Youri Tielemans is no-brainer bargain Arsenal or Manchester United should have signed already

Date published: Tuesday 5th July 2022 11:47 - Sarah Winterburn

Youri Tielemans in action v Arsenal

‘The next time Youri Tielemans is on the market there will be turmoil instead of tumbleweed,’ was the lovely but ultimately unprescient line in our ten central midfielders of 2020/21 rundown that saw the Belgian sandwiched between N’Golo Kante and Tomas Soucek in third place. Several spots below him were this summer’s Big Six central midfield recruits Kalvin Phillips and Yves Bissouma; Tielemans should absolutely feel slightly irked that he remains a Leicester City player despite being available for what in Premier League terms is a bargain.

Tielemans did not feature on last year’s list but that’s a consequence of playing fewer games for an injury-ravaged team that achieved far less. Football is largely about perceptions and the Belgian was perceived to be performing at a lower standard even though his per-90 stats showed admirable consistency in most aspects of his game. In reality, his defensive statistics were almost all improved as a faltering Leicester clearly needed him to be more combative than creative. And yet, here we are in the first week of July with Tielemans still a Leicester player despite being available for less than £30m. With Wolves thought to be asking more than double for Ruben Neves, that is a veritable steal.

He was expected to be the first man through the Emirates door, but instead we have spent weeks reading of Arsenal ‘cooling’ their interest while they chase a whole raft of attacking players they may or may not need. There have been teases of interest from Manchester United or Tottenham but ultimately, Tielemans is left in limbo waiting to see whether the Gunners firm up interest they have reportedly held since last summer. He has clearly outgrown Leicester but may yet face another season in ill-fitting blue.

The idea that Arsenal do not need Tielemans – as touted by some after the signing of Fabio Vieira – is ludicrous. This is a team that gave 27 Premier League starts to Granit Xhaka last season and ended the campaign feeling very grateful for Mo Elneny. Vieira is an exciting alternative to Martin Odegaard but Tielemans would be an upgrade on almost all Arsenal’s central midfield options with the possible exception of Thomas Partey. He is a no-brainer signing for any club with top-four aspirations but particularly one with a dearth of central midfield options.

Last season, Tielemans won as many tackles as Pierre Hojbjerg despite playing considerably fewer games and was comfortably in the same bracket as the traditionally more physical Bissouma and Declan Rice. The impressive Partey would have joined that group with a handful more appearances but Xhaka and Elneny can barely be mentioned in the same breath.

It’s a similar story for Manchester United, who are busy chasing a player who patently does not want to join the club for a price more than double that of Tielemans’. He would be a substantial upgrade on all their current central midfield options (as would Neves), playing as either a traditional 8 or as part of a double pivot. “Tactically, he is so strong. Technically, he can play fast because his vision is so good,” said Brendan Rodgers last year. Does that sound like a player Manchester United or Arsenal could do without?

Of course, the transfer window is far from closed but it seems ridiculous that a player so talented and yet so available has not been bought with the minimum of fuss. Is he a victim of familiarity breeding if not contempt then complacency? Has he become such a complete midfielder that his role is too undefined to covet?

Perhaps it’s a numbers game and Arsenal need to move players out of that midfield area (Lucas Torreira and Ainsley Maitland-Niles) but if Arsenal – who have been far from shy about spending money – go to Leicester in August facing rather than boasting Tielemans in their ranks, they will have missed a trick so obvious perhaps it feels like a trap.


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