Over the past couple of decades, Arsenal fans have gotten used the sight of star players leaving and then shiny new ones replacing them. There are many replacement stories with varying outcomes for Arsenal and the player but this summer the Gunners find themselves trying to replace a player with so many different skills it could prove almost impossible. That player is Welsh international Aaron Ramsey, who leaves to join Italian giants Juventus on a free transfer.
Ramsey in his Arsenal career has played right midfield, centre midfield as part of a 2, centre midfield as part of a 3 as well as recently playing behind the striker in a number 10 role. This versatility along with a superhuman engine and a knack of scoring important goals as well as no lack of skill means Arsenal are looking for one heck of a player.
The player being heavily linked with Arsenal and that replacement job currently is Italian international Nicolo Barella of Cagliari. From what I have seen and know about him, he seems a very skilful player who likes a tackle who can dribble for fun.
To get a far better insight I spoke to the Senior Editor, Social manager of Italian Football Daily and senior writer for These Footy times Matthew Santangelo.
JH: Hi there Matthew, so give us a little background about Nicolò Barella, when you first became aware of him and when he first started showing off his talents?
MS: Nicolò Barella is a born and bred product of Sardegna and the Cagliari system, so this area and club are all he has ever known which has worked in his favour. The comfort taken from residing in this same area has afforded Barella the benefit of a healthy developmental process and this familiarity, I believe, is what has helped him grow into the talent we see today. I first started watching him a few seasons back in his return from his loan spell with Como in Serie B. During the 2016/17 Serie A campaign, I got a real glimpse of his potential and ability to balance quite a bit of midfield responsibility, but also the pride he took in being a key man for his boyhood club.
JH: What kind of player is Barella? Is he a midfield destroyer, play-maker, what are his key skills?
MS: Over the past few seasons, I’ve seen Barella play virtually everywhere in the midfield set-up for Cagliari, as a deep playmaker capable of dictating, but also the attacking verve driving forward into those advanced positions. His future certainly plays more as an 8 than a 6. This isn’t to say he isn’t sound defensively but his ability to retain and progress the ball, and do so effectively without much struggle because of his robust frame and control in tight areas, really makes him an asset going forward into the attacking third where he has the vision to like a playmaker. He also the finishing touch to score his share of goals. For Italy, Roberto Mancini has played him as a central mid opposite Verratti’s in a three man shape, which is where he is most comfortable and brings balance. He really brings a diverse bag of qualities that heighten his value at 22.
JH: Arsenal are currently looking for an Aaron Ramsey replacement at the moment, do you think Barella would be able to fill those shoes?
MS: I do believe Barella is an optimal candidate to replace Ramsey, yes. As mentioned above, they do share many of the same qualities. But like I said with Lucas Torreira who made the switch from Serie A to Premier League, except as a 6 (CDM), there must be patience in his acclimation to an unfamiliar environment, especially if he was to be the direct replacement to a player like Ramsey who gave so much to Arsenal and was immensely important throughout the years. However, beyond the technical aspects of Barella’s game, the 22-year old Italian plays with a bit of bite and confidence in himself. He likes responsibility and a challenge. Those are incredibly important for any professional taking such a massive step in his career to a big club.
JH: Finally, what would be your last words you have for Arsenal fans or even Unai Emery regarding Nicolò Barella?
MS: Barella ticks many of the boxes Unai Emery and Arsenal are looking in a starting midfielder with expectations to replace Ramsey. The Premier League is physical, but las I suggested with Torreira, Barella is built to adapt and have his game translate well to the English game. Certainly, it will be a test, and perhaps some fans will cringe at the reported asking price of €50m seeing as they have multiple needs, but I have little doubt in my mind that Barella can perform in England and come good for Arsenal.
Why not check out Matt’s profile on Nicolo Barella in last years scouted football manual here (p183)