field stuff that popped up early on: he broke quarantine in Serbia very early in the pandemic, for which he avoided a 6 month prison sentence, and that prompted the Serbian press to say he wasn’t taking his chance at RM seriously enough. Who knows whether that was truly his mentality or just a young player making poor decisions and the press jumping all over it.

Stylistic assessment: Ideal in a two up top. Great pseudo-target man. Has elite chest control and can control a variety of balls coming into him. Specializes in quick layoffs to teammates available for the 2nd ball and to players supporting out wide. This is his primary way of contributing outside the box.

He has some ball carrying sauce and quick feet but more as secondary attributes - not go-two weapons. His box movement plays off of this heavily. Loves to attack the area as his team approaches goal from out wide (usually after one of his layoffs) and will stop and let the defensive line move away from him to create separation. So he thrives off of cutbacks.

He’s good in the air and puts himself in smart positions otherwise, but he lacks dramatic 1v1 traits/skills to shed defenders and get to deliveries reliably when the defense is set. Ideally, you want to put defenses in motion for Jovic to attack.

In a focused build-up system with very clear ideas of where Jovic is passing and moving, he can be quite valuable outside the box thanks to his physical and technical traits. This is aided by playing with another striker. In something more nebulous, like Zidane’s Real Madrid, where there’s one striker that just kind of needed to do everything and be a 9.5, Jovic often looked lost.

He won’t carry an attack by himself.

I think he can play effectively as a lone striker if his role is clear and the team works to accentuate the strengths I described above. But he’s somewhat of a strange profile in that he’s neither a typical 9 that fixes defensive lines and runs in behind a lot nor a 9.5. He wants to be involved in play going to goal but his involvement should be focused. If a coach can fit him in properly he should be great.

His numbers at Frankfurt weren’t a fluke. But Real Madrid don’t adapt like that for someone who’s not a first-choice player.

FWIW: MARCA just came out with a report saying Madrid maybe don’t want to let him go because Benzema picked up an injury recently.

Jović’s fbref profile is an interesting one. Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of it. The scoring numbers are obviously not great, it’s tough to score goals when you’re hardly playing. And Managing Madrid aren’t the only ones who believe in his talent; several people who watched him at Eintracht Frankfurt say that he’s the real deal.

From Om’s description, it seems like Jović would be a great fit for Mikel Arteta’s attack. He’s someone who can drop deep to help in the buildup, facilitate the ball getting wide (to players like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli), and then will get into the box to finish cutbacks and crosses.

I like that he thrives against defense in motion. That’s how I think Arsenal are best set up to attack. We’ve seen the goals like that since Mikel arrived at the club. Start with the keeper, get it up the field quickly, work it wide, find someone central, score. And even when the Gunners aren’t going the length of the pitch, the attack is designed to be direct. Something like Partey -> Saka -> beat a man -> cross. Or Xhaka -> Martinelli -> Tierney on the overlap -> cross. Or even Emile Smith Rowe -> Jović -> ESR’s run off Jović -> pass and shoot.

I don’t love that it would be a loan rather than securing a player for the future at Arsenal, but given the amount of time left in the window and some of the prices flying around, a loan might be the best option. The Gunners have had success recently with loans from Madrid, see e.g. Dani Ceballos and Martin Ødegaard. As one friend of TSF Twitter put it, “Arsenal could do worse than targetting Real Madrid’s fringe players.”

I’m sold. To be fair, at this point, it’s a relatively low bar to clear for potential attacking reinforcements: will they contribute more in the remaining 17 matches than Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah will (absolutely no offense meant to Lacazette or Nketiah, by the way)? If yes, sign them up. I think Jović fits that bill.