Arsenal Analysis – Why Bissouma is a better buy than Locatelli

Why I Prefer Bissouma Over Locatelli by AI

The Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli is a pretty good central midfielder but I believe he is not more of what we need over Bissouma. In terms of how he’s used and the spaces he occupies at Sassuolo, he’s pretty much identical to Xhaka, which is a good thing. But we have a specific system here, a goal to maximize the team’s potential and a need to reach that goal as quickly as possible. Basically, we need to increase the overall potential and quality of how we play.

Look at how Ole’s system at United gradually looked better with better players. A similar thing is about to occur with Arteta’s Arsenal but we need to be careful and thoughtful about who we sign at this point. You can have many good players who can perform similar roles well for the same team but don’t max out the potential of that team at the same levels. Generally, most of our rumoured transfer targets improve us but they don’t improve us at the same levels. And that is the case of Manuel Locatelli.

Ordinarily, Locatelli is a pretty good/amazing like for like replacement for Xhaka in a pivot beside Partey (context is ‘pivot’). But that is a basic pattern of thinking that might lead us to a good but limiting player for the potential of our football. When we are in settled possession, Xhaka plays a LCM/LCB role for us, covering the space that Tierney leaves behind when he pushes high. In this role, Xhaka is meant to:

—Cover space

—Step out to win duels, headers and intercept opposition play/passes.

—Find advanced players with the ball at his feet or recycle it.

Xhaka is excellent at doing these. He mostly mops up whatever comes his way and distributes the ball impressively well.

Where is his midfield partner, Partey, in all this? Partey plays as a kind of lone 6 in the middle of the pitch. His job is to:

—Attract opposition players centrally to himself as the build up goes wide.

—Come short for the ball when building up wide is not possible or receive after.

—Find players in between the lines with progressive passing or recycle the ball or switch play.

—Delay counters/win duels/etc.


Basically, both Xhaka and Partey have extremely sensitive jobs in possession and out of possession. Sometimes, the role switches and Partey gets to play Xhaka’s role, but on the right, while Xhaka plays Partey’s central role. This is visible when we are attacking through the right with Odegaard, Saka, Chambers. Basically, we use a wide overload on each side of the pitch with as many as 5 players combining to find a free man.

Because we have Tierney on the left, Saka and Odegaard on the right, you’ll have seen our bias for either sides switch. Heavy left bias with Tierney and Smith-Rowe/Martinelli playing as wingers and the opposite when Odegaard is on the pitch. Changes depending on who we have.

So you could say that Arteta needs extremely capable midfielders who are progressive passers in possession and dominant out of it as his pivots (when we are attacking). Both Xhaka and Partey fit into this description. Xhaka is excellent defensively when the ball is ahead of him. The profile is that of a competent deep-lying playmaker in possession and a good defensive midfielder out of it.


Locatelli fits only one of this description. Xhaka’s defensive game in Arteta’s system is close to incredible. He’s so good at reading play, winning headers and intercepting passes when the ball is ahead of him. Locatelli does not provide the same level of dominance at winning duels on the ground and in the air with the ball ahead of him. Xhaka is not a pure 6 who can defend large spaces but if you give him a portion of space to protect he becomes a very good defender. This is a key aspect of good positional play. Defending is easier when you have only a small portion of space assigned for you to defend. You can anticipate better. Even if you are not normally a good defender. Cryuff has a famous quote on it.

The essence is that Locatelli is not as good a defender as Xhaka is. In fact, I’d say that Xhaka is so good at defending his assigned zone that Locatelli will be a considerable drop-off in defensive quality. That does not mean that Locatelli will be a stripper, however it means that we will struggle to keep teams pegged back when it’s Locatelli trying to prevent Zaha from tearing through his zone rather than Xhaka.

So Locatelli is basically having a technician trying to prevent a counter, except that he isn’t even much better than Xhaka in possession. So we lose a significant part of our ability to peg teams back while only adding a marginal gain at most to what Xhaka already gives us in possession. The difference in value provided by Locatelli to our system is therefore a net negative.

