Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Ruben Neves is a top Arsenal transfer target this summer. Sky Sports reports that the Portuguese midfielder is one of Mikel Arteta’s top targets in a summer where the Gunners could bring in four or more first team players. Wolves are thought to value Neves between £50M and £60M, and manager Bruno Lage has said he thinks Neves could fetch £100M.
That’s a bit of hyperbole from the Wolverhampton boss, but with Manchester United, Tottenham, and Barcelona said to be interested, a bidding war could drive Neves’ price tag up. If the Gunners act quickly, they should be in pole position to complete the deal given United’s murky manager / director of football situation (and interest in Declan Rice), Spurs’ acquisition of Rodrigo Bentancur, and Barcelona’s financial struggles.
Ruben Neves would fill a glaring need for Arsenal — cover for Thomas Partey / a Granit Xhaka replacement. Partey was the one player the Gunners could least afford to lose to injury because nobody in the squad can do what he does. Neves can. According to fbref, Partey is Neves’ 4th most similar comp across all the major European leagues. Sidenote: the Arsenal-linked Douglas Luiz is the 7th most similar.
I’m sure Mikel Arteta would deploy Neves and Partey together in matches where the Gunners need the additional midfield steel and ball-winning. But buying Neves would also allow Arteta to rest Thomas Partey, which would decrease the risk of fatigue-related injuries.
One of the “drawbacks” to signing Neves is that I don’t know how well he would fit the more advanced, left-side #8 role that Xhaka was playing before Partey got injured. Neves is a ball-winner and progressor, not an imaginative, chance-creator. He gets the ball to the more technical, creative players, and less the guy who does tricky, inventive things himself.
On the other hand, Neves’ range would allow Arteta to revert to the double pivot (if he wanted) without sacrificing as much on the attack. Both Neves and Partey have the ability to get far enough forward to contribute around the box while not leaving the side as exposed defensively simply because they are faster, more athletic, and cover more ground than Granit Xhaka.
Ruben Neves is a solid player, highly-rated by a number of respected pundits, writers, and apparently, by Mikel Arteta and Edu. I don’t rate him quite as highly. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a strong player. But I’m not convinced he’s the superstar-in-the-making, dominant midfield force others believe he is. In Wolves’ two Premier League matches against Arsenal this season, I was not impressed. His aggression and impatience in tackling led to him getting beat multiple times by several Arsenal players. Thomas Partey was significantly more influential in terms of controlling the center of the pitch and the tempo of the match.
Patience can be learned. Neves can be calmed down as a player. I think Mikel Arteta is particularly well-suited to do that with a #6 given his calm demeanor and controlled style from his own playing days. Arteta has already channeled some of Gabriel Martinelli’s over-exuberance into more disciplined aggression — I see no reason why he can’t do the same with Neves. And “Neves was outdueled by Thomas Partey” isn’t the most damning criticism player, especially given Thomas’ excellent form before getting hurt.
What I’m getting at, basically, is that if the Arsenal braintrust think Ruben Neves is a good buy, I’ll back that assessment. They’ve earned a fair bit of leeway in my book after an impressive summer transfer window, and I can see the attributes / strengths Neves has that would make him a good fit with a bit of coaching from Mikel.
And his comments about Arsenal celebrating are just noise. It’s fun banter, nothing more. It shouldn’t (and won’t) affect anything should he come to Arsenal.