When Tite took charge of Brazil in June 2016, the national team was in disarray. The infamous 7-1 semi-final shellacking dished out by Germany was a chance to reform but the appointment of former boss Dunga was emblematic of the navel gazing at the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). Two wins from six games saw Brazil outside the top five World Cup qualification places and a shambolic Copa Centenario performance proved to be the final straw.
Nine consecutive victories under new boss Tite and the picture for the Seleção is an altogether rosier one now. Brazil look re-energised and are without a doubt the best side on the continent; they were the first side to book their place in Russia and their recent victory over Ecuador ensured they would finish top of the ultra-competitive CONMEBOL qualifying.
This has allowed Tite the rare luxury of being able to think about the future and try out a few new faces for the upcoming final double header. One of the more intriguing inclusions for the games against Bolivia and Chile was a first call up for Gremio’s 21-year-old midfielder Arthur.
Born in Goiania in the Central-Western region of Brazil, Arthur joined the youth ranks of hometown club Goias, before being snapped up by Gremio in 2010. After good performances in the 2015 Copinha – a prestigious Sao Paulo youth tournament – Arthur was called up to the first team by Luiz Felipe Scolari and made his senior debut in the Campeonato Gaucho against Aimore.
It wasn’t until the last game of the 2016 season that Arthur finally made his league debut but this year has seen the midfielder establish himself as a regular for Gremio. His stellar showings have seen him earn rave reviews from the likes of Tostao and Ricardo Rocha – the latter comparing him to Iniesta and Thiago Alcantara – and Gremio reportedly turned down a €12mil bid from an unnamed English club in the summer.
This comparison leads us to the crux of all the excitement surrounding Arthur. He is the type of midfielder that Brazil have failed to produce in quite a while, more in the Spanish mould than the binary ‘defensive’ or ‘attacking’ categories than the majority of Brazilians fall into. Tim Vickery surmised it perfectly when he said that “where much of the Brazilian game has become about straight-line running, Arthur allows the ball to move.”
Here we analyse in more detail the components of Arthur’s game that have contributed to his rapid rise and maiden call-up to the national team.
Part of what makes Arthur such an interesting midfield prospect in the context of the Brazilian game is his dynamism. Not really a strictly defensive midfielder or a powerful box-to-box general, what Arthur does excellently is collect the ball deep, keep hold of the ball and, with the drop of the shoulder or burst of acceleration, break the lines and put his team on the front foot.
Arthur has fantastic balance and can turn on a sixpence, alleviating the opposition press with a little sidestep and burst of pace. Once he has made room for himself, he doesn’t overcomplicate matters and uses the ball well, rarely giving possession away.
Naturally Arthur’s dynamism, close control and scampering runs also make him effective further forward in an attacking sense too, as shown by some of the latter clips in the video above.
These skills, combined with his slight build, are where comparisons to Spanish midfield maestros come into play but personally the player he reminds me most of is Fabian Delph who, at his pomp at Aston Villa, had the same dynamism that saw him break into the England squad and move to Manchester City.
Something that jumps off the page when you look at Arthur’s stats is his impressive passing numbers. This season in the Brasileirao Arthur has averaged 93.1% pass completion at the time of writing and on his Libertadores debut away at Guarani he bossed proceedings, not misplacing a single pass all night and providing an assist. Always showing for the ball and assuming responsibility he averages around 70 passes per game too.
As well as his ability to carry the ball, his metronomic passing ensures great ball retention for his side and is fundamental to the attractive, possession-based style Gremio espouse. Good under pressure, Arthur loves to form little triangles all around the pitch, always keeping the ball moving, playing one-twos and maintaining a fluid, high-tempo passing rhythm which has seen Gremio progress to the Libertadores semi-finals.
His goal against Fluminense in the video above showcased both his dynamism and his good passing angles, with a couple of give-and-gos before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting into the net.
On top of the consistent passing that Arthur offers you, he also provides some creativity and intelligence going forward. Although he prefers short passing, he can thread a nice through ball or longer ball over the top, particularly his trademark wedged chip over the backline, as the video below shows.
Although Arthur is at his best with the ball at feet, he doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities off the ball either. With his energy and good pace, he puts himself about, hassling and harrying opponents to make blocks and challenges. His tackling isn’t brilliant, though he doesn’t pick up many cards, but his reading of the game and positioning mean he often intercepts play.
AREAS TO IMPROVE
It’s easy to forget that Arthur has only been playing first team football for less than a year such is his ability to dictate games but there are still room for improvement. Being short of stature his heading isn’t a forte and he is still rather lightweight so can be out muscled and can fade towards the end of the game.
What’s more, for a player with such good passing and game intelligence there is a feeling he could take more risks and affect things more in the final third. So far he has only managed 2 goals and one assist but if he could improve this area it would add an extra dimension to his game.
The final few months of 2017 could be huge for Arthur. His call-up to the national team will be a relatively free shot at staking a late claim to be part of Tite’s World Cup squad, while at club level there is the real possibility of a Libertadores title for Gremio. The Rei de Copas will want to live up to their nickname and are most people’s favourites but have a tricky tie against Ecuadorians Barcelona before a potential final against either River Plate or Lanus.
As with an outstanding prospect in Brazil, long term the expectation will be a move to Europe. Arthur’s very European style of play should means he fits in well without much adjustment and Spain looks a good fit for him, with Atletico Madrid reportedly having sent scouts to watch him on numerous occasions.
While it may be just too late to make it to Russia 2018, it seems that Tite has high hopes for Arthur and has identified him as a player to help bring a more modern style of play to the Seleção in the long run. It’s been a rapid rise to prominence for the young midfielder so far and his upward trajectory shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.