Imagine Locatelli in the 3-3 game at West Ham. The comeback becomes that much more difficult because while we are chasing a goal, we will still lose the ball and then have to deal with the physical monsters that West Ham have on the counter. Xhaka’s qualities mitigate that better.

Also, Partey’s instincts is to act more like an aggressive playmaker. With a primary playmaker like Locatelli in the side, it becomes a question of extracting the best value from our midfielders. Partey’s passing is very aggressive and quality. Do we want to temper that for Locatelli’s?

Someone like Bissouma who’s on our list of targets takes our ability to pin teams back to another level while offering a decent level of playmaking. Let no one deceive you; Yves Bissouma is a good passer of the ball, too. He’s no Locatelli but he can do the job well.

The ultimate dream is to have all of Lokonga, Partey, Locatelli and Bissouma. Gives us multiple options and fulfills the potential of our system. But that’s a dream that won’t happen for now. Bissouma (or a good duel-winner who can also pick a pass) is more of a net positive.

If we can somehow get a great deep playmaker who is also a great defender at the same time, we are going to do very well. But there are not many of them. (Partey, Frenkie De Jong, Camavinga, Rodri and that’s it). Ultimately, we need to choose between a slightly better playmaker or defender.

Locatelli and Bissouma represent either side of the option. And I am of the opinion that we are better off with the defensive option as he’ll helps us sustain pressure better.


Agboola Israel

Tags Bissouma Locatelli Xhaka


  1. I too prefer Bissouma to Locatelli because Bissouma is Premier League ready. Also I have seen him enough to see how he can fit in. As good as Locatelli looked in the Euros, we don’t know how he would translate to the EPL.

    1. Quite simple really.
      Locatelli wants to join Juventus.
      Bissouma wants to play for us.

      1. THIS. This reason alone makes me want Bissouma over Locatelli any day of the week. I dont want us signing players that dont have their hearts in it.

      2. NG, succinctly put, but difficult to refute. Arsenal needs players, who want to give 100% for the Club, so Yves Bissouma.
        The worst situation would be missing out altogether! Two upgraded midfielders required; time for action, not procrastination.

    2. 100% right, we should not target players for their names, rather than playing in PL. We need someone who is experienced in this league, and ready to play for Arsenal.

      Note: Has anyone noticed Buendia with Villa debut?

    3. I hope Edu and Arteta has access to this information.
      Bissouma, Aouar, Maddison, sommer, max aarons. Close transfers.

  2. Apart from a handful of Italian players who were successful in the PL a lot of them have flattered to deceive most famously Aquilani was a massive flop.

    1. I could only name a few, had to google the rest! Some I’d forgotten about and a lot I’d not heard of!

      1. My favourite was Benito Carbone and Di canio Sue although Di canio was already playing for a big club in the UK in Celtic before moving to Sheff Wednesday… Always remember the game against us and the push on the ref then scared Winterburn 😆

        1. That was hilarious and the way the ref went down – oscar!!
          Ravanelli – hat trick against Pool 👍

          1. Oh yeah I remember that I think it was debut too and he looked about 50 😆 haha yeah it looked like some kind of weird backward dance before he went down 😜

          1. Reading this article, one may mistake xhaka to having veratti ability. Funny enough, xhaka was actually substituted in the westham game you used to magnify is ability.

  3. Well written article but you massively overrate Xhaka’s defending. I won’t even go much into that. If we are going to use 4-2-3-1 then having a pivot of Partey and Bissouma is great. The reason why I want Bissouma is because he is like a Partey that plays DM. He can break the lines with his passing too and has very good dribbling and defensive ability and can also play box to box. This means the pivot will have the right balance between attack and defense. He is a really technically gifted DM that at times has a dominant presence in midfield. It would really be scary if a Partey-Bissouma pivot played to its max potential along with a solid AMF. I believe he is better on the ball than Locatelli and Neves too. They may be better passers but he is good at that too. I just wish we would not miss out on him

    1. @ Kev. Couldn’t agree more. Why haven’t we signed Bissouma yet? Seems like such a no brainer!

