Why Arsenal want to sign Riccardo Calafiori

  • Arsenal hold an interest in Italy defender Riccardo Calafiori
  • Calafiori played a starring role in Bologna's Champions League qualification
  • Gunners are not aiming to replace Gabriel in defence
Arsenal hold an interest in Bologna defender Riccardo Calafiori
Arsenal hold an interest in Bologna defender Riccardo Calafiori / Claudio Villa/GettyImages

Arsenal's interest in Bologna defender is very much concrete, Fabrizio Romano has confirmed that.

The transfer guru writes that the Gunners have 'presented a long-term proposal' to Calafiori, with the player open to a move to north London. Arsenal are taking charge of this race with Bologna unwilling to sell to domestic rivals Juventus. Chelsea are also in the hunt, but the Gunners seem further along in their pursuit.

Calafiori rose to prominence under Thiago Motta at Bologna last season, performing a unique role that allowed him to drive out of defence and contribute heavily to the Rossoblu's slick possession play. His 2023/24 campaign ended with a brace against Juve, but his meteoric rise meant there was always a chance that would be his last game for the club.

With Motta out of the door and potentially Calafiori and Joshua Zirkzee following suit, Bologna have been cruelly gutted ahead of their first Champions League appearance (they haven't qualified for the competition since its rebranding in 1992) next season.

Calafiori's stock has only risen over the summer at Euro 2024. While Italy endured a miserable tournament, the chiselled defender returned to his homeland with his reputation in tact. It was his driving run and combination in the middle of the park that set up Mattia Zaccagni's equaliser against Croatia which sent Italy into the knockout stages.

Arsenal are now hoping to wrap up a deal, and for those staunch defenders of Gabriel Magalhaes, don't fear; the club aren't signing Calafiori to usurp the Brazilian.

Arsenal would not be signing Riccardo Calafiori as a Gabriel replacement

Gabriel is not getting replaced this summer / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Despite the return of Jurrien Timber to full fitness before the end of last season, Arsenal are in the market for a left-sided defender this summer. Ajax's Jorrel Hato was of interest, but the young defender's recent contract extension rendered any deal tough to pull off.

Thus, Arsenal have seemingly pivoted to Bologna's cult phenomenon. Mikel Arteta likely views Calafiori as a multi-faceted defender who can provide solutions in a myriad of roles. Under Motta, the Italian showed his comfort in possession in multiple zones. He performed as a centre-back in back threes and fours, was shuffled out to left-back on occasions, and often drifted into midfield to contribute to Bologna's build-up.

Calafiori is not your typical centre-back, but there's nothing gimmicky about his profile. He's supremely gifted in possession (just look at FBRef's scouting report), but he can defend too. The Italian is an aggressive defender who's adept in a high line. Last season, he topped the Bologna charts for most interceptions (60) and aerial duels won (50) in Serie A. He can certainly offer cover for Gabriel when necessary, but Arteta is set to view Calafiori as an obvious upgrade on the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Jakub Kiwior. These two often filled in at left-back in Timber's absence last season, but both have distinct flaws.

Calafiori combines Kiwior's defensive steel with Zinchenko's comfort in possession, perhaps rendering both surplus to requirements should he make the move to the Emirates.

The Italian supplies Arteta with the variation, versatility, and unpredictability he craves, but supporters do not need to sweat over the status of Gabriel, who enjoyed a superb 2023/24 campaign, alongside William Saliba. Arsenal are not signing Calafiori for that purpose.