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Six holding midfielders Arsenal should target this summer

With Arsenal reportedly in the market for a new holding midfielder this summer, Sports Mole looks at six players who should be on Mikel Arteta's list of targets.

The full extent of the impact that the coronavirus pandemic will have on the transfer market remains to be seen, but it is expected to be a much quieter window this summer than we have been accustomed to in recent years.

Nonetheless, rumours continue to swirl and clubs continue to consider options to improve ahead of the 2020-21 campaign in what is expected to be a buyers' market.

Arsenal are arguably one of the clubs that need to improve the most given the difference between their expectations level and where they currently find themselves - ninth in the Premier League table and looking likely to once again miss out on Champions League football.

Manager Mikel Arteta has reportedly identified defensive midfield as his number one priority during the upcoming window, with loanee Dani Ceballos currently due to return to parent club Real Madrid and questions lingering over the futures of Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka.

With that in mind, Sports Mole has identified six defensive midfielders whom the Gunners could and should consider making a move for when the transfer window reopens.

Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid)

Thomas Partey in La Liga action for Atletico Madrid in February 2020© Reuters

The man Arsenal have been most strongly linked with in recent weeks, Thomas Partey would certainly bolster Arteta's midfield and provide the sort of destructive impact which the team has been lacking for some time now.

The 26-year-old is a regular member of an Atletico Madrid side led by Diego Simeone - himself a master of the defensive midfield dark arts - and has been an integral part of Los Rojiblancos consistently posting the best defensive record in La Liga in recent years.

Arsenal have already been in talks with Thomas - as confirmed by the player's father - but the price tag could be an issue; he has a £43m release clause in his contract, which is relatively cheap for a player of his quality nowadays but could still be beyond Arsenal's reach in the post-coronavirus market.

Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)

Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi celebrates scoring their fifth goal in September 2019© Reuters

If Arsenal are looking for a player with existing Premier League experience then Wilfred Ndidi must be at the top of their list.

The Leicester midfielder has made more tackles than any other midfielder in the Premier League this season, despite starting only 20 games, and he averages more interceptions per game than any other top-flight midfielder too.

Once again, the asking price could be the main issue, with Ndidi contracted to Leicester until 2024 and the Foxes having stood firm with price tags for the likes of Harry Maguire and James Maddison recently. Leicester are also likely to be able to offer Ndidi Champions League football next season, which is something Arsenal will probably not have.

Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United)

Kalvin Phillips in action for Leeds United on October 23, 2019© Reuters

One way to lower the expense is to drop down the divisions, which would make Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips an appealing option following a string of impressive performances for Marcelo Bielsa's side.

The 24-year-old has made 34 appearances this season and has even been tipped to challenge for an England spot despite playing in the second tier, while crucially for Arsenal he is also capable of dropping into centre-back at times if required.

Of course, Leeds remain in pole position to win promotion to the Premier League next season and would be reluctant to lose one of their star men should that be the case, while promising English talent is never the cheapest option.

Matty Longstaff (Newcastle United)

Matty Longstaff celebrates scoring for Newcastle United on October 6, 2019© Reuters

One exception to that rule of young English players being expensive is Matty Longstaff - the 20-year-old Newcastle midfielder, who is currently due to be available on a free transfer when his contract at St James' Park expires this summer.

Manager Steve Bruce is keen to keep him at the club, but any transfer business has been put on hold for now due to the impending takeover and, in the wake of that, Bruce may no longer have a long-term future at the club while their transfer targets may have switched to higher-calibre players than Longstaff.

Any deal would also be a risk given that Longstaff has only played 545 minutes of Premier League football, but he has impressed in that time and would be a cheap, young option for the midfield.

Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao)

Athletic Bilbao's Mikel San Jose battles Lionel Messi for possession in 2018© Reuters

Sticking with the free agent market, Athletic Bilbao's Mikel San Jose is currently due to be out of contract this summer and would provide an experienced head in the middle of the park.

Arteta was a similar age when he joined Arsenal as a player himself and so the fact that San Jose is now 30 should not put him off, while the benefit of recruiting a Spain international with almost 400 senior career appearances under his belt could be exactly what Arsenal need, particularly with the youth of Matteo Guendouzi alongside him in that position.

San Jose has experience of Champions League football and even of English football having come through the ranks at Liverpool and, with Arsenal rumoured to be limited to free agents or swap deals, may be one of the best options available.

Marc Roca (Espanyol)

Espanyol midfielder Marc Roca pictured in January 2020© Reuters

Arsenal have unsurprisingly been linked with a number of Spanish players since Arteta's appointment, and Marc Roca appears to perfectly fit the bill of what the Gunners are after.

At 23 he is a good age, while the price tag could also prove less problematic than other options on the list; he has a £30m release clause in his contract and could be available for even less than that should Espanyol - currently bottom of La Liga and six points from safety - suffer relegation.

Roca was a member of Spain's Under-21 European Championship-winning squad last year and has made 33 appearances across all competitions for Espanyol this term.

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta applauds fans after the match on February 2, 2020
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