Barcelona have finally found their Xavi heir in Arthur the Artist

When Arthur steps out on the field, it is easy to forget that less than two years ago the young midfield maestro was just another hopeful in the Gremio youth set-up, with a single Brasileirao appearance to his name. 

His rise since the start of 2017 has been nothing short of meteoric, a tribute not just to the 22-year-old’s undoubted talent in pulling the strings from deep but to his incredible maturity. 

Not even the challenge of stepping up to Barcelona, one of the world’s biggest, most demanding clubs has fazed him, and the astonishing speed with which he has carved out a regular place in the Catalans’ first team has earned comparisons with none other than former conductor Xavi. 

What is more, those links are not just idle talk from sensationalist journalists. The great man himself has given Arthur his seal of approval as Barca’s new artist takes La Liga by storm. 

“He is similar to me, I see myself in Arthur,” Xavi beamed this week to Catalunya Radio from Qatar, where at the grand old age of 38 he continues to wow fans with Al-Sadd. 

“He thinks quickly and he still has work to do, because I improved my game at Barca and I would not have got so good in another school. 

“Arthur looks mature. The priority in the middle of the pitch is to not lose the ball and he makes it look easy, he plays well and steadily, I see great potential in him.”

Arthur certainly does make possession play look like a walk in the park. With an average of over 50 completed passes per game, he regularly clocks a success rate of over 95 per cent in his distribution, a staggering figure reserved for the game’s most accomplished passers – a Sergio Busquets, to take one of his team-mates, a Toni Kroos, or, indeed, a Xavi. 

The Brazilian took some time to settle into his game, with a wonder goal against Tottenham pre-season followed by a spell on the bench as he acclimatised to the speed and intensity of competitive European football, a traditional stumbling block for young players trying their luck having arrived from across the Atlantic. 

By the time Barca’s visit to Valencia at the start of October came along, however, Arthur was already on the way to a regular starting spot in a formation adapted for the club’s midfield riches. He tends to slot into a four-man midfield escorted by the more experienced duo of Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, a system which allows Philippe Coutinho to play a freer role starting wide on the left but which takes him across the pitch. 

Impeccable displays against Sevilla and Inter in recent weeks have shown that the player’s progression has outstripped even the most optimistic projections. And even under the most intense pressure of the Clasico, with stars like Luka Modric and Kroos hounding his every move, he was a rock in the middle for his club before finally giving way late on for the barnstorming Arturo Vidal to kill off the game, a substitution that has been habitual so far this season. 

Ernesto Valverde’s plan is easy to see, rather more difficult to stop: Arthur breaks down the opposition with his neat, intricate passing; Arturo then comes on to land the knockout punch when the adversary is groggy and struggling to beat the count. Like Xavi, Arthur will not make many headlines with his consistent accuracy and movement, but he is quickly becoming indispensable for a Barca team that has recovered from a mixed start to the campaign and is beginning to look extremely fearsome. 

During his final days as a Copa Libertadores winner with Gremio – a title picked up largely thanks to the player’s virtuoso performances, including a first half in the final against Lanus which should be recorded and shown to any aspiring defensive midfielders as a perfect example to play the game – Arthur had been working hard on improving his prowess in arriving in the penalty area. 

That attacking focus raised suspicions that when Barca pushed through his €40 million move from Brazil in the summer it would be as a long-term heir to the great Andres Iniesta. So far, however, he has looked far more comfortable in a more withdrawn role, perhaps understandably so given the monumental differences in tempo between his native and adopted countries. 

Barcelona will not mind at all. The talents of Xavi have proved almost impossible to replicate since the legend left for Qatar in 2015, leading to Barca adopting a style that, while effective, was far from the scintillating one always pictures when imagining a game at Camp Nou. 

Could Arthur be the man to return those glory days inspired by Pep and Xavi to Catalunya? He has a long way to go yet, but any player who receives a seal of approval from Xavi himself should be taken very seriously indeed.

 

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