If Mikel Arteta has to choose between transfer targets for the January window, then it’s really no choice at all. The Arsenal manager should prioritise signing Wolves’ winger Pedro Neto over Brentford striker Ivan Toney.
Arsenal are said to be keen on both Premier League performers and could make a move for either in the winter window, according to Ryan Taylor of the Sunday Mirror. Although the Arteta revolution is propped up by copious piles of Kroenke cash, the Gunners don’t need Toney, but a player with Neto’s skills is becoming something of a necessity.
The need for a wide man who can go past people and run the byline has been compounded by injuries to Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard. Their absences are yet to be felt, in terms of Arsenal’s performances and results, but it would be a different story if Bukayo Saka had been injured for a prolonged period.
Saka had an injury scare during the recent 4-0 win away at Bournemouth, and while he’s since returned to training, the winger’s importance can’t be overstated. It’s Saka who provides that something special to translate steady possession into decisive, goal-based cutting edge.
Martinelli’s also a budding star, but he’s not quite at Saka’s level yet. Nor do Arsenal have another wide player as gifted in as many ways as the England international.
Neto would solve the problem.
Neto offers everything Arsenal need
Goals, running power and a keen eye for a pass. Neto possesses the lot in abundance. He’s been proving as much with some electric performances this season, including a star turn against Liverpool, highlighted by Squawka.
Those assists and chances created ought to add a gleam to Arteta’s eye. They are proof of Neto’s ability to marry guile with athleticism, a combination that’s also the hallmark of Saka’s game.
Neto’s efforts against Liverpool went to waste when Wolves were beaten 3-1 by the Reds in September, but it was a different story against another of the Premier League’s stalwarts.
Wolves shook up the title race by handing Manchester City a rare defeat last time out, and Neto was at the heart of the unlikely 2-1 win. His engine and purpose proved too much for Pep Guardiola’s treble winners to cope with, especially when he powered over half the length of the pitch to tee up the opening goal.
This kind of pace inspires the rapid transitions from defending to attacking Arteta so often relies on Saka and Martinelli to produce. Trossard and Reiss Nelson, while highly capable attackers in their own right, don’t stretch the pitch with this level of verve and ruthless efficiency.
Arsenal’s strength under Arteta lies in the wide positions. Adding another gifted player to the area would only reinforce what his team does best.
That makes Neto a better investment than Toney, whose arrival would block the path of more than one useful striker already on the books.
Arteta should end striker search
Toney could cost “north of £70 million,” according to The Times (via Football 365’s Jason Soutar). That’s a lot to pay, even for a big spender like Arteta. It’s too much to pay for a position where Arsenal already have enough options.
Gabriel Jesus’ experience playing wide at City has come in handy with Martinelli and Trossard out, but Arsenal’s No. 9 is ultimately exactly that. Jesus is at his best for the Gunners when he’s playing with his back to goal or dropping into midfield to create space through the middle for Saka, Martinelli or Martin Odegaard.
Even if Jesus is out of form, Eddie Nketiah has done enough to prove he can lead the line. Nketiah’s always an easy target when a result goes against Arsenal because he’s not a powerhouse centre-forward in the traditional sense like Toney.
Instead, Nketiah is a live-wire who presses as relentlessly as any striker. He also has a knack for scoring a clutch goal. See against Fulham this season.
Nketiah and Jesus give Arsenal what’s needed up top. There’s also the option of moving Kai Havertz to the tip of the forward line, although Arteta appears determined to make the German a success in midfield.
Putting Havertz or Jesus through the middle makes people nervous because it means Arsenal often play with a so-called ‘false 9’. That’s just the point, though.
Not having a fixed focal point is precisely what makes Arteta’s team so dangerous going forward. The freedom and fluidity to exchange positions, overlap runs and present defenders with different threats to worry about at any moment gives Arsenal an edge.
Toney’s arrival would blunt that edge.