Every year, dozens of midfield prospects attract the attention of Europe’s powerhouse clubs. Teams are always looking for that next generational player who has the potential to be a special talent. When a team is lucky enough to strike gold and sign a midfielder that lives up to the expectations, it can change the course of the team’s success for years to come.
For Barcelona, they are hoping that Arthur Melo can be that next generational midfield talent.
The 21-year-old Brazilian international is currently playing with Gremio. His sudden rise to the first-team was not expected by Gremio team officials. Like many other youth talents, the expectation is to gradually work their way into the first-team squad but in Arthur’s case, his impressive performances with Gremio B earned him an early call up. Even at such a young age, Arthur has transitioned into becoming a regular starter in all competitions for the team.
It has paid major dividends for both Gremio and Arthur as he was a major force in the team’s Copa Libertadores title winning season last year.
Arthur is now certainly on his way to playing for his dream club Barcelona, but it might be a while before we see him patrol the midfield. Barca’s board are hoping that Arthur will join this summer to bolster a midfield that is need of a makeover. Also, the injury to Carles Alena prompted a setback in Barca’s summer transfer plans so bringing in Arthur would help cover the depth of the midfield. Gremio’s club president Romildo Bolzan Jr has other plans in mind. Since Gremio is in the midst of the Brasileiro Serie A season and with the Copa Libertadores knockout stage set to kick off in August, the club hope that Arthur can stay until Janury and help the team win another trophy or two.
It is all a matter of when rather than if for Arthur’s arrival. So what could Barca expect from the young midfield prospect?
When a player is compared to one of the greatest midfielders of all-time in Xavi, it is bound to amass interest and intrigue.
In 49 total career games in the Brasileiro Serie A and Copa Libertadores, Arthur has recorded two goals and three assists. As is the case almost always with midfielders, basic goals and assists statistics are not a reflection of the contributions displayed on the pitch - just look at Xavi and Andres Iniesta for example.
An underlying driving factor in Barcelona’s rising interest in Arthur is his versatility in the midfield. He plays the central midfield position but can also alternate deep as an attacking midfielder or back along the opposing forwards as a central defensive midfielder. He can be control possession whether it is on the left, middle or right side of the pitch. While he has played the vast majority of games as a central midfielder, he is also comfortable rotating to other midfield positions.
“I’m a player who likes to have the ball at my feet and organise play. As a defensive midfielder, I see more of the ball, further back.”
His biggest strength as a midfielder is evidently his passing game. As a central midfielder, Arthur occupies a heavy amount of possession per game. Last season in the Brasileiro Serie A, he led all players in accurate passes per game at 69.0 with a completion percentage of 93%. This season, the work rate has increased as he is averaging 86.5 passes per game at a remarkable completion percentage of 96%. He has even completed at least 100 passes twice this season, a Xavi-esque statistic.
The majority of his passes and what he has excelled the most at is the short passing game. Regardless of his position, Arthur has illustrated that he can effectively maintain the flow of the game through his passes. Whether he is looking to build-up play or drop deep to receive passes, Arthur can effectively move with the ball and pinpoint his passes in open space or tightly defended areas.
Arthur is patient in space and strives to avoid misplacing passes that would lead to quick counter attacks.
Due to his position on the field, Arthur is central to building up play rather than creating the chances that would lead to assists. At times when he is positioned high up front, he has taken advantage of opportunities and created goal-scoring chances. As seen in the Copa Libertadores group stage game against Monagas in April, Arthur is capable of making the perfect pass that can lead to goals.
A strong quality of a midfielder must be to maintain composure when faced with pressure from a defender. It is a skill that midfielders can use to their advantage when dribbling past defenders or when making a run down the pitch. For Arthur, it is one of his most significant strengths on the pitch. He has great awareness of the space that he occupies and can maneuver himself out of situations where the opponent is orchestrating a high press.
On this play, Arthur shows his capabilities while facing pressure from defenders as he is able to recover possession and evade two defenders.
His ability to survey his surrounding areas and act quickly to respond to an opponent’s press tactics is a profound trait of his especially when considering that he has not even played 50 games for Gremio. He can break off tackles and also maneuver himself around tightly defended areas. Even for his strength and size, Arthur has impressed with his ability to respond to the physicality of defenders.
As seen in this play, Arthur uses his quick feet and agility to create space away from his defender and move into a position where he can direct a pass in the attacking third.
On this play, Arthur evades multiple defenders and moves the ball up the pitch with a long ball to the left flank. Once again, he displays brilliant skill and technique.
