Jurgen Klopp had already confirmed that Liverpool were in the market for a midfielder ahead of Wednesday’s win over Newcastle, but Jordan Henderson’s hamstring injury added to the urgency.
Henderson joined Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the sidelines when forced in the second half at Anfield but Liverpool acted just 24 hours later, confirming the loan signing of Arthur Melo from Juventus.
The Brazil international joins with the option, rather than obligation, to make his move permanent, making the deal a relatively low-risk solution for Liverpool, but can the 26-year-old give them what they need?
ratios, but the potential was not realized
Arthur has a great pedigree having spent the past four years playing for two of the biggest clubs in Europe, Barcelona and Juventus. He played a total of 22 caps for Brazil and played a key role in his country’s victory in the Copa America in 2019.
His talent has been known to European fans since he arrived at Barcelona from Brazil’s Gremio for £35m in 2018, when he signed a six-year contract at the Nou Camp that included a £355m buy-out clause, carrying the No.8 shirt. Andres Iniesta vacated it.
It was Xavi instead of Iniesta who became more like Arthur at Barcelona, due to his similar build and, most importantly, his similar style of play. The young man described himself as the “organizer” of the game and that was evident on the field.
Indeed, in a game against Valencia a few months into his first season in Spain, Arthur completed a total of 135 passes, the most of any player in La Liga this season.
It was an Xavi-esque performance and even the man himself agreed.
“I think we are looking for a player who can represent an era in Barcelona,” Xavi said. “He has Barcelona’s DNA. You can already tell the way he plays, how he manages the ball, the way he thinks, how he manages his role. He is a very fast thinker.”
Arthur was looking forward to a brilliant future in Catalonia at that point, but it never came to fruition.
Over the course of his first season at the club, he started more than three consecutive games on only two occasions. By the end of the second, he had completely lost popularity.
His move to Juventus that summer, for a fee of £66m, with Miralem Pjanic moving the other way for £54.8m, offered a change of scenery but ultimately not a change of fortune.
Arthur shined brightly in his first campaign in Italy but appeared sporadically under Andrea Pirlo and it was a similar story under Massimiliano Allegri behind Pirlo last season.
His talent was never in doubt – Allegri called his technical ability ‘extraordinary’ earlier this year and Pirlo was similarly complementing – but other factors held him back.
Durability under check
Injuries were a constant problem for Arthur and left question marks hanging over him upon his arrival at Anfield.
Liverpool’s absentee list demands Arthur’s presence immediately, but does he have the power in the Premier League? Does he have the strength to play under Klopp’s leadership?
Liverpool’s stinging style demands high levels of stamina and physical flexibility, and there’s not much in Arthur’s recent history to suggest he possessed those qualities.
He has never played for Juventus this season and arrived at Anfield after not playing a minute of competition since Juventus’ defeat in the Coppa Italia final to Inter Milan four months ago.
It’s not exactly a perfect preparation for a team about to embark on a five-game streak in 15 days.
It’s also not ideal that Arthur has never started more than 19 league games in a league season in Europe, the percentage of matches he has started is actually declining every year since his arrival from Brazil in 2018.
It’s a worrying trend that explains why Arsenal decided not to move to them in the January transfer window. Klopp and Liverpool hope they can reverse this trend in their new surroundings.
Pass the master like Thiago
If he could, he could prove to be an inspiring piece of work.
Fortunately for Liverpool, Arthur’s susceptibility to injury isn’t the only trait he shares with Thiago.
So far, Liverpool have not had a midfielder capable of swaying actions quite like Thiago in possession, but Arthur may just be that man – provided he can keep fit.
While he did not appear as regularly as he would like during his time with Juventus, his impact on the ball can be seen in his statistical output.
He has averaged more touches per 90 minutes than any other Juventus player over the past two seasons, and ranks first for passes and pass success. Only one player, Manuel Locatelli, averaged more passes in the final third.
Much like Thiago, whose work off the ball has been underrated, Arthur offers plenty of possession too, and stats show he’s held the ball in the middle third of the field at a higher rate than any other Juve player over the past two seasons. .
Despite this, he is someone who can help his team control possession and untie the opponent’s defences. Like Thiago, he is not known for scoring goals and assists. It is more likely to be found initiating attacks rather than ending them.
But his ‘extraordinary’ technical ability coupled with Xavi-like distribution that has seen him poised for a big future at Barcelona could help ease Liverpool’s dependence on Thiago, and give them a much-needed replacement in an area of the pitch as well. They often find themselves short on numbers.