How Do The Gunners Move Forward? Formation Or Personnel?

We’ve had at least 24-48hrs to calm down from the match against Leicester. An amount of time to dissipate the red mist  and see things a little bit more clearly (or at very least not want to smash your tv).

I’m no angel; I wasn’t best pleased with the result and was left asking so many questions and not finding many solutions to what I had raised.

Understandably no defeat is taken nicely, even if you’ve won a group in qualifying and throw the kids in for the dead rubber last game you still want a win at the very least avoid defeat.

Its human nature really, at the start of Mikel Arteta’s tenure with the club many made the statement that this is a long term project and Mikel will needs time. We can’t expect to be challenging for the title within 6 months. There will be plenty bumps along the way, lots of ups and downs, mistakes will be made especially from a young inexperienced manager but the key thing is to give him time and our full backing.

When Arsene left we entered unfamiliar territory for many Arsenal fans that knew nothing but Arsene. There was evidence over at Manchester United that to replace someone after such a prolonged amount of time would not be a smooth transition. Unai Emery was just the wrong choice for manager and despite some early warning signs things were not going well he cannot turn around and say he wasn’t given a chance to get things right.

Anyway no point me bleating on about the recent managerial history of the club, we are all well aware. I suppose the point of me bringing it up was to highlight it’s far too early to sound the alarm bells.

To take some positives from the football this weekend is not many teams made much advancement at the top, plenty of dropped points by our rivals and therefore Arteta has some food for thought moving forward. Arsenal are still there or thereabouts and the team has plenty scope for improvement.

The manager will have learned a lot from Sunday’s game. Yes we can rue the injustices of the ruled out goal from Lacazette but we must not also dismiss the blatant 2nd yellow card Hector Bellerin should have received. One incorrectly ruled moment turned out key but a game in which we were in control we should have done a lot more when we were on top.

No point singling out one striker’s performance but ask questions of why when on top are we as a team are not putting teams to the sword?

The key factor that comes to mind is the lack of a creative fulcrum to dovetail the newly instilled tenacity and focus. The big question to ask yourself is does that lay with the tactics or lack of personnel. You could argue both really, let’s have a looks at both sides:

The Formation

The team set up with a 433 formation however maybe due to the easing in of four at the back over utilising three centre backs there is more emphasis on the midfield 3 acting as a shield than supporting attacks. I would certainly bracket Partey and Xhaka as more defensive minded whilst Ceballos is great at dictating play advancing from deep and is equally comfortable mucking it in the middle of the park putting his foot in.

It would be interesting to see Ceballos advancing further forward to see if he could make things happen in a freer role. Sunday’s tactics seemed to focus more on utilising the timed runs of the fullbacks. A tactic that seemed to work in the sense that the ball was finding those players in advanced positions Bellerin especially however the most was not made of those situations.

With the spaces vacated by the full backs the midfield three were as it seems instructed to fill the gaps left by them. Again it added to the stability and you could argue from a defensive sense the team is looking more solid for setting up that way. It’s the attack which seems to be suffering and you have to wonder if by having a more disciplined set up, the attack being left to make the magic happen by themselves was always bound to eventually struggle when teams wised up to that being go to tactic.

This is where you have to look at the other question regarding:

The Personnel

The game vs. Leicester was the perfect example of a team set out to nullify the opposition. Especially with Vardy on the bench the team came with a game plan to soak up and nullify Arsenal and then hopefully nick something with the introduction of Vardy later in the game. Leicester aren’t the first and won’t be the last to play with the majority of their men behind the ball and soak up the pressure. When you take into account how much Arsenal rely on counter attack and pace we were left in a catch 22 situation where other than individual moments of brilliance we would struggle getting in behind a deep defensive line.

It’s situations like that where you are left screaming out for a creative player that can thread a pass through the eye of a needle and get the attackers in on goal. You could argue we have a player that fits that description on our paid staff but let’s not go there with the Ö word. In terms of whom we have available who can play, who could maybe play in the midfield three at the tip as a creative outlet?

Of course Arteta may not have plans to use his midfield three in such a way but let’s just hypothesize that he may. Do we have the creative player that could make that mark from the personnel we have? Well the short answer is yes but the longer deeper answer is which player exactly?

Well I would say take your pick from the Following: Saka, Ceballos, Willian and Emile Smith Rowe.

Four players I feel have the adaptability, agilty and potential for a pass in their locker.

Saka we’ve seen play in a number of positions for the club now but I do recall him playing in a midfield three as the advanced creative hub, It may have been against Sheffield United last season (don’t quote me on that) but at the time it gave us the fans an insight into his versatility and proved he could play there.

Willian is a bit of an unknown but it is clear he has the technical ability and strength to play further forward in a midfield three. I avoid watching Chelsea as much as I can so I can’t recall times he played there for the club that I would have noticed. Nevertheless he can be an option in the middle, his versatility will be key for us this season.

Ceballos as I mentioned earlier is definitely a creative player with a bit of bite, it’s that extra tenacity that probably works against him as he is more trusted to protect as well as provide ball retention. He has always looked impressive coming from deep and always demands the ball, it’s worth a shot trying him further advanced, there’s nothing to lose.

Emile Smith Rowe would seem like the perfect player to be given a shot in that role however his injury problems are becoming a concern. There’s nothing the Arsenal fans would like more than to see this kid fulfil his potential but the persistent little injuries tend to hinder his progress. I’d like to think the longer delay to his return is a planned schedule to ensure his return won’t result in breaking down two to three games in.

I may have missed off other potential options, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’ve deliberately left out the quality starlets in our youth set up, players such as Charlie Patino, Omari Hutchinson et al, as their time will come but in the current team I can’t see Arteta making such a leap of faith for now.