        1. Why’s he not ‘top of the list’? He should be one of our top targets, I suppose.
          Sometimes I wonder what’s going on with our transfer personnel.

    2. no doubt Kev…the very notion that someone would actually wax lyrically about Xhaka’s defensive exploits is unfathomable for anyone with eyes and even the remotest understanding of this game…as for your argument regarding the two players in question, I do rate Bissouma, in large part due to his potential to provide at both ends, as he’s played in both a deep-lying and more advanced role, but if I was deciding purely on footballing guile and their respective abilities to lift a club, I would take Locatelli, hands down…maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I hope the 4-2-3-1 formation isn’t in the cards too often moving forward, especially with the glaring lack of countering intent we displayed last season

      1. I respect that you would prefer Locatelli but imo he if Arsenal want to use Partey to his best and actually want the 4-2-3-1 to be effective against most if not all teams then they should go for Bissouma. I also think Locatelli seems the more exciting option because of his hype at the Euros and that he’s like a far better version of Xhaka. For me Bissouma takes it because he can actually be trusted to defend as a lone DM as well as having the technical ability to start attacks and dribble out of tight spaces. His passing at times really stands out. Thats a really underrated part of his game. He’s dropped some MOTM performances against top club stop. He can also be a cover for Partey and his qualities make him versatile to play with anyone in our midfield. This is such a no brainer.

        1. don’t get me wrong, the notion of a Bissouma/Partey partnership appeals to me, as I think a healthy Partey and the youthful exuberance of Bissouma could completely transform our engine room…I was just suggesting that in a perfect world, where our manager opted for a far more direct approach, I think Locatelli could provide both the required service and some much-needed secondary scoring…that said, I’m certainly not opposed to either option

          1. Oh yeah I actually got your initial point. I knew you weren’t making it seem like you didn’t want Bissouma or anything like that. I guess we all got preferences. For me Bissouma signing is a no brainer. I guess I’ll just leave Arsenal to dilly dally as usual just like how they clearly can’t make up their mind in signing a GK

          2. Cheers, here’s hoping that one of those two fine options comes to North London…your preference being far more likely than mine, but either way I would be chuffed

  4. Two comments.

    1. What do Arsenal do in January when their starting midfield, plus on of their backups disappears for AFCON

    2. If Locatelli is so poor defensively, why are his numbers better in every defensive category than Xhaka’s except headers where it’s close, with Xhaka ranked in the 77th percentile and Locatelli in the 72ed percentile by FBref.

      1. Yes it is. 9th of January to beginning of February.

        We will lose:

        Elneny, Partey, Pepe. Gabon didn’t qualify?

    1. 1. We’ve got Edu and Arteta onboard for such special purposes. They’ll just put on their boots and provide cover if there’s any shortage in the middle of the park.

      2. The management team need to invent a story to cover for their failure in luring Locatelli to the Emirates.

  5. Al So essentially you think Xhaka is a world superstar then! I cannot imagine how no decent team is desperate to grab our hands off for this “fabulous” players signature.

    Why not try writing about something REAL for your next article though and leave the fantasy writing to proven sci- fi authors !

    1. Just another “pro” management article, just to cover up their failure, when…
      1. The management team couldn’t tempt Locatelli to sign for us without any European football this season.
      2. They couldn’t offload Xhaka in this summer transfer window for anything closer to their valuation of the player.
      3. They couldn’t find the resources to sign Bissoma in this transfer window.

      Like I commented elsewhere, we’ll be seeing more such articles to garner support for the management team in the next fews weeks. Our management team is rattled because a major portion of the resources is locked up in the Ben White deal and they couldn’t make any money in this transfer window so far through player sales.

