Many believe that January is a difficult time for a football to bring in significant quality due to the nature of contracts and transfer value, but Arsenal managed to pull off a truly brilliant deal with the £27m signing of Leandro Trossard from Brighton and Hove Albion.
The Belgian has slotted seamlessly into the group and has already recorded a goal and six assists since arriving at Colney just two months ago. His ability to operate across the front line with effect and show little sign of discomfort offers Mikel Arteta an alternative to shoehorning players such as Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka into the first eleven every week.
Trossard was sublime in the stellar 3-0 win at Fulham – recording three assists in a scintillating first-half display from the Gunners. He frequently dropped deep to receive the ball with his back to goal and provided Arsenal with an alternative to attempting to play around Fulham’s sleeping defence. A very impressive performance from Arsenal’s best player on the day, which is admirable considering how the likes of Thomas Partey and William Saliba performed.
There seemed to be some uncomfortable rumblings coming out of the south coast before Arsenal put in an offer for Trossard in January. The Belgian seemingly had a major disagreement with head coach Roberto Di Zerbi and was left out of the match-day squad on numerous occasions before his inevitable departure.
Some speculated that the signing of Trossard might cause a problem for Arteta and his players, but after missing out on Mykhailo Mudryk to Chelsea the club had to make a move to protect the minutes and fitness of the crop that had put them in such a commanding position in the Premier League. The narrative surrounding the Belgian’s move to north London couldn’t have been wider of the mark.
Trossard’s contribution to this Arsenal team has been nothing short of exceptional. He has operated both in the middle of an attacking three and on the left as well as dropping deeper to join the midfield whilst the team are in possession. He came off the bench to score against Brentford at the Emirates a few weeks back and has started four of the last five in the Premier League since.
The most intriguing aspect of Trossard’s game is his incredible ability to retain the ball in tight spaces. He has the ‘Cazorla-esque’ tricky feet and is wired to keep the ball whenever possible. His hattrick of assists at Craven Cottage a fortnight ago only showcased this further, particularly after he burst past Kenny Tete and delivered a spectacular cross onto Martin Odegaard’s thigh for the Norwegian to smash home from close range. It felt like a moment where the Gunners saw themselves as the real deal – Odegaard and William Saliba both with the chest pump and the grin of a Cheshire cat towards the away fans was telling of the way they were feeling on such a brilliant day in west London.
Trossard joined Brighton in 2019 from Genk, with a solid record of 27 goals in 83 appearances during his time in Belgium. Since he arrived in England, the Belgian has provided a consistent threat across the front three for both Brighton and Arsenal. His seemingly natural two-footed ability has often caused Premier League defences a collective headache and has provided both Arsenal and Brighton with a different dynamic against those who like to set up deeper.
Arsenal’s signing of Trossard feels like Liverpool’s acquisition of Diogo Jota in 2020. A flourishing team full of stars on their way to potential Premier League glory adding to their overachieving squad to bolster their attacking ranks. The 28-year-old’s January arrival of course differs from Jota’s summer move, but they both provide something different that neither club had prior to those moves.
Along with the ability to drop deep and hold the ball up for other Arsenal forwards, Trossard is also a consistent goal threat. The forward has produced eight league goals from 5.8 xG (expected goals) in the Premier League this season – another stat that backs the notion of his excellent attacking output. Although he is considered as a consistent threat in front of goal, the Belgian isn’t gifted with the blistering pace of fellow Arsenal winger Gabriel Martinelli. The Brazilian was thought to be one of the Premier League’s most devastating attackers before the winter break for the World Cup, but his form dipped upon his return to Arsenal and was an isolated figure out on the left touchline all too often.
There is an argument to be had that Trossard’s introduction to this group has alleviated the pressure on Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. The latter has provided an exceptional contribution on the right side of Arsenal’s attack, putting up extraordinary numbers of twelve goals from 8.8 xG in twenty-eight appearances.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has often turned to the England winger to lead by example, especially since summer signing Gabriel Jesus was ruled out for three months after injuring his knee in Qatar. Some have floated the idea that Martinelli’s blistering form before the World Cup was down to Jesus’ ability to operate across the front line, bringing Martinelli into more threatening positions with brilliant results.
Fortunately for Arsenal, they no longer have that problem. Jesus’ short cameo at Fulham reminded the fanbase that he is the main man, despite a poor finish from point-blank range late on which went straight at Bernd Leno. It is unlikely that Trossard will struggle for minutes between now and the end of the season due to Eddie Nketiah’s ankle injury which has kept him out for several weeks, but the Belgian will want to keep his exceptional run of form going for the last ten games of what could be an incredible first six months at the club.
It seems ironic that Trossard’s first major trophy in English football may come after just twenty-odd appearances for his new club but may also be something of a fairy tale. His terrific contribution up to this point may not have been possible had Mykhailo Mudryk ended up in north London rather than west, but Arteta and his players will be ecstatic with how events have transpired since his January signing arrived at London Colney.
By: Tom Norton / @tomnorton_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Visionhaus / Getty Images