In some respects, Arsenal would be a surprising destination for Leandro Trossard. Mikel Arteta’s project has largely been built around youth and potential.
Trossard does not fit the profile: the Belgium international turned 28 in December. He is already a known quantity in the Premier League.
For Arsenal, on this occasion, that is part of the attraction.
In any recruitment strategy, there are two factors that guide business: an overarching philosophy, and the reality of short-term requirements. A signing such as Trossard would exist outside of the club’s ordinary recruitment parameters — but this is no ordinary season. Arsenal are fighting for a title, and their key decision-makers are united in the belief that reinforcements are needed.
Arsenal would have liked to land a marquee signing such as Mykhailo Mudryk — someone who provided immediate impact as well as fitting the long-term plan. Having seen the 22-year-old wind up at Chelsea, they have reacted quickly — and pragmatically — to identify Trossard as plan B.
Some might argue it doesn’t fit the strategy — Arsenal will see it as demonstrating flexibility. It’s important to have principles, but not at the expense of results. Not at the expense of a title.
The advantages of Trossard are clear. He’s a player Arteta and his staff know well — assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg was his manager at Genk in 2017, and has assuaged some of the concerns about this attitude after recent comments by Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi.
Arsenal have shown previously they value experience in the Premier League. Until recently, Trossard had been one of Brighton’s key players, scoring seven goals and recording two assists in 16 league appearances this season. As someone who has played in a comparable tactical system, he should require little adaptation. He is accustomed to a front-footed, pressing style.
He’s versatile, too. Although he has played predominantly from the left, he is very two-footed, potentially allowing him to operate from either flank. Brighton have also used him through the middle, either as a quasi-striker or in a more withdrawn role. With Gabriel Jesus sidelined with an injury suffered on World Cup duty with Brazil, that ability to play through the middle might afford Eddie Nketiah an occasional rest.
It would not be as exciting a signing as the €100 million (£87.4m; $108.2m) Mudryk — a younger player who arrives with plenty of untapped potential. After missing out on the 22-year-old Ukrainian, however, a deal for Trossard looks sensible.
Having initially been offered the chance to sign the 24-cap Belgium international earlier in the window, Arsenal have moved decisively to agree a fee with Brighton worth £21million with a further £6million on top in potential add-ons.
Brighton have an option for an additional year for Trossard’s contract that would see it extended until the summer of 2024. Arsenal have come close to meeting the asking price — their negotiating position was weakened by the fact they had effectively shown their hand with the bid for Mudryk. In this case, they have chosen to move quickly rather than haggle.
Brighton’s stance during negotiations was strengthened by the fact that a portion of any profit they receive, believed to be around 15 percent, will go to Genk — Trossard’s previous club in his homeland.
Arsenal are preparing to offer Trossard a long-term contract, but both parties can see the short-term benefits. Arsenal would get a ready-made Premier League player, who can immediately provide competition and cover in attack. At 28, Trossard is also in a hurry to compete for major honors. By joining Arsenal, he would parachute directly into a title race and even in the event they don’t lift the trophy in May there is the likelihood of Champions League football next season.
Crucially, signing Trossard would not seriously inhibit Arsenal’s spending potential when it comes to their long-term plans. Planning for the summer is already underway, with the club mounting a concerted bid to sign West Ham United and England midfielder Declan Rice.
It also leaves the possibility open of strengthening further before the winter window closes on January 31.
Much like the ultimately doomed pursuit of Joao Felix, who ended up joining Chelsea on loan from Atletico Madrid, this is a deal Arsenal felt they could close relatively swiftly. Should that prove to be the case, it will afford them some time to explore other opportunities. Manager Arteta has emphasized, internally and in the media, the importance of Arsenal maximizing every transfer window. Although the club acknowledges the difficulty of the January market, their efforts to strengthen the squad are expected to continue.
So far in 2022-23, Arsenal have shown on the pitch that they have learned from the end of last season. Perhaps their efforts to sign Trossard are an indication they are learning off the pitch too. After failing to land their main targets a year ago, they chose to end the January window without making a signing — a decision that cost them dear in the run-in.
Trossard would not be many Arsenal supporters’ dream signing — but the club has reasoned he could help them towards the dream of the title.
What has happened to Trossard since the World Cup?
Trossard’s dispute with Brighton is rooted in the negativity arising from a frustrating World Cup with Belgium.
He went to Qatar in a good frame of mind. He had scored six goals in Brighton’s final nine games before the tournament began. He had also established himself as a regular and emerging member of Roberto Martinez’s squad, with five goals and three assists in 22 caps, mainly as a substitute. He had often been the go-to mid-match replacement for captain Eden Hazard.
