While Yannick Carrasco’s most celebrated performance came in the 2016 Champions League final when, having come on as a second-half substitute, he scored the goal which took the match to extra time before Atletico Madrid were overcome by fierce rivals Real for the second time in two years, Arsenal fans may remember him from a different game.
When Arsenal drew Monaco in the Round of 16 back in 2015, it was seen as a favourable draw after years of being knocked out by Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Monaco soon made a mockery of their billing as beatable opponents, drubbing Arsenal 3-1 in a chaotic first leg at the Emirates. Carrasco scored the third in injury time, a lashed finish to go alongside goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Geoffrey Kondogbia and ensure that Arsene Wenger’s side would once more go out at the first knockout stage of the competition.
It was during that same season with Monaco that Carrasco caught the eye of Atletico. When he moved to Madrid the following summer, Atleti’s then-sporting director Jose Luis Perez Caminero said: “Yannick is a player with huge prospects and with an incredible future. He is a player with great speed, excellent at driving with the ball and with a great shot. He will contribute perfectly to our goal of increasing the level of our team.”
Caminero gave a fair assessment of Carrasco’s talents, but the young winger’s incredible future with Atletico never quite materialised. After two and a half seasons working under Diego Simeone, in which he racked up a respectable 23 goals and 17 assists in 123 appearances but was often criticised for his mercurial character and inconsistency, Carrasco departed last February alongside teammate Nicolas Gaitan to join the great Chinese Super League exodus and Dalian Yifang, a side owned by Atletico minority shareholders the Wanda Group.
Carrasco to ‘do a Paulinho’?
Still only 25, Carrasco has not moved to China to see out the end of his career in comfort. Though the enormous wages on offer in the Chinese Super League were no doubt a motivating factor in his transfer to Dalian, he has – unlike, say, Gervinho or Carlos Tevez – at least done his best for his new club with seven goals and nine assists in his first season.
As shown by Paulinho’s semi-triumphant return to Europe with Barcelona last term, moving to China need not be an obstacle to joining one of the biggest European teams. Carrasco may not want to follow in Paulinho’s footsteps exactly – despite winning a league and cup double with Barca, the Brazilian midfielder was not the most popular with the Blaugrana and has now moved back to Guangzhou Evergrande – but he can at least look to his fellow traveller for evidence that playing in China does not necessarily limit future opportunities.
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Carrasco’s adventure in the Chinese Super League certainly hasn’t stopped him playing for his national team. Just as Belgium teammate Axel Witsel continued to represent Roberto Martinez’s side during his spell with Tianjin Quanjian last season, so too has Martinez continued to select Carrasco. He made four appearances for Belgium at the World Cup, three of which were starts. He has made four further appearances since then, suggesting Martinez is satisfied that Carrasco’s competitive instincts remain undiminished.
Strange fit for Arsenal
There seems little doubt that Carrasco remains an excellent player, even if his time at Atletico didn’t live up to expectations. While some question marks remain over his temperament – he was widely reported to have a fractious relationship with Simeone at Atleti and his intermittent sulks were said to have gone down badly in the dressing room – he knows how to come up with goals and assists from out wide, even if there is room to improve on his numbers. He can also play in the deeper positions, occasionally even functioning as defensive cover. He was deployed as an attacking wing-back for much of Belgium’s World Cup campaign.
Having been linked extensively to Arsenal over the last week or so, however, Carrasco seems like he would make a strange fit at the Emirates. Though he was deployed on both flanks during his time at Atletico, he is at his best out on the left wing and has played on the left of a front three for the majority of his time at Dalian. Arsenal currently have a glut of players who can play in that position, not least Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as well as the up-and-coming Bukayo Saka. When Unai Emery opts to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette together one of them generally drifts out to the left, further saturating that area of the field.
Mkhitaryan serves as an interesting point of comparison to Carrasco, given that he also has scope for brilliance but a reputation for underdelivering. While Mkhitaryan can play on the left he usually plays on the right, and Arsenal could do without two capricious performers on the wing. Though Iwobi also falls into that category, at 22 years of age he still has time to reshape himself into something different. Carrasco is nearing what should, in theory, be the prime of his career, and would need to make an emphatic renaissance to avoid a repeat of his situation in Madrid.
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The reality for Arsenal is that another wide man is low down on the priorities list. Unless Emery was intending to convert Carrasco into an out-and-out playmaker, signing the Belgian attacker would still leave him lacking in the creative midfield. Likewise, with Arsenal’s anarchic defence the main thing which has held them back this season, they are in desperate need of reinforcements in the centre of defence. Laurent Koscielny is approaching his mid thirties, Rob Holding is out with a long-term knee injury and Shkodran Mustafi is not up to the standard required.
Then there is the fact that Arsenal are, by their own admission, restricted to a tight budget until the end of the season. In Emery’s words: “We cannot make payments to sign players. Only we can loan players.” Even were Arsenal able to organise a loan deal which was acceptable both to Dalian and Carrasco himself, it would be hard to justify covering Chinese Super League wages with the limited funds available. While Carrasco might still make a good investment for someone, Emery would be best served by formulating a long-term transfer strategy that addresses his problem positions rather than improvising on low-priority, high-risk signings.
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