There’s a chance to give Arteta something to think about before January transfer window otherwise there may be a renewed more aggressive move for Houssem Aouar. Time will tell, let see how this plays out.

Enjoy you day people.

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I also write for.


Eddie Nketiah: It’s Only Just The Beginning.

On Wednesday Eddie Nketiah came off the bench for England U21 to net a goal in a 3-3 draw with Andorra. The result itself was a bit of a shock given Andorra are rock bottom of the Euro 2021 qualifying group table though on closer look it seems a few more important players were rested for this fixture with Eddie being one of them. After coming on he bagged what looked to be the winner only for England to concede again and finish with scores level.

The significant take away from Eddie’s scoring feat was the fact that he netted his 13th goal for England u21’s which put him joint level as the record scorer for England at that level. A goal scoring record that is shared with Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers. A feat that has to be applauded but at the same time reality checked as it is at an u21 standard. However the two players he shares the record with couldn’t provide more evidence of absolute polar opposites in terms of senior England careers that Eddie could have.

Alan Shearer went on to be one of the greatest most prolific goal scorers in England History whilst Francis Jeffers managed to make only one senior appearance for England (all be it scoring and boasting a 100% record).

You have to say the ball is in Eddie’s court in terms of how he shapes his future. He has certainly put in the hard work up to this stage to make the most of his opportunities.

He has the belief of his manager which has earned him starts in the premiership for Arsenal; he’s scoring freely for England U21 and likely to be in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. It’s the kind of path any aspiring young striker would love to be following and yet when you ask fans for their view on Eddie you get mixed responses. 

There’s a large contingent of people who do not believe Eddie to be good enough for Arsenal and would sooner have him replaced with a more favourable experienced striker. In this day and age where fans expect the finished article instantly (particularly at larger clubs) there’s certainly less patience to see through the development of young players even more so strikers if the output isn’t that of the finished article.

Eddie Nketiah is still learning his craft and the capacity for his development and improvement is massive. Can he achieve it whilst at Arsenal?  As echoed earlier the ball is in his court and he will have to achieve this while constantly having questions thrown at him about his abilities.

Now on one hand I can understand where some of the fans are coming from. If you were to describe the type of player Eddie Nketiah is in a few short words then Fox in the box is a common and rather accurate descriptor used for the young striker. He is a striker that often finds himself on the end of balls played into the box; using his pace to nip in ahead of the defender and finish with aplomb.

When asked to expand on his other strengths that is where many would fall short on providing an answer to respond with. When describing the template for a modern day striker the general consensus is an all-rounder. A player with pace and power, who can finish, that has the ability to drop deep and bring others into play, a tireless runner  who can trouble defenders and a player who can assist his teammates. Seems a lot really for the ultimate striker but nowadays when you find a striker that exhibits one or two of those attributes the criticism will always be the highlighting of the attributes they don’t have from that list. It’s fair to say Eddie doesn’t tick all those boxes yet and until he does he won’t escape the criticism. When you think of his loan to Leeds united, depending on what side of the fence you sit his loan was a success or failure.  He rarely started games but his impact from the bench was appreciated from Leeds with some important goals. Patrick Bamford was the preferred starter and yet he was hardly getting on score sheet. Why was he being played ahead of the Arsenal starlet who was getting more goals per minute in comparison?

The clear answer was what Bamford brought to the overall play of the Leeds team. If you watched Leeds play he was key to the success of their system. His link up play brought others into attack and if you avoid the goals to games stats and observed the gameplay it was easier to appreciate what Bamford contributed. Saying that Bamford’s finishing leaves a lot to be desired and is what separates him from being a good striker and an elite one. Eddie was a far better finisher but the other aspects to his game were still to be worked on, this resulted in his super sub role for the club.

Sending Eddie out on loan was a chance for him to get the minutes and improve and enhance the aspects of his game he needed to work on. With him not getting that at Leeds it made up the mind of Mikel Arteta to cut his loan short return to Arsenal and give him more game time at a higher standard.

Eddie is only 21 and still developing under Arteta, he is improving and the important thing is not to dismiss what he can become because of what he shows now. Players need time and you only need to look at Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring for England against Wales on his England debut to see how a young player can come to fruition. Everton fans would be telling lies if they didn’t admit that at times they questioned the abilities of the youngster and whether he was good enough to be the main Everton striker. A player who served his apprenticeship with loans to lower league clubs and representing the England youth teams didn’t set the world alight with his scoring record in his first couple seasons with the Toffees.

 The early promise plateaued a bit but under Carlo Ancelotti he has taken his game to the next level and is now first name on the team sheet and seen as one of the top strikers in the premiership. Patience and belief in his ability is what has gotten him to where he is now, he also is still developing and learning and getting better. Anyone who dismisses Nketiah just needs to take a look over at Goodison Park.

It reached a point where many fans were calling for Nketiah to be ditched in order to make space for young striker Folarin Balogun. A top talent in our youth set up no doubt but to see comments claiming Balogun to be a better player without having kicked a single ball in 1st team senior football is quite ludicrous. Balogun could well go on to be an even better player than Eddie but there’s a level of apprenticeship that needs to be completed before strolling straight into the Arsenal 1st team. Not everyone makes the transition into first team football from a prolific youth career. We mustn’t forget Nketiah was also prolific in youth, made scoring appearances early into his 1st team career, completed a loan out gained more experience and has returned and contributed.

Nketiah is not the finished article but Nketiah is not finished either. His story is only in the first few pages. It’s just a case of whether the end of his story is more likened to Alan Shearers than Francis Jeffers?

Enjoy you day people.

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I am proud to be a writer for.

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