The 2022 World Cup was supposed to offer Trossard the opportunity to showcase his talents for a big move that, at 28 and with his partner about to give birth to their second child, would set him up for life financially. Brighton have a one-year option on Trossard’s contract, which expires in the summer, but had been rejecting their attempts to tie him to a new deal. Qatar was to be his stage.
Yet things did not go to plan.
He only played the last 28 minutes of the opening 1-0 win over Canada and the final 16 of the 2-0 defeat by Morocco in the second match, replacing Hazard in the first of those matches and the Real Madrid forward’s brother, Thorgan, in the other. There was a start in the group finale against Croatia, but he made little impact and was withdrawn after 59 minutes as a 0-0 draw sent Belgium’s aging side crashing out of the tournament early.
Trossard has never been disruptive in the dressing room at Brighton, but his general demeanor and body language become transparently downbeat in adversity.
He returned to club duty after the World Cup in a bleak mood, producing listless performances as a substitute in Brighton’s exit from the Carabao Cup on penalties at League One side Charlton Athletic and, when operating as a false nine, in the 3-1 win. at Southampton and, on New Year’s Eve, a 4-2 home defeat by Arsenal. De Zerbi replaced him in that loss after an hour, at which point the visitors were 3-0 up. Brighton’s relative revival in what remained of the contest was whipped up in his absence.
He has not featured since.
Trossard was an unused sub in the 4-1 victory at Everton three days later, then left out altogether in the 5-1 win at Championship side Middlesbrough in the third round of the FA Cup.
De Zerbi said the forward, troubled by a calf injury, needed to show 100 percent commitment to be restored to the team. That was followed by claim and counterclaim about why he was being left out, all played out in public.
In revealing that Trossard would also be omitted for Liverpool’s visit to the Amex Stadium last Saturday, De Zerbi said Trossard had left a training session before the Middlesbrough game without permission. The player’s agent, Josy Comhair, duly released a statement insisting he had left that session because of the injury and that De Zerbi had not spoken to him since his client had a minor ‘altercation’ with an unnamed team-mate some weeks previously.
Comhair called on Brighton to help facilitate a transfer this month and Trossard was back home in Belgium, with De Zerbi’s permission, as they thumped Liverpool 3-0, increasing their tally to 14 goals in a little over three games without him.
He has returned to Brighton since and trained with the first-team squad on Tuesday, suggesting the frostiness of his relationship with De Zerbi might have thawed.
What does Trossard offer on the pitch?
Few Premier League players enhanced their reputation over the first half of this season as much as Trossard did.
In October, the Belgian became the first visiting player since Andrey Arshavin for Arsenal in 2009 to score a hat-trick in a league game at Anfield — part of a streak of seven goals in 10 matches.
Now in his fourth season at Brighton, Trossard has spent roughly equal amounts of time playing up front, as a central attacking midfielder and stationed out on the left flank. His tally of 25 goals in a team who — until the arrival of De Zerbi in September to replace Graham Potter, who left to manage Chelsea — often struggled to turn their creative play into attacking output is decent and Trossard is just one goal shy of Neal. Maupay and Glenn Murray as their all-time top scorer in the Premier League.
His figure of four long-range goals is a Premier League record for Brighton although all seven of his strikes in 2022-23 have come from inside the box, which serves as evidence of how Trossard has increasingly been used this season.
Trossard’s expected goals per 90 minutes rate of 0.30 this season sees him sit alongside players including Son Heung-min, Phil Foden and Wilfried Zaha, so it’s surprising to see several clubs interested in an increasingly accomplished multi-use Premier League forward, and someone who has still scored more Premier League goals at Anfield this season than Mohamed Salah.
What about interest from other teams?
There has been competition. Tottenham Hotspur were one of two Premier League clubs — one team based abroad also made an inquiry — investigating the possibility of signing the Belgian before Arsenal declared their interest.
The Athletic revealed on Monday how Spurs had shown their hand after making a verbal offer at boardroom level of around £12million. That fell well short of Brighton’s valuation.
Trossard turned 28 during the World Cup and has entered the last six months of his deal at the Amex — factors that might limit the fee he would command, but he is effectively still under contract until the end of next season, given Brighton can trigger that one-year option. They will argue he represents proven Premier League pedigree, with 116 league appearances and 38 goal involvements (25 goals, 13 assists) since his £13million arrival from Genk in the summer of 2019.
Newcastle, whose recruitment is overseen by former Brighton technical director Dan Ashworth, had discussed the merits of bidding for him over the summer.
However, their priorities have switched this month with the focus on a midfielder as a priority.
Other contributor: Duncan Alexander
(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Rachel Orr)