The Arthur Melo conundrum, eh?
Back in October 2018, I was taken aback by the Brazilian’s masterclass in efficient midfield play as Barcelona, spearheaded by the greatest footballer we’ve ever seen, tamed Tottenham under the iconic Wembley arch.
Arthur, who evaded pressure with unerring subtlety and combined wonderfully with stalwart holding midfielder Sergio Busquets throughout, appeared destined for stardom in Catalonia after swiftly stating his name to a broader audience. Just a few months prior, he’d joined Barça from Gremio in a €40m deal.
But, his Barcelona career wouldn’t pan out how I initially projected. Injuries, combined with the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde and subsequent arrival of Quique Setien, saw Arthur fall down the midfield pecking order. Alas, he would leave the club on pretty bad terms in the summer of 2020 as he was included in one of the worst player exchange deals of the 21st-century.
It was a move that made very little sense at the time, with many believing that Juventus had pulled the wool over Barcelona’s eyes by swapping the ageing and obviously declining Miralem Pjanic for the yet to peak Arthur. Unsurprisingly, Pjanic failed miserably in Spain and he’s currently out on loan with Besiktas.
And while Arthur has fared slightly better in Turin, I wouldn’t go as far as saying Juventus won this exchange. They just lost less.
Arthur Melo has only just earned the trust of manager Massimiliano Allegri at Juventus
The Brazilian’s debut season at the club was forgettable, but okay. He was hampered by a leg injury and he was never able to convince Andrea Pirlo, who regrettably overused Rodrigo Bentancur as his regista. Efficient and secure performances from Arthur were overshadowed by uncharacteristic and fatal errors, most notably in the shocking home defeat to Benevento last March which ensured his minutes were reduced down the stretch.
Nevertheless, the return of Massimiliano Allegri handed Arthur a fresh start, but surgery in the summer meant it wouldn’t be until mid-October when the midfielder made his first appearance of the season.
And with Manuel Locatelli performing admirably in the regista function, Arthur was once again cast aside. Between his return and the start of the winter break, the Brazilian was an unused substitute more times (seven) than he was a starter (three starts) in Serie A. The diminutive midfielder’s woes in defensive transition and slight physical frame meant Allegri found it hard to trust him at the base of midfield.
As a result, he was heavily linked with a move away in January, yet his failed move to Arsenal has proved to be the spark of a minor resurgence in Turin. Since the start of the new year, Arthur has started six of Juve’s ten league encounters, and while the club’s recent injury woes have allowed him to enjoy his longest run in the starting XI since he joined the club, there’s no doubting that he’s played his way into Allegri’s plans and he was recently rewarded with his first call-up to the Brazilian national team since late 2020.
His physical condition seems to have improved and while he remains a poor defender of space, he’s added more bite to his defensive game. Arthur resembles an aggressive pitbull terrier at times when he’s hassling opponents from behind, and I’m not surprised to see him lead all current Juve players in regards to pressures per 90 minutes this season (24.4). Only Adrien Rabiot (7.65) tops him (7.16) in terms of successful pressures and pressures in the midfield third (12.6 to 10.7).
However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing amid his recent renaissance. The Brazilian’s conservatism in possession still frustrates many and his lack of invention meant he was scapegoated somewhat as Juve crashed out of the Champions League. He remains a technically gifted footballer capable of bewildering opponents through subtle body feints and touches, but he’s not the controller Juventus require to take them to the next step – whatever that might be.
So, what does the future hold for Arthur in Turin?
Who knows is the short answer. Arsenal may well come back in for him this summer, but I doubt it, and Juventus are planning to spend big this summer to once again rejuvenate their midfield.
Arthur could be sacrificed to facilitate a potential new arrival, with reports in recent weeks suggesting that the club are interested in making a move for Chelsea’s Jorginho to usurp the Brazilian at the base of Allegri’s midfield.
Now, this would be the epitome of a like-for-like replacement and, for me, it’s a sideways move. While Jorginho is perhaps more creative in possession, he boasts similar defensive deficiencies to Arthur; he’s weak, unathletic and an awful defender of large spaces. The Italian’s 2021 was wildly overrated and he’s been in distinctly poor form since the start of the new year.
Jorginho is far from a bad footballer, but I don’t believe he’s the guy Juve should be looking at as a potential Arthur replacement. I’d genuinely prefer Locatelli as the regista with Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong my dream target. The Dutchman has primarily played as a mezzala in Catalonia, playing in an even more advanced function since Xavi’s arrival, but he possesses all the attributes to excel in the single pivot.
So, to sum this all up, Arthur’s minor resurgence since his move to Arsenal fell through has provided Juventus with some stability in midfield amid an injury crisis. The Brazilian has freed Locatelli from the shackles of the regista function, while gradually earning the trust of Allegri himself.
However, barring an exceptional end to the season, I’m sure he’ll move on in the summer. He just hasn’t done enough.