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The Arsenal midfield overhaul: who joins, who stays, who goes

What will the Arsenal midfield roster look like come the start of the Premier League season?

West Ham United v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Arsenal are heading towards a significant midfield makeover in the summer transfer window. The Gunners are progressing towards an agreement with West Ham for Declan Rice. They’re targeting a move for Romeo Lavia from Southampton. Thomas Partey may be on the way out. And new reports are that Jorginho, despite interest from multiple Serie A clubs, wants to stay at Arsenal this season.

Further forward in the formation, Granit Xhaka is expected to move to Bayer Leverkusen. Kai Havertz is close to joining from Chelsea. The scuttlebutt is that Arsenal want to ensure they’ve got replacements lined up before sanctioning departures, namely Xhaka and potentially Partey. Sambi Lokonga may also be on the move. It’s not clear whether that will be another loan or a permanent transfer. Burnley appear to be the likely destination because of Belgian manager Vincent Kompany’s admiration for the young midfielder.

Mikel Arteta plans to rebuild his midfield around Declan Rice. The 24-year old England international will walk into the starting XI at Arsenal and be the midfield engine that provides box-to-box coverage and energy that an aging, oft-injured Thomas Partey cannot. Romeo Lavia, should he join, will be his understudy and an option to play alongside Rice should Arteta elect to play two deeper lying, athletic midfielders in a double pivot.

Arteta seems to prefer the single pivot, which asks a lot of the player in that role — previously Partey, expected to be Rice. Those heavy demands likely contributed to Thomas Partey’s difficulty in staying healthy. Should Arsenal elect to keep Partey at the club for another season, a significantly decreased workload should help him stay fit and in form. If Arsenal sell Partey, I’m certain they’ll bring in Lavia (or someone else) to ensure that Declan Rice doesn’t experience similar overwork issues.

With each passing day, it appears increasingly likely that Thomas Partey will leave Arsenal this summer. When the season ended, there wasn’t any indication that he’d be going anywhere. Some, myself included, suggested that given his age (the wrong side of 30) and inconsistency, he could be nearing an exit, but that was mostly speculative. Then in mid-June, the rumors of interest from teams in the Saudi League started to trickle out. Now there is reported interest from Europe as well, and Saudi teams are prepared to pay €40M for his services. It still may not happen, but we’ve gone from what appeared to be a zero-percent chance to at least 50-50.

Jorginho’s role likely won’t change much, regardless of what other business the Gunners conduct this summer. The Italian doesn’t have the athleticism to play the single pivot in the same way as Partey or Rice, but his ball retention and passing is still world class. He’ll be a rotational option, backup, and experienced, trusted substitute that will start in the cup competitions and likely have some Premier League starts in “easier” matches sprinkled in.

Mikel Arteta will bring Jorginho off the bench late in matches to help kill off games. If you have the ball (his specialty), the other team can’t score. And Jorginho has got a bit of attacking pop left too, as we saw against Aston Villa when his rocket shot created the game winner. It’s also not all that bold to predict that at some point next season, a pass from the substitute Jorginho will unlock a stubborn deep block to setup a result-earning goal.

It’s not hard to see why Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are looking to retool the midfield. The majority of the squad is pre-peak or just entering their peak performance years. The midfield, specifically Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, and Jorginho, is a glaring outlier. Partey and Xhaka both played significant minutes last season — they were part of the preferred XI and basically started every match for which they were fit.

The rebuild may have been the internal plan all along. But it’s striking to think that we’ve gone from “yeah, Arsenal may / probably will bring in Declan Rice this summer” when the season ended to “the midfield depth chart will probably look significantly different come the start of the next Premier League season” in the space of a few weeks at the start of the transfer window. Don’t you love the silly season?