As their fifth midfielder of the season went down with injury last night — captain Jordan Henderson, hamstring strain — in the midst of an increasingly loud clamour for additional midfield depth, it became clear that deadline day was unlikely to pass without Liverpool adding somebody to their ranks.
Many names had been suggested over the course of the past few days, players like Youri Tielemans, Kouadio Koné, Douglas Luiz, and Nicolò Barella, but in the end, the Reds went in an obscure and unexpected direction, picking up Juventus’ Arthur Melo on a loan until the end of the season.
The former Grêmio and Barcelona attacking midfielder may have disappeared from most peoples’ awareness over the past few seasons, so today we take a closer look at what the last-minute signing could offer the Reds this year.
Arthur Henrique Santos Ramos de Oliveira Melo
Midfielder | Juventus/Brazil
DOB: 12/8/96 (26 years old) | Height: 5’7” (172cm)
2021/22 season: 21 appearances
0 goals | 1 assists
As a diminutive Brazilian midfielder with a past at Barcelona, expectations are that Arthur is a player of a certain technical pedigree, and those expectation are not out of line. The 26-year-old possesses terrific fundamentals and rarely takes a bad touch, even in tight areas, using close control, balance, and vision to ensure the ball does what he wants it to do.
This ability makes Arthur extremely difficult to dispossess without causing the referee to intervene, and only five players drew more fouls per 90 minutes than the Brazilian in last season’s Serie A. A single loss of possession per game on average is also testament to the former Grêmio man’s press resistance and ball retention ability.
Once he has achieved control and worked himself a bit of space, the other thing Arthur excels at is moving the ball along. While he has been criticised in the past for being conservative with his passing choices — and his progressive passing numbers are merely good, rather than elite — only two midfielders in the Serie A produced more successful long passes than the Goiânia-born playmaker last year.
Whether it’s knitting play together or ticking things over with short, simple passes or hitting a big switch or line drive, Arthur can get it done, and his passing range should undoubtedly be considered his best ability. At Liverpool, he will likely be driven to try and exert as much influence with his vertical passing as possible, but he is just as likely to provide value with his ability to keep the ball moving as the team builds its attacks.
While he’s unlikely to go on many mazy runs, Arthur can also move the ball up the pitch with his feet, and although his progressive carries dropped during his time at Juventus, and particularly under Massimiliano Allegri, his time at Barcelona indicates that the Brazilian can generate progressive carries at a rate similar to Curtis Jones or Naby Keïta.
Finally, while he’s not as dynamic as or able to cover ground at the speed of some of his new team-mates, Arthur is a more than willing presser and should not look out of place in Liverpool’s midfield out of possession as he historically closes down opponents at a similar rate to other Reds.
Weaknesses: The fact that Arthur Melo — who at only 26 has already accumulated well over €100m in career transfer fees — is available for a loan with no obligation to buy on deadline day indicates that his career hasn’t gone to plan and that he is in no way a flawless player.
First of all, he’s simply not a great athlete. While his low centre of gravity and sturdy lower body means his balance, pivots, and change of direction are all fairly good, Arthur isn’t beating many players in a pure footrace, and at 5’7” he’s not going to provide a dominant physical presence in midfield. This has already proven the case in Spain and Italy, and will almost certainly continue to be relevant in the Premier League. With Liverpool’s midfield already well-stocked with players on the short side, their new Brazilian won’t be adding anything new to the mix.
He’s not much of a goal threat, either. In a 185-game career across three countries, the 26-year old has only scored seven goals and generated ten assists. There’s not some massive expected goals aberration taking place here either: he simply doesn’t take or assist many shots, and doesn’t move the ball into the penalty area much. The Arthur Melo experience largely takes place in the middle third of the pitch, which is fine and useful, provided you know that’s what you’re getting.
Despite his desire and willingness to press the ball, it’s also worth noting that Melo doesn’t often win it back for his team, and even in his best seasons he’s only a middling tackler and interceptor. His lack of physicality and athleticism also means that when he does go into a duel with intent, he often gets bypassed far too easily.
Finally, there are all the intangibles. Despite being a signing of fairly high expectations when moving to Barcelona at 21, Arthur had turned into a pure bookkeeping exercise merely two years later when he was sent to Italy. There’s also been drunk driving incidents, refusals to train, and a string of injuries suffered during leisure activities.
In other words, there are serious questions marks surrounding Arthur’s level of motivation and professionalism. The Reds could be getting a player desperate to improve his standing in world football and break back into the Seleção as he enters his prime. Or they could be getting a player downtrodden by the cynicism of international football, simply moving from one frustrating situation to the next without the motivation to re-engage and take charge of his career.
We cross our fingers and hope for the former, but there are no guarantees.
Summary: As deadline deals with zero long-term risk go, this isn’t bad. The Reds have picked up a dollar store-Thiago in exchange for paying most of his wages — a midfielder who can help them control games, speeding things up or slowing them down as necessary — with no obligation to keep him around should things not work out, which is preferable to paying tens of millions of pounds up front and making a five-year contract commitment to bring in your last-ditch Plan C.
Even in a best-case scenario, Arthur is unlikely to be more than a squad player for a team as good as this, and the odds of even that scenario playing out aren’t that great. On the other hand, the worst that can happen is he doesn’t do a whole lot and leaves at the end of the season having not impacted the club’s ability to go after their top targets next summer.
Also, a squad midfielder sounds real swell right about now.