FootballPremier League

Andersen and Praet will cost a pretty penny but they’d both be worth it for Arsenal

June 12, 2019

OVER recent seasons, Sampdoria are quietly earning a reputation as a club who understand how to help players deliver their very best. The Genoa-based outfit have worked hard to provide the perfect, stable environment in which the squad can grow, coaching them to improve both weaknesses and strengths while ensuring all the tools that are essential for success at the highest level are available.

It appears that age is irrelevant to their approach, with Fabio Quagliarella’s resurgence undeniably the most obvious example. At 36, he finished above Cristiano Ronaldo to be Serie A’s leading goal scorer, but all around Italy’s top flight are other players who have reaped the benefits of playing for the Blucerchiati.

Inter’s Milan Skriniar arrived as an unproven, unknown 20-year-old but is now one of the most coveted defenders in Europe. Duvan Zapata learnt what it takes to be a regular starter during his time at Marassi and will now be playing Champions League football for Atalanta, joining Luis Muriel, Joaquín Correa, Patrik Schick and even Mauro Icardi on the list of former Samp stars who have earned big moves.

Like team-mate Shkodran Mustafi before him, Lucas Torreira certainly knows the benefits of spending time there and the Arsenal star took time to thank the Italian club and their fans once his move to North London was confirmed. “I’ll never forget the importance of having had you all on my side since my first training session, during which time I wore the most beautiful jersey in the world,” he wrote in an Instagram post last summer. “I’ve grown a lot in these two years, you’ve welcomed me, trusted me and made me feel like one of you.”

Arsenal supporters were soon singing his praises too, so much so that Sampdoria promised to set up an email address solely for them to pass on their thanks. While that humour must be appreciated, it seems the Gunners know when they are onto a good thing and are preparing to sign two more players from the Serie A side.

Various outlets in Italy and the UK have linked Arsenal with a €48 million move for Joachim Andersen and Dennis Praet, who both shone under Marco Giampaolo’s guidance in 2018/19. However, La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Nicolo Schira has followed that up by reporting that Samp have told the Premier League club that their asking price is €55 million and that negotiations between the two are continuing.

Arsenal are believed to have repeatedly sent scouts to watch the pair throughout the campaign, and they could not fail to be impressed by what they would have seen. Praet – a former Anderlecht standout – has been with ‘Doria for three years, proving to be a versatile, hard-working and intelligent midfielder.

Strong on the ball and extremely comfortable in possession, the 25-year-old is excellent at finding pockets of space, constantly moving around the field to find weaknesses in opposition defences. His passing is exceptional, often opening up chances for those ahead of him even if his goal (2) and assist (3) tally this term do not reflect that due to often playing much deeper than he is naturally used to.

He has the ability to beat his man but does not shirk his own defensive duties, averaging 2.7 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes according to data provided by Opta. Like Torreira, he has a tireless work ethic, but Praet’s intensity can lead to clumsy fouls and that is something the Belgian certainly needs to improve.

He is in little doubt as to who helped him take such a leap, praising ‘Doria boss Giampaolo in a recent interview with Sky Italia. "He is among the best coaches around, perfect for us youngsters,” Praet said. “He helps shape us as players and tactically he is amazing. At the beginning, I admit, it wasn't easy and I was struggling, but now it is going great. His idea of ​​football is ideal for my characteristics.”

Few players have improved as much over the last 12 months as Andersen however, the 6’4” central defender going from relative obscurity to becoming a highly regarded regular in the first choice XI. Signed in the summer of 2017 to fill the void left by Skriniar’s departure, he made just six Serie A starts but like so many others before him, he clearly benefited from the expert developmental coaching of Sampdoria.

This past season the Danish youngster made 32 starts, looking vastly improved in almost every facet of his game. Clearly strong in the air, he is physically strong and seems to relish the challenge of lining up against combative strikers, and while he is perhaps not quick enough on the ground to keep up with smaller, more skilful front men, his excellent positional sense helps to mask that flaw.

The 23-year-old is also excellent in possession, averaging 63.4 passes per 90 minutes and connecting with 88.8% of his attempts overall. Under Giampaolo, Samp have always looked to build play from the back slowly and Andersen was comfortable triggering many of those moves, often the first man goalkeeper Emil Audero looked to when the ball came to him. Such confident, quick and intelligent distribution is now almost a prerequisite for central defenders at the top level, and his time at forward-thinking clubs like FC Midtjylland and FC Twente has helped to hone those skills.

Just as they have in the past, the Blucerchiati have continued that development and their work with both Joachim Andersen and Dennis Praet has clearly not gone unnoticed as Arsenal once again seek to reap the benefits.