  6. Bissouma is an EPL proven DM, but imagine if we lose all our senior DMs to AFCON in January and February. It’ll be worse if one of our main DMs is injured, because of AFCON’s high intensity matches

    Therefore I don’t think we’ll sign another international African midfielder. I just heard another rumor about Teun Koopmeiners

    1. GAI
      It all depends, new signings sometimes may not be allowed to go for AFCON. We have seen cases like that between clubs and country. For what Arsenal wants to achieve next season a skillful EPL defensive stalwart like Bissuoma is really needed at Arsenal and I wish we can sign him.. T.Pathey is injury prone. That guy will allow our AM and strikers to flourish in front of goals considering the back is secured.. He is also good at playing the ball forward..

      1. I wonder how Bissouma’s entourage and Mali’s FA will react if Arsenal put a NO-AFCON clause in the contract

        I also wonder why AFCON isn’t shifted to June and July instead? Copa America did it

        1. As an African man I’m surprised you don’t know June/July is the month where rainfall is at its peak in terms of volume and frequency in Africa. I assumed you are from Africa if not I’m sorry to mistake for someone else.

          1. There are surely some football stadiums with retractable roofs in Africa? Each country that has millions of football fans should have at least one

          1. Yeah I found the news after reading your comment, but it will only happen in 2023. If Arsenal can prevent Bissouma from participating in AFCON for two years, he might be a good option

  7. I think arsenal will buy bissouma at the last moment before transfer window shut down because arsenal will loose out on locatelli…. arsenal just need to buy maddison and any good holding midfielder which I expect them to buy ……and transfer window business end.

  8. So done with the ponderous Xhaka. Ready for Bissouma and Sambi. Add Aarons on the right and we’re cooking with gas.

  9. i am actually very disappointed at this article. it began fine, comparing the two would be signings. then it went off field in defending our slowest player,mr.xhaka.i was also disappointed in the manner in which it was written, a very forceful opinion, and i think the author forgot he was writing his opinion,only, and not writing orders .i suppose this is arsenal, we will always disagree over a certain number of players, thats to be expected.again, i say the article was way too forceful, almost a carbon copy of the save the krankes seen on here a day or two ago. loosen up, its only a game.

    1. gerry, that is why I describe Agboola as a maverick. His views on Arsenal are extremely “left field”. He was referring to Xhaka – YES immobile, slowcoach Xhaka of all players – as if he was writing about Ronaldo. Unbelievable nonsense !

      1. absolutely agree with you Jon, i could not believe my eyes, bad and all as they are. i had to read the long article twice, just in case he was talking a football player.left of field, i would say left outside,in the dark !.

  10. If we are (and I very much doubt) the whole Locatelli issue doesn’t sit right with me. He apparently has made it clear that he doesn’t want us so why are we persisting in this? Stinks of the Cebellos deal who made it clear he only had eyes for Real Madrid and look at the disaster that was. If the player doesn’t want to play for us then move on.

    Bissouma (although I think would be a great signing) I don’t think is on Eduma’s radar. I think AFCON plays a part as well as we have Elneny, Chambers and if it happens White
    (AMN if he stays) that can play as the CDM. I don’t think he fits their Eduma’s criteria.

    If we buy a RB then I can see Chambers playing the deep lying midfielder and our priority would be elsewhere… ie AM.

    I have this nagging feeling that if the white deal happens then it will be one RB to replace HB and an AM to keep our new number 10 on his toes.👍

    1. Guess we gotta make do without a fixed second choice GK for this campaign, especially after it was revealed that our new GK from the academy will be our third choice for this season and nothing concrete about Runnarson or any new in-coming for that position.

      1. Oops… I forgot about GK… It won’t be a 20 million plus one, I can tell you that. Does Pepe Reina still play? 🤣

        1. Yes, he does. But, sadly he is out of our league.

          He is playing in the Europa League this season. 🤣

          1. 🤣🤣🤣

            I was gonna suggest Tim Krul but he is out of our league as he plays for Norwich City.

