Burnley v Arsenal, Will Arteta Stick Or Twist?

So next up for the Gunners is what can be deemed a difficult trip to Burnley. A team that fits the template perfectly for Arsenal kryptonite over the years. A big strong physical side with the potential to disrupt and spoil any attempts at any fancy football whilst giving the opposition defence no easy ride.

 After looking on jealously this past week as many teams got stuck into European football (Europa league and above) it really did hit home how important it is that Arsenal get back into the European competition as soon as possible. It almost had the air of an international football break as the midweek had an empty feel to it with no interest for Arsenal.

Time will tell if the extra day’s recovery has any kind of advantage over the teams that are currently competing in Europe. A Saturday kick off at 3pm was such a rarity over the last few years due to the Thursday/Sunday Europa schedules that it felt nice last week against Norwich and again we get to experience it today. It’s something we could witness again as the norm if Champions league football was secured come the end of the season, wishful thinking maybe but not impossible. Admittedly being more involved in Champions league usually equates to more TV schedule kick off time and date changes but it’s a nicer problem to have than no Europe at all.

Knowing the physical and aerial dangers posed by the likes of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes one of the big questions posed to Mikel Arteta will be how to set up the defensive back line and with which personnel?  Last week, we witnessed a great first partnership between Ben White and Gabriel who snuffed out pretty much any dangers posed by Norwich. Will Mikel pursue some continuity to allow that partnership to grow by sticking with that pairing? He could alternatively add a third centre back into the mix by drafting in one of the more physically imposing defenders such as Pablo Mari, Callum Chambers or Rob Holding? Holding unfortunately has been ruled out so that leaves the option of Chambers, Mari or pushing Tomiyasu inside and playing someone else in the right back role.

It seems a bit unfair on Ben White that the memories of a tough baptism of fire against Brentford’s physical, long ball approach has virtually written off his abilities to handle any attack that sets up that way. He had a bad day at the office that day as did pretty much the whole starting eleven and despite his transfer fee he is still young and learning his craft. He needs a game for redemption to show the fans and pundits alike, “See, I’m not a weak link to this method”. Until he does come out unscathed from taking on such an attack that cloud of doubt will no doubt remain and hover like a bad smell.

An off day not an every day…

The addition of Tomiyasu has added much needed height from a defensive aspect and it was refreshing to see him winning pretty much every high ball flown his direction last week. It could be an effective