Emiliano Buendía to Arsenal – An Injection of Direction?
In June 2018, Norwich City announced the £1.35m signing of a relatively unknown 21 year old attacking midfielder from Spanish side Getafe; an Argentinian by the name of Emiliano Buendía.
Buendía had spent the previous campaign on loan at Cultural Leonesa in the Spanish second division. A technically gifted but compact midfielder at 5’7”, there were bound to be some question marks over Buendía’s suitability for such a physically demanding league – but Buendía soon answered those concerns.
In an early season game at home against fellow promotion chasers Brentford, Norwich’s Swiss centre back Timm Klose spotted Emi hovering by a Brentford central defender and sprayed a long ball forward towards him. In one beautiful, electric movement, Buendía bursts in front of the defender, brings the ball under his control and slots home – all with only one, beautifully cushioned touch on the ball. Norwich win the game, and Buendía, with eight goals and twelve assists for the season, inspires Norwich to a first placed finish in the Championship and with it, promotion to the Premier League.
This direct approach is the perfect microcosm of Emi’s game – and exactly what Arsenal need.
Directness, centrality, boldness and the ability to complete highly technical moves under immense pressure mean Buendía is a firm favourite at Carrow Road, and, watching him, it’s no wonder he was voted EFL Player of the Season for 2020/21. His game has come on leaps and bounds in his three years under Daniel Farke – Buendía is a wonderfully gifted footballer. With reports from James Benge at CBS and others that Arsenal are preparing a bid, how exactly would Emi fit in at Arsenal?
I’m so glad you asked.
Long periods of this season have been characterised by an Arsenal side who lack dynamism and verve. Like watching a video on 0.75x speed, the build up, at times, looks choreographed and mono-tonal, with heavy use of the flanks for creativity – but without a serious long term option at right full back and with Tierney’s injury issues, Arsenal are often toothless going forward with blunt combinations and a distinct lack of positional rotation. Emile Smith-Rowe and Martin Ødegaard have breathed life into a stale attack since coming into the side, but going forward Buendía could be just the man to provide a more permanent option for a more balanced team. Thriving in the right half space and tucking in centrally from the wing, he is simply excellent in tight spaces – handy for an Arsenal side who often see themselves dominating possession but unable to break down low, compact blocks.
The 24 year old is able to play on the half turn with ease, allowing the ball to roll across his body before playing trademark perfectly weighted balls that travel forward and, crucially, centrally, as seen many times with team mate Teemu Pukki. This hugely underrated skill means the time it takes to turn defence in to attack is sliced down, and with Arsenal boasting some rapid attacking players, he could prove to be an excellent supply chain. 33% of Buendía’s passes this season have been forward, an antidote to much of Arsenal’s play this season which has been “U shaped” or “doughnut shaped” – as outlined in an excellent Tifo Football video released recently. There are long periods of possession leading to nothing – something Buendía may go some way to fixing with his penetrative, purposeful play. Buendía ends the Championship season this year with 122 key passes – 39 more than his closest rival, Swansea’s Connor Roberts.
Emiliano, despite preferring his right foot, can use both feet and crucially switches the ball well with both. It is no surprise his idol growing up was Ronaldinho – he loves to travel with the ball, riding challenges from more physically imposing players and showing invention around the box when surrounded by opponents. As a character, Buendía is passionate and positive, and by all accounts a very popular person in the dressing room. A father to Thiago, his son, he is calm and mature, and speaks impressively fluent English.
In terms of how he could be deployed, there are probably two or three options in Mikel Arteta’s mind. Dependent on Arteta’s use of a 4-2-3-1 or his favoured 4-3-3, Buendía could operate either as the right sided midfielder in the 4-2-3-1, as the right sided winger in a 4-3-3 or the right side of two “Eights” in a midfield three – perhaps alongside Emile Smith-Rowe. This tactical versatility will be very appealing to Arteta, who often changes shape and system during games, something Buendía would be comfortable doing. Business wise, it would be a fantastic deal, too. At 24, his peak years are just around the corner, and he goes some way to addressing Arsenal’s age problem, with too many players at opposing ends of the age curve. His wages are affordable at around £20,000 per week currently, and he would have excellent resale value should it not work out at The Emirates.
There are, of course, concerns about how Buendía may adapt to the Premier League. One goal and seven assists in his one and only Premier League campaign thus far does not exactly set pulses racing. But, despite Norwich’s ill-fated year in 2019/20, Buendía still boasted some incredible attacking stats – sitting alongside the likes of James Maddison, Riyad Mahrez, Bruno Fernandes and Jack Grealish. Not bad, in a team who got relegated.
Perhaps the better barometer is his Championship performance – this year he outperformed his previous campaign in 2018/19 in both goals and assists, with 15 goals and 17 assists – an astounding return for someone who is ostensibly a midfielder. One suspects that, in a team that sees more of the ball and plays higher up the pitch, with his best years ahead of him, Buendía’s key metrics would soon be comparable to the very best in the Premier League once again. With the news that Arsenal may also be monitoring Norwich full back Max Aarons, Buendía may be the perfect man to link up with his old team mate and freshen up Arsenal’s right hand side.
But Buendía won’t come cheap. Having been promoted to the Premier League, Norwich will be in no rush to sell up. Buendía has also just received his first Argentina call up – no mean feat with the likes of Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes, Paulo Dybala and Lionel Messi to contend with.
It probably all comes down to what Arsenal decide to do about on loan Martin Ødegaard. If Madrid attempt to play hard ball, Buendía may be the perfect alternative, and for me, may even be a better option than Ødegaard, who at times has struggled for form this season. Where Ødegaard feels the game, Buendía attacks it. Where Ødegaard chooses his moments, Buendía makes them.
Perhaps, on international duty, another Argentinian called Emi with links to Arsenal can put in a good word for his old club. Buendía won’t fix everything, but he might be the man to rebalance Arsenal’s stalling attacking threat, and become the supply line for years to come.
One thing’s for sure – direct action is welcome.