            I hear that the Celtic keeper had a blinder the other night in the Champions League?

            Let’s just bite the bullet and ask if we can have Matt Macey back on loan?

  11. We gon’ get Bissouma over the line now and fast. News just dropped that Neves just signed a new 5yr deal to remain at Wolves. Aside the Afcon being the only issue, am more confident about a Arsenal striking a Bissouma deal now more than ever.

  12. An incredibly long winded way of saying Bissouma is better.

    I think the Italian is good, but Bissouma has shown he can do it in the EPL.

    So my vote would be for Bissouma, because I think we will need another top defensive Midfielder.

    Hey, we are going to buy Maddison and Neves to provide the attacking options, so no need to worry there,(unless you are ESR of course).

  13. Is there any credible link we’re interested in Bissouma?

    But I agree. We need a more defensive minded midfielder beside Partey. I’ve seen Partey lose the ball a few times in dangerous positions last season. He needs someone a behind him to sweep any loose balls.

  14. The best way to solve this Locatelli/Bissouma debate: sign Renato Sanches and save 10M.
    With this 10M, we add AMN plus 25M to get Maddison. Midfield crisis solved.

  15. Brighton finished 16 in the table. They played a completely defensive system with long ball and counter attack to survive. They had 9 wins and finished 13 points above relegation. Please stop staying that this is a premier league ready player. Ready for what? A relegation battle? Mid-table? Arsenal should be buying players with quality to help them push for a title. If Bissouma is deemed that sign him. If locatelli is a better player sign him. Sign the best player you can at a position period. If the coach can’t succeed with top talent, than fire him and find someone who can. But The best Players win titles, with or without league experience.

  16. Uses Bossouma would be a huge addition to our midfield. His defense, dribbling and final touches are world class.
    When Xhaka goes, and we have to let him go because he is too volatile and mistake prone, we need Bissouma with his good temperament, work rate and ability on and off the ball.

  17. Wow! wonderful article. your illustrations were magnificent. Analysis was extraordinarily superb. However, I could sense a bit of exaggeration on Xhakas ability to defend. I concur Yves Bissouma would lift us big time.

  18. Bissouma is more Mobile that xhaka, good in footwork, there’s no need of buying loccateli

  19. I don’t think Arsenal’s problem now is a ball winning midfielder, if only we can get Artata to work with Torriera. That guy to me is more defensive than Bissouma and Locatteli put together.

    Just sign an Advanced playmaker, and we are good to go.

    Better Days ahead

    1. Efe, I too believe Torreira has been prematurely disgarded; however his cause would have been helped if he had concentrated on football, rather than complaining about being in England.

    2. Torriera is just not a good fit for us. C’mon now, he couldn’t make it into the first 11 at Atletico. Bissouma is a level above him.

  20. The best players to sign depends in the systems our coach is comfortable in, which speaks to the positioning of our players with and without the ball. Man city usually dont play two holding players. They have either Fernandinho or Rodri and mostly never both.. As we all Know Arteta wants to be the next Pep. Secondly, one of the reasons Xhaka is termed a bad player is his pace and movement. I dont think Locatelli has both to strive in the EPL if we want to use a system where he plays very deep and support the defence. I dream of him to join us, but is he what we need?? Do we have a similar player in our ranks?

    I like Bissuoma too, he is proven in the EPL, but for me he is a different player compared to Locatelli.

    So the coach needs to look at his team critically to know which player suits his style and the EPL.

    my dream signings for the remainder of the transfer window are. Aouar, Joaquin Correa, Bissouma, Feheir. White is already in the bag..

    Then offer Lacazette a two year contract, because any upgrade to him will cost us at least £70m.

  21. Please for the love of the club Bisouma is an excellent replacement for Xhaka
    The management should learn from the signing of Pepe over Zaha it took Pepe time to settle therefore That must not repeat it self if not Bisouma then Neves should be signed at least player who have adapted to English soccer

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