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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Arthur fast becoming Barcelona's most crucial player ahead of clasico against Real Madrid

Brazilian midfielder, who draws praise from teammates Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, should be automatic starter for Catalans

Barcelona midfielder Arthur, right, combines the best qualities of predecessors Xavi and Andres Iniesta. AP Photo
Barcelona midfielder Arthur, right, combines the best qualities of predecessors Xavi and Andres Iniesta. AP Photo

As Lionel Messi sat in Camp Nou’s main stand on Wednesday night against Inter Milan, one arm in a sling after Saturday’s injury, the other around his one of his son Thiago, his teammates showed they can beat quality opponents without him.

Barca triumphed 2-0 with goals from Rafinha and Jordi Alba against an Inter side who, like Barca, had beaten PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham Hotspur in their previous Uefa Champions League group games. Inter had also won their previous five Serie A games including Sunday’s Milan derby.

Ahead of this Sunday’s classico at home to a troubled Real Madrid side, Barca need to be at their best without their best player. Not having Messi in the world will always be a disadvantage, but Wednesday saw significant positives for the Catalans, especially in the performance of a Brazilian midfielder.

Arthur, 22, signed a six-year deal from South American champions Gremio in the close season for what already appears to be a bargain €31 million (Dh130m).

Barca needed a long-term solution after stalwarts Xavi and Andres Iniesta moved on. Arthur has qualities like both, from the turns of Iniesta to the never-give-the-ball-away ethos of Xavi.

Wearing the No 8, his attributes were appreciated by supporters on Wednesday who gave him an ovation when he was substituted for Arturo Vidal. It was his finest Barca performance to date, though the substitution was normal since Arthur – full name Arthur Henrique Ramos de Oliveira Melo – has yet to play 90 minutes for Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Asked why he had taken him off when he was playing so well, Valverde explained that the Brazilian had a slight knock and did not want to take any risks with the clasico in mind.

“He’s playing well and we are very happy with him,” Valverde added.

Arthur’s rise has been spectacular. He only became a first-team regular for Gremio, the club where Ronaldinho started out, in 2017.

Yet he was the key player and was named man of the match in his opening Copa Libertadores game.

He stayed in the side as Gremio triumphed, knocking out Argentines Gody Cruz and Brazilians Botafogo.

The latter was under the watch of Brazil manager Tite, who was so impressed that he selected Arthur for his first Brazil squad a year ago. However, he was only a standby for the World Cup and would not make his debut until this August.

Arthur has played in Brazil’s last four games and looks set to become a mainstay of the national side.

Gremio then beat Ecuadorian side Barcelona and Argentines Lanus in the Libertadores final. Arthur played only 50 minutes of the final's second leg, which was a very difficult game in the bear-pit of Lanus. But he was so calm and made such an impact that he was named man of the match.

Like Xavi, he fits into Barca’s system perfectly, quickly passing and moving the ball and seldom losing possession. Against Inter he had a passing accuracy of 95 per cent and linked seamlessly with Jordi Alba and Philippe Coutinho.

Arthur seldom scores. He seldom even assists. But he brings intelligence, balance and control with his neat footwork. He passes through the lines, his risks are calculated, and he is perfect for Barca and already looks settled after four months at Camp Nou.

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Read more:

Barcelona's Rafinha: Win over Inter Milan a 'great boost' ahead of el clasico

Julen Lopetegui vows to fight on to turn around Real Madrid's struggles

Barcelona v Girona in Miami set to be shelved owing to lack of support

Struggles of Barcelona and Madrid make for exciting Primera Liga viewing

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Ousmane Dembele did not make it off the bench on Wednesday night despite Lionel Messi’s absence. Getty Images
Ousmane Dembele did not make it off the bench on Wednesday night despite Lionel Messi’s absence. Getty Images

Not all is well for the Catalan club.

Ousmane Dembele, their second-most expensive signing ever, did not make it off the bench despite Messi’s absence. Another Brazilian, Malcom, has hoped to feature far more.

Still, they are leaders in their Champions League group and the Primera Liga table, where they enjoy a one-point lead over neighbours Espanyol and a four-point advantage over Madrid.

Arthur has now started Barca’s last four games. He did not make any headlines, but he was superb against Tottenham at Wembley and Valencia in Mestalla.

He has been patient.

He is learning Spanish, and he lives with his parents in a house overlooking Camp Nou – rather than by the beach like many of his teammates. He relaxes by playing basketball, tennis, table tennis and pool, and swimming at home.

He never expected to be an automatic starter at first, but he should be. The more defensive and peerless Sergio Busquets rates him, as does Ivan Rakitic, the other player in that midfield three. Crucially, so does Messi.

It is still early days, but Arthur absolutely deserves to start in the clasico.