Would Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko fit into Arsenal’s midfield?
Sissoko, part of the Newcastle squad relegated from the Premier League last season, has already told Rafa Benitez he does not want to play in the Championship, and the dream scenario is to follow in the footsteps of his French idols at Arsenal – “the club of my heart”.
So, is there a scenario where the Frenchman could slot in at the Emirates?
What has he said?
Asked this week about reports he has been watched by Arsenal, the 26-year-old told Foot Mercato: “It is very flattering. Arsenal is one of the best European teams. To be watched by that sort of club, that proves that you are a quality player.
“Everyone knows, I often said it when I was young, Arsenal is the club of my heart, because there were quite a few French players there like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Patrick Vieira who was my idol.
“The beautiful Arsenal. We will see. I cannot tell you if I am going to go to Arsenal. For the moment, I am focused on the French national team and the Euros.”
Sound familiar? This wasn’t the first time Sissoko had opened his heart up about Arsene Wenger’s side, telling Telefoot in January 2015: “Arsenal has always been the club of my heart.”
Would he fit in?
Back in 2015, speculation was rife that he could be heading to north London. The consensus was that Sissoko was worth a punt for his strength, pace and versatility, but after a largely disappointing 2015/16 season, that view has changed.
He was criticised by fans, among other Toon players looked to as match-winners, for being largely absent as Newcastle’s Premier League status was threatened.
Positionally, Sissoko has had his best times at Newcastle in a central role, saying in April: “Everybody knows by best position is centre midfield.”
Too often during the 2015/16 season he was forced out wide, while also filling in at both sides of full-back.
If he was looking for a central role in Arsenal’s midfield, he would first have to shift the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin before even thinking about going up against the indomitable Mesut Ozil.
What do the stats tell us?
More of the same, unfortunately for Sissoko. His pass percentage rate of 76 in the Premier League is lower than all of Arsenal’s midfielders, while his fouls per game average of 1.4 is topped only by Aaron Ramsey.
However, he did pick up seven assists for Newcastle last season, higher than any player at Arsenal other than Ozil, and also won more aerial battles per game (1.5) than any midfielder at the Emirates.
The timing of Sissoko’s finest performance of last season speaks volumes. It came on the final day, a 5-1 win over Tottenham with the pressure off and relegation already confirmed.
St James’ Park was treated to the Sissoko show as he galloped through the Tottenham defence time after time, but there were no doubt more than a handful asking: “Where was this for the last eight months?”
Have stranger things happened?
Within the Emirates? Most definitely. Wenger re-signed 29-year-old Mathieu Flamini in 2013, after the Frenchman had played just 24 games in the previous two injury-ravaged seasons with AC Milan.
The timing was bad, and it irked some Arsenal fans. Wenger was under pressure to mimic Tottenham’s wild spending in the summer of 2013, but up to that point had only signed striker Yaya Sanogo on a free transfer, before splashing the cash on Ozil on the summer deadline day.
Five months later, with Arsenal top of the Premier League, Wenger brought 31-year-old Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom to the club on loan, despite a scan later showing he had damaged a vertebrae that would keep him out for six weeks. He played just four games, and Wenger had some regrets about the deadline day signing…
“I wouldn’t have signed him if we had another two or three days, but it was on Friday at 5pm,” he said.
Sissoko’s contract runs out in 2019, and although his value will nonetheless be reduced with Newcastle’s relegation, a move would make little sense. Wide-eyed affection aside, that goes for Sissoko, too.