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Gremio to Barcelona, €40m

Arthur Henrique Ramos de Oliveira Melo, more commonly known simply as Arthur, was born in central Brazil and began his footballing career in his hometown Goiania before being scouted by Brazilian Serie A club Gremio. After impressive and consistent performances for the youth team, he was moved up into the first team squad by then manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Despite making his first-team debut in 2016, Arthur made only a single appearance that season, and had to wait until mid-2017 for a consistent spot in the starting XI. His breakthrough season was also to be his final full campaign in Brazil, as the announcement came in March this year that Gremio had reached an agreement to sell their young midfielder to Spanish giants Barcelona. A deal eventually worth €40m was agreed, with a scarcely believable €400m buyout clause included.

The 22-year-old, who is still yet to win a first cap at international level, has signed a six-year contract and has a playing style in central midfield that has drawn comparisons with the recently departed Andres Iniesta. It is perhaps no coincidence that the young Brazilian has been given Iniesta’s squad number (8) for the coming season, but they are some serious boots to fill. No pressure, then.

Tactical analysis
Arthur was primarily utilised as a defensive midfielder in his time at Gremio, but he does have the ability to play further forward in central midfield. He is most effective from the right, but can adapt to the left side when needed.

His ability to play searching forward passes, turning possession into genuine chances, is a key facet to his game. His deft chips and clips forward (above) are ideally suited to attackers who prefer movements in behind the opposing defence. His technique in delivering such passes is not dissimilar to that of Italian great Andrea Pirlo.

When a forward passing option is not available, Arthur has the balance and control to manipulate the ball away from pressure (below). His speed on the turn and swift movement away from pressing defenders are part of why the aforementioned comparisons with the legendary Iniesta have been drawn.

Perhaps the main weakness of his fledgling career thus far is his lack of craft when assisting a deep build from the goalkeeper. Unlike Barcelona’s current first-choice defensive midfielder, Sergio Busquets, Arthur hasn’t yet shown the consistent strength in passing required to combine and dictate play under pressure in deep areas. While he has the ability to dribble and twist away from markers, he is yet to show the composure to pass his way out of trouble. His looseness with the ball can result in losses of possession in dangerous positions within his defensive half (below).

Higher up the field, however, Arthur’s ability to retain possession is of the highest order. His pass success rate at Gremio was generally impressive – playing alongside the likes of Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and his countryman Philippe Coutinho in the Barca midfield should only improve it.

Role at new club
At Barcelona, it is expected that Arthur will be used as a more offensive central midfielder rather than a defensive midfielder; if he is to be stationed deeper, it is likely to be only as cover for Busquets. The 22-year-old’s ability to dribble from central midfield areas should prove an asset in his quest for a starting spot – only Coutinho of his main rivals in that area genuinely possesses this attribute.

His main competition for a place will come from Rakitic, who started Barca’s opening La Liga game against Alaves, Arturo Vidal, Denis Suarez and Sergi Samper. With Coutinho likely to start the majority of games, head coach Ernesto Valverde may want a more dynamic partner to accompany Coutinho ahead of Busquets – which may reduce Arthur, who is less of a box-to-box midfielder than Rakitic or Vidal, for example, to the substitutes bench.

That said, Arthur started a good number of pre-season friendlies and impressed, even getting on the scoresheet against Tottenham. He looks to have made a positive early connection with his teammates, so we can expect to see him feature regularly – whether from the start or as a replacement.


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