Lille is a fascinating talent factory. Ensconced in the top-flight of French football, they have been the breeding ground of some of Europe’s most talented players. Only last season, Arsenal shelled out 72 million euros for their talismanic right-winger Nicholas Pepe.
Lille has spawned many top footballers including Rafael Varane and Gael Kakuta, plus stars from other walks of life including the painter Emile Bernard, philosopher Alain De Lille, a few female poker players and the ex-President Charles De Gaulle.
This time again, Lille have another emerging supertalent on their hands in Boubacary Soumare and Europe’s top sides are on alert. His availability is not in doubt; Lille are open to selling this month — that’s not the key question. The key question is: does he fit into Arteta’s Arsenal?
In Arteta’s new-look Arsenal, Xhaka, Torreira and Ozil are the starting midfielders. But they do not occupy the same space on the pitch as Mesut Ozil moves up to join the attacking line when Arsenal are in possession of the ball. This leaves Xhaka and Torreira alone in midfield. Xhaka then has to sidle up to the left handside of the midfield to cover for Kolasinac who has also been given license to move up and play like a winger. There is a lot of space left then to the right of Torreira and Arteta addresses this by moving the converted rightback, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, inside to occupy that space. Torreira plays in front of the defenders, providing an option whenever the central defenders have the ball and making sure nothing passes through when Arsenal are out of possession. Xhaka is to set the tempo through ball distribution and support Torreira in the defensive phase. This leaves no space for the likes of Guendouzi and Joseph Willock who had previously enjoyed plenty of playing time under Emery.
Ideally, Guendouzi is to be Xhaka’s understudy. He has the qualities to play in Xhaka’s role and ultimately replace the Swiss. On the other hand, Lucas Torreira, playing as a defensive midfielder, has no natural replacement in the squad. Both Willock and Smith-Rowe cannot operate in his role and hence the rumours that Arsenal are in for Lille’s 20-year-old midfield gem.
Strong. Rapid. Mobile. Powerful and well-built, Boubacary Soumare is the perfect understudy for Lucas Torreira. His ball-carrying abilities makes him even more suitable for that deep role in the midfield. And his Champions League performances against the likes of Chelsea, Valencia and Ajax show that he has a place among Europe’s elite young players. With nearly 50 appearances in all competitions at such a young age, the hype is deserved and real.
Chelsea, Napoli, Tottenham and Real Madrid are also interested with the Spanish side reportedly leading the race for now. Lille’s transfer board are a savvy bunch and will be looking to start a bidding war but Arsenal have two distinct advantages.
The presence of Nicolas Pepe, his teammate, can be a defining factor, as well as the presence of other French stars such Lacazette and Aubameyang. Soumare might also look at Matteo Guendouzi’s steady progression with the club as a favourable omen. And it needs not be said that Arsenal have a unique advantage when it comes to French youngsters looking to advance their careers.
The second advantage Arsenal might enjoy in the race to sign Boubacary Soumare is the positive relationship between Raul Sanelhi and the Lille board. Their sporting director, Marc Ingla, had worked extensively with Raul at Barcelona and has remained on good terms with him. Perhaps a telephone call to an old friend would be a good thing?
Whatever Raul and Edu end up doing, they must find an athletic defensive midfielder capable of deputizing for Lucas Torreira. A young player with an upside such as Soumare would be ideal. The question is, will the club’s hierarchy sanction the transfer if it might involve a considerable sum?