Controlling possession for long periods of time and combating a press are two of his strongest qualities as a midfielder. He can really frustrate an opponent, especially if a player has the duty to man-mark him. Over time, he should be able to improve and master both traits as he transitions over to playing against some of Europe’s top defensive midfielders and defenders. Arthur will be up against top quality players such as Arturo Vidal and Casemiro with their physical and aggressive tendencies to disrupt opponents’ play and regain possession. In Europe, Arthur will be sure to also see an increase in opponent’s high press tactics.
Now while Arthur has the ability to fend off defenders while in pressure, he can also employ an effective and impactful high press. Under manager Renato Portaluppi. Gremio are not patient when they do not hold possession but rather aggressively send players to the ball carrier to force a turnover. With Arthur, he is quick and smart to regain possession in order to move prevent an opponent’s potential goal-scoring opportunity when he is called to play back along with the backline as a central defensive midfielder.
On this play, Arthur shows his quick awareness by pressing high and forcing a poor pass from the opponent. He is then able to regain possession and begin to build up play in the opponent’s half.
As a central defensive midfielder, Arthur compliments his teammates very well. He has formed a strong tandem with Maicon while also looking to unselfishly move the ball out wide and inside. While dropping back, receiving the ball from the backline and pushing the ball upfield has added a new dimension to Gremio’s midfielder foundation. He can cover over a multitude of space on the pitch while applying effective pressure on an opponent.
On this play, Arthur loses possession on a poor pass but is able to fight for the ball and eventually regain possession seconds later.
As with many young midfield prospects, there are a few areas of improvement with his play.
At times, play can get stagnant for Gremio where the team controls possession and the ball is moving around the pitch at a balanced pace but it does not amount to serious chances. This is reminiscent of when Barca would dominate possession but lack that breakthrough play that can blow the game open.
In Arthur’s case when he is positioned up front as the central midfielder, he lacks the individual skill that could change the complexion of games. While he can create goal-scoring chances, it does not come on a consistent basis. He lacks the creative instinct that can break backlines and crucial passing lines in the attacking third, something that Barca is in dire need this upcoming season. Implementing an attacking mentality as well would set him apart and establish himself to be an all-around midfield talent
Arthur can also be passive while in possession. His unconventional slow play when he is surveying for a pass can dramatically impact the pace on the game. While he has completed over 95% of his passes this season, he can at times hesitate and hold on to the ball for too long.
As seen in this play, Arthur is tracking backwards and makes a lazy pass that would eventually lead to a turnover in Gremio’s own half.
Overall, Arthur is a promising talent with much potential. He is the type of player that would be deserving of the nickname “The Director.” When Gremio is in possession, play goes as Arthur goes. The quality of his play can dictate movement and direction on the pitch. Watching him play would make one think that he pre-determines plays even before they occur. The cool, calm and collected manner at which he plays balances the mentality of the rest of the team. In pressure situations such as when the team needs a goal or are under pressure to protect a lead, the team follows Arthur’s lead and ultimately remain composed.
Even with the heavy responsibility of having multiple roles, Arthur has delivered time and time again for Gremio.
How Arthur would fit with Barca
Arthur’s versatility as a midfielder gives him an unlimited amount of options for Barca. With his current high work rate, he can effortlessly transition into the high octane Barca system. Now this is not to say that Gremio are at the level of Barcelona but rather traits such as dominating possession and getting two players to the opposing ball carrier for a high press are characteristically similar to Barca’s.
The workhorse production that he provides for Gremio on a game-by-game basis has given him crucial experience that has gone a long way in his development and will help him further down in his eventual career in Europe.
Regardless of whether he joins this summer or next January during the winter transfer window, the 2018-2019 season will be a feel out season for Arthur. In a 4-3-3 formation, he can play all midfield positions. As Busquets backup under the central defensive midfield role or a controller midfielder, Arthur can adapt to playing both positions. Do not expect many starts for Arthur but rather sparse opportunities as he looks to get accustomed to Barca’s playstyle.
What will arguably be key to his success will be to have a strong and confident mentality. Many players that do not succeed at Barca underperform because the pressure can get to them or they struggle to live up to the hype. It will be difficult early on for Arthur to adapt to a different lifestyle, but he needs to remain focused and ready for the challenge.
The future is bright for Arthur. The best-case scenario for both the board and Arthur is that he can gradually transition into becoming a long-term starter for Barca, but the team must be patient. In the case that Arthur struggles early on, Ernesto Valverde must remain confident in the process and look to exploit his strengths. Arthur is a raw talent with an ambition to succeed at the highest level. If he can translate the same success that he had with Gremio and develop into a playmaker that can dictate games, then the potential to be a top-quality midfielder will become a reality.