On paper, very few players can come to Barcelona from South America and start impressing from the first day. Neymar did that. But not everyone else can. Arthur never exactly did that too, but things have changed over time.
The Brazilian arrived from Gremio in the summer of 2018 for a fee of €40m. He was seen as the man to take Barcelona forward, with a transition period facing the Nou Camp club.
In his first season at the club, Arthur wasn’t special. He wasn’t horrible either. It was a settling in period for a 21-year-old who had never played at a huge European club before. He appeared 28 times in the La Liga last season, assisting only once for the club.
Constant comparisons with Xavi never helped, but the club legend himself backed Arthur. He said that the Brazilian ‘has Barca in his DNA’. In an interview with Super Deportivo de Villa Trinidad, Xavi said (via Sport):
“He’s one of those players that we say has Barça DNA. He has all the qualities needed to be a success and if he’s given games, I think we’re looking at a player that can mark an era at Barcelona.”
But there was some criticism as well. Former Barca man Sonny Anderson was a source of that. But in his criticism lay promise and some optimism about replicating another club legend. Anderson told Catalunya Radio (via Sport):
“I don’t really like the level that Arthur’s been playing at. I thought he was going to do more. Arthur can do more. I know him. He can do what [Andres] Iniesta did at Barça. It’s not a criticism, it’s a disappointment.”
It was crystal clear that just about everyone knew what sort of potential Arthur had. Xavi, out of all people, knew that the midfielder needs time and constant games to thrive. Fast forward to the current time, the changes have been really positive.
So far this season, Arthur has made six La Liga appearances for the Catalans. He has already scored twice, assisting thrice. That is the highest he has ever contributed to goals in a single season. Half of the season has not even been played yet.
Positionally, nothing much has changed. He has played in the same position this season as he did last season.
The biggest difference that has come in this season is his attacking ability. Last season, Arthur played 0.5 key-passes per game. This season, he has played as many as 1.3 key passes per game. Not just that, Arthur has also completed 2.7 dribbles per game. That is a huge improvement from last season’s tally of 0.4 (via Whoscored).
Defensively, Arthur has become a better player too. He has won 1 tackle per game. Last season, he won only 0.6 tackles per game. That isn’t a massive upward movement. But it is his attacking and technical abilities that have caught the real attention. And he deserves it.
The Copa America campaign helped too. He played five full games and helped the Selecao win the tournament. He is now one of Tite’s most important players for the national team.
Arthur had never got a regular run in the Barcelona side last season. Spells in the first-team were interrupted by injury problems. He suffered three different injuries and all of them came just when he had earned a regular spot in the side.
But the regular run of games that he has earned since the summer in the Copa America has helped Arthur thrive. The 23-year-old looks better on the ball and is more involved in the advanced areas. He has grown in stature and confidence, because of that.
It was unfair to expect perfection from him in his first season. Transitioning from playing in South America to doing that in Europe takes a little bedding in period. Now that Arthur has taken his time, he looks on his way to elevating himself to the next level.