Arsenal could sign £103m Rice partner who’s “Cazorla-esque”

When Granit Xhaka left Arsenal in the summer of 2023, Mikel Arteta and Edu knew they needed to go to great lengths to replace his extraordinary output last season.

A £105m move for Declan Rice was signed, sealed and delivered while Kai Havertz, certainly to less fanfare, arrived from another part of London in Chelsea.

The £65m addition hasn’t quite made the grade after moving to the north of the capital, with it taking until November for the German to finally score a goal in Arsenal colours from open play.

Perhaps realising the error of their ways, the Gunners have been looking at signing another midfielder according to reports.

Arsenal’s midfield shortlist

Two names on the club’s shortlist for 2024 reside in the Premier League with Amadou Onana, touted at £60m, interesting Arsenal, while Joao Palhinha of Fulham is another to be tipped with a move to join the ranks at the Emirates Stadium.


A wildcard option could well be that of Joao Neves, Benfica’s next hot property in the middle of the park after Enzo Fernandez.

The teenage sensation has been strongly linked with Manchester United in recent months but Arsenal are another casting their eyes towards Neves. Reports in the build-up to the January window suggested that the Gunners were tracking the 19-year-old but with a release clause of £103m and no intention of selling, any move is incredibly unlikely, at least for now.


All confirmed Premier League done deals: January transfer window 2024

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Yet, if the Kroenke’s were to dip their hands into their pockets again for another mega midfield signing, Neves would offer some extreme quality to Arteta’s side. Does anyone fancy another round of Santi Cazorla?

How Joao Neves compares to Santi Cazorla

Who is Neves we hear you ask? Well, a quick look at his FBref scouting profile indicates what a fine young individual this budding teen is.

Compared to positionally similar players across Europe’s top five leagues and the top continental competitions, he ranks among the best 11% for passes into the final third (via FBref), indicating his progressive nature in possession of the ball.


Further sitting inside the top 17% for passes attempted, it’s clear Neves is a player who offers plenty of protection and composure on the ball. However, he’s more than just about passing play. Neves happens to be adept in the defensive and offensive phases of play.

Indeed, the Benfica starlet is in the top 1% of midfielders in Europe for goal-creating actions per 90 minutes, the best 1% for tackles won (3.95) and the finest 13% for interceptions (1.58 per 90). To put that into context, Rice makes 2.01 tackles per 90 and 1.73 interceptions.

Can you imagine the thought of the two playing together, therefore? Yeah, it’s a dreamy picture to envisage. The progressive and classy nature of the two is a tantalising prospect.

Already we’re getting a sense of why Neves is similar to Cazorla though. He’s intricate with his passing play, progressive and capable of doing his fair share of the dirty work. The comparison is supplemented by analyst Ben Mattinson.

Cazorla was one of the most gifted players in the Emirates Stadium era and is remembered particularly fondly by those of an Arsenal persuasion. He played a key hand in ending the club’s trophy drought in 2014, scoring a scorching free-kick in the FA Cup final versus Hull City but overall, he was just marvellously gifted at football.

The Spaniard left in 2018 after a period of sustained injury hell that nearly ended his career but he did so with a mighty fine record in Arsenal colours, scoring 29 goals and supplying 45 assists in 180 outings.

With such a creative marvel in mind, let’s dive a little deeper into how he compares to Neves.

Joao Neves vs Santi Cazorla

Stat (per 90)

Neves (23/24)

Cazorla (18/19)




Pass Success



Key Passes



Progressive Passes



Shot-creating Actions



Tackles Won









Progressive Carries



Stats via FBref.

Despite there being some differences in the volume of each stat, you can see how their playstyles are alike. Both registered a high number of progressive passes and shot-creating actions, showcasing a preference for getting on the ball and creating openings for teammates.

Cazorla was one of the finest in the Premier League era at such a quality and thus, signing Neves would be truly exciting for supporters. With such a huge asking price, however, we might never see him in Arsenal colours.

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