The pairing at the base of Arsenal’s midfield has been a problem all season long. With Granit Xhaka yet to settle, Francis Coquelin struggling for form, Aaron Ramsey perpetually injured and Mohamed Elneny’s season interrupted by the AFCON, Arsene Wenger is yet to find a consistently reliable duo.
However, the major issue for Wenger has not been the players he has available but, the one player he doesn’t.
Santi Cazorla will miss the rest of the season having not played since October and the midfielders creativity from deep has been sorely missed. Despite being a lynchpin for The Gunners, at 32-years of age, just a year left on his contract and two season ending injuries in 12 months, it’s unclear how much life is left in the Spaniard’s legs.
If numerous reports are to be believed, Mr. Wenger is lining up a long term replacement from the very same club he snapped up Cazorla from.
Pablo Fornals has impressed in Malaga’s midfield throughout this season and it appears he has caught the attention of the Emirates hierarchy.
Having been part of the youth system at Villareal, Fornals moved to Malaga in 2012, making his debut for the club’s B team two-years later.
Appearing 41 times in his first and only season with the B side, he scored an impressive 12 goals, earning him a call up to the first team for the 2015/16 season.
He made his debut for the Albicelestes in a 0-0 draw with Real Madrid and scored his first and only goal of the season in a 2-2 draw with rivals Granada. Fornals finished the season with 27 appearances, mostly from the substitutes bench.
This season has seen the 21-year-old become not just a starter but, a key player for Malaga, scoring four goals, including a brace against Valencia, and recording two assists in 19 games thus far.
With more goals and assists than Xhaka, Coquelin, Ramsey and Elneny combined, Fornals appears to be a more direct replacement for Cazorla than any player currently at The Emirates.
When delving deeper into the stats, Fornals attacking superiority is even more evident.
The one-cap Spanish international has created 22 chances for his team-mates this season, an average of 1.16 per game, while also making 21 key passes with a shot accuracy of 47%, outshining all of Arsenal’s deep-lying midfield options.
The Malaga man also posts good defensive stats. Winning 33 tackles, making 28 interception, five blocks and nine clearances, Fornals marginally trails Coquelin and Xhaka in all areas but, crucially, he is yet to make an error this season, unlike his midfield counterparts.
One concern about Fornals’ game is his pass completion. At just 77%, he trails miles behind high 80’s and low 90’s posted by the Arsenal quartet, clearly an area he needs to improve upon.
Fornals appears to be a good option for Arsenal. At just 21-years-old he lacks the experience of his compatriot Cazorla but, he has plenty of time to learn and improve, especially if his and Cazorla’s time at the club overlaps.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, young, Spanish midfielder, will probably cost around £20 million, right?
Fornals has a reported release clause of between £8.5 million and £10 million, a low risk bargain for a player who develop into a key player for Arsenal in the future.
Definitely a player for all Gooners to keep a close eye on.