Youri Tielemans is one of Mikel Arteta’s top transfer targets this summer for Arsenal. The Leicester City midfielder has one year remaining on his contract and doesn’t seem close to signing a new one to stay with the Foxes. Brendan Rodgers will have to decide between selling him now or keeping him for one more year after which he’ll leave for free. Given how Leicester typically do business, my money is on them selling and reinvesting.
The Gunners are banking on that prospect as well, hoping that Tielemans’ contract situation will drive down his price. Reports are that Arteta is hoping to secure the Belgian’s services for somewhere in the neighborhood of £25m. My feeling is that he’ll move for a bit higher, perhaps as high as £35m, both because of his talent and because Arsenal aren’t the only team said to be interested in him.
Pursuing players on expiring deals seems to be a clear tactic for the Gunners this summer. Gabriel Jesus, another top target, is out of contract after this season as well. It’s a savvy move from the club, though not particularly innovative. And that’s fine. Sometimes the best move is the most obvious one. Arsenal need to find a way to stretch their money while also buying good players to improve the roster. Targeting guys who might be cheaper because their clubs are concerned about losing them for nothing seems a good route.
Tielemans fits the “good player” bill, in my estimation. Arsenal need a left-side #8. Even though Tielemans is primarily right-footed, he would fill that role nicely and be an instant attacking upgrade on Granit Xhaka in that spot. His advanced stats, especially his scoring, chance creation, and shot creation numbers, are impressive. His progressive passing also sticks out. That part shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who has followed Arsenal’s transfer business under Mikel Arteta — he wants midfielders who specialize in getting the ball up the pitch.
What does come as a (pleasant) surprise is his progressive passes received. That tells me that in addition to passing the ball forward himself, he continues up the pitch and makes himself available to get the ball back in attacking positions. And once he gets the ball in those spots, he loves to have a go at goal. Not captured in the stats is his reputation as a skilled ball-striker. Unlike certain current Arsenal midfielders, Tielemans gets his shots from distance on target and is a bona fide threat to score from outside the box.
The biggest question mark / concern with Tielemans is his defense. Those pressures, tackles, interceptions (and on down) numbers aren’t great. He has been accused by some in the media of having a low defensive workrate, which, if accurate, would not work with Mikel Arteta’s system. My recollection of Leicester City this season is that as a team they didn’t do much defending, so it might be difficult to separate any one players’ numbers from that overall issue.
I also have a distinct memory of Tielemans carrying the ball up the pitch, passing it off to a teammate, it going over, and him running 80 yards to win it back outside the Leicester box. Not that any one instance of something should be taken as establishing the general point, but it can color the analysis of his defensive aptitude. Perhaps it’s more an issue of technical and tactical skill as opposed to willingness. Mikel Arteta and his staff can coach Tielemans on where to be to intercept passes, when to press to win the ball back, and work to improve his tackling. As long as he’ll put in the effort and expend the energy without the ball, his defensive shortcomings seem like something that can be coached up.
I get the feeling that Tielemans to Arsenal is going to happen. The frequency of the links combined with who is reporting them and his overall fit for Arsenal’s needs (or at least the needs as determined by Mikel Arteta) makes this transfer rumor feel much like Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale last summer. The buzz has that same, consistent feel. The transfer will take time to work out the details, dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but to me, if feels like a question of when, and not if, Arsenal buy Youri Tielemans.