No Aouar, no Partey: Arsenal need midfield reinforcements to truly challenge Liverpool

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Arteta Partey Aouar Arsenal GFX
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The need for the Gunners to strengthen at the heart of their team was obvious as Mikel Arteta's side were beaten 3-1 at Anfield on Monday

In a way, Monday night’s game at Anfield was always going to be the warm-up for the main event at Arsenal this week.

Yes, there were three valuable Premier League points on the line, but a quick glance at the Gunners' record when playing on the red half of Merseyside in recent years told you all you needed to know about their chances of victory.

Despite coming out on top in their last two meetings against the champions - at the Emirates Stadium in July and at Wembley in the Community Shield in August - Monday’s clash was always going to be an incredibly tough ask.

Mikel Arteta admitted ahead of the game that Liverpool were still on a 'different level' to his improving side, and that gulf in class was clear as Jurgen Klopp’s title favourites came from behind to claim a 3-1 win.

There were some positive signs for the visitors, especially in the second half, and had Alexandre Lacazette not wasted a golden opportunity to equalise they could have returned to north London with a point.

But in truth they were comfortably outplayed by a Liverpool side whose first-half display showed just how much work Arsenal still need to do to be able to compete with the best this country has to offer.

“We are on a different journey to them,” Arteta said after the game. “They have been together for five years.

“They weren’t able to do what they did tonight two or three years ago, that’s for sure. So they have had a lot of good work, great recruitment and they improve the players that they have. This is what we have to do.

“They have set the bar, probably the best standard the Premier League has seen in many years. This is where we have to get to, but we still have a long way to get there.”

Arteta knows that his side is still very much a work in progress and that is why what happens in the next six days is arguably more important in the long term than what took place on the pitch on Monday.

The improvements that have been made since the turn of the year have been clear, but Arsenal’s midfield continues to be a major problem.

Arteta and the club’s hierarchy know it. That is why they have spent the summer trying to find a way to bring in Houssem Aouar from Lyon and Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid.

Houssem Aouar Thomas Partey

But with money tight and the market making it incredibly difficult to move unwanted players on, Arsenal have yet to solve the conundrum in the heart of their midfield.

It was an issue highlighted during the win against West Ham and further exposed at Anfield as Liverpool dominated the central areas and left Arsenal to feed off scraps.

The options Arteta currently has in the middle of the park do not allow Arsenal to control games, especially against the top sides. Instead it leaves them mainly relying on counterattacks to do any damage.

It is a tactic that has served them well under Arteta and it was key to their FA Cup success last season, but if they want to make the next step and really start being able to compete against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, then they need more in midfield.

The addition of Aouar would be huge. He is the type of player who can get on the ball, keep it and break forward to support the attack. He can operate as a traditional number 10 or in a slightly deeper central role between the lines.

But Lyon will not be letting their star man go on the cheap.

The Ligue 1 outfit have already rejected one offer from Arsenal, which was believed to be around £32 million ($41m), and remain determined to receive a fee far closer to the £45m ($58m) mark.

Houssem Aouar Lyon

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, who is known for a tough negotiating stance, ramped up the pressure on Arsenal just ahead of kick-off by stating he would not be sanctioning any player exits after Friday.

"We will tell the players that whatever will not be settled in terms of departures before Friday, there will be no more departures," Aulas told Telefoot.

"So for us the [closing] date of the transfer window will be Friday. From Friday, the players who have not left will not leave."

Whether Aulas will stick to that statement remains to be seen, but it serves as another warning to Arsenal, who desperately need to add some more quality to their midfield options before the window closes.

Liverpool enjoyed 66 per cent of possession during Monday's victory, making 766 passes to Arsenal’s 390.

The gulf in class was clear, and it was not until Dani Ceballos came on in the second half that Arsenal really began to get a foothold in the midfield area.

Why the Spaniard was left out of the starting XI only Arteta knows, but the fact Mohamed Elneny started - a player who was deemed surplus to requirements not so long ago - shows why Arsenal must strengthen.

Elneny is an excellent professional and he was tidy enough on the night, but he is not the type of player who will help take Arsenal to the next level. Aouar is, however, and so is Partey.

Thomas Partey Atletico Madrid 2019-20 GFX

The Atletico Madrid star has long been identified as a midfielder who could come in and immediately improve Arsenal, offering the type of defensive screen they have been missing for years.

But the problem is he has a £45m ($58m) release clause, and as it stands Atletico are insisting that the only way he will be leaving this summer is if that clause is triggered. That is something Arsenal have so far indicated they will not be doing.

So the next six days will all come down to whether the Gunners can find the funds they need to give Arteta what he wants.

Can they find buyers for players such as Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Shkodran Mustafi to raise some much needed cash? If not, will owner Stan Kroenke dip into his own pocket for once to help bring in what is needed?

Speaking after the defeat at Anfield, Arteta didn’t sound overly hopeful, saying: “We don’t have any news on new players.

Mikel Arteta Arsenal GFX

“There is a week to go. I think it is going to be really busy for all the clubs because not much business has been done.

“I don’t know for us how it is going to happen.”

Arsenal are on an upward trajectory under Arteta. The way they battled against Liverpool was another indicator of that. But he can only do so much with the squad he has.

He needs better players to compete, and that is why what happens between now and 5pm BST (12pm ET) on October 5 will ultimately be far more important to Arsenal's future success than what went on during the 90 minutes at Anfield.

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