One of the stand out players in the last 18 months of english football has been Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips.
Under Marcelo Bielsa, the man nicknamed the “Yorkshire Pirlo” has gone from Championship plodder to one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s team sheet.
With Leeds struggling towards the bottom of the table, this summer will probably see some of their better players leave to challenge themselves at a higher level. Phillips and Raphinha will be the first two out of the door.
Whilst the Brazilian puts in the head line performances, it is the Englishman that Arsenal should be targetting.
Despite investment, Arsenal are still struggling in midfield.
Granit Xhaka still blows hot and cold whilst Thomas Partey has struggled to reach the heights of his time in Spain – the feeling is the English game is just too quick for him.
Albert Sambi Lokonga looks a talent, but is not ready. Whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles will never be ready (and might make a good make-weight going the other way to Leeds). Mo Elneny will probably leave in January.
That leaves us in need for a new central midfielder.
Phillips turns 26-years-old in December so will be a slight move away from the 24-and-under policy we had last summer. But with his ability and Premier League experience he is a no brainer.
At times for Leeds, he is a one man midfield. The lynchpin. Putting in the defensive effort as well as being the man to drive the team forward.
For England he plays a little further forward – with Declan Rice in behind him. This is more of the N’Golo Kante role where he is then free to get around the pitch, press and win the ball higher.
Signing Phillips would give Arteta the option of Partey, Xhaka and Phillips in midfield. If we get European football next season there is certainly the games to require 3 top central midfielders.
And in a twist, for me it would be Phillips plus one.
What is clear and obvious firstly is of the 3 Granit Xhaka is easily the best passer.
This should be no surprise and it was why last summer we were looking for a midfielder who could replicate Xhaka’s ability to dictate play from the middle of the park.
Xhaka leads almost all the more detailed passing statistics – volume, completition, forward passes, successful longer passes.
it is the Partey against Phillips statistics that are most interesting.
In almost every case, Phillips out performs Partey. It is only in pass accuracy he is a little bit down.
We then move onto defensive contribution.
If Xhaka was clearly the best passer of the trio, Phillips is easily the best defender.
He comes out top of all 4 categories above and the majority of the deeper statistics.
The only defensive contribution he does not lead is clearances – Partey ahead due to his influence at corners.
It is also interesting that Xhaka is also ahead of Partey in defensive contributions.
This would indicate that the best partnership would be Xhaka and Phillips, with Partey providing cover for both.
In reality, we would probably end up rotating all 3 due to how many games they will play and injury.
Signing Phillips would relegate Sambi to 4th choice, but sooner rather than latter Xhaka or Partey will leave which will promote him.
Some might be reading this thinking “oh it means we keep Xhaka”.
The difficulty with Xhaka is he has a specific skill set. He can provide defensive cover whilst also dictating play. There are not many in world footbal lthat do both – Locatelli and Jorginho are two that spring to mind.
If you lose him without replacing, you would need to change the style of play – becoming more like Liverpool where yo uhave runners in the middle rather than passers.
Even if we changed to this sort of midfield, it would then be Phillips and Partey starting.
The only question is whether Arsenal could compete for Phillips if he came on the market.
Liverpool have also been heavily, with Phillips replacing that higher pressing that they lost when Georgi Wingjaldum left. He would provide good competition for Fabinho and Jordan Henderson – with Naby Keita likely sold.
Phillips would also improve Manchester United’s midfield, whilst you can not discount Manchester City buying a player they do not need just to stop others.
He would be the best midfielder at Tottenham and they would be the only “Big 6” side who could gaurantee him starting week in week out.
If Phillips is available next summer, he will be not short of offers.
Hopefuly Arsenal can get Champions League football and put together an attractive enough package to lead the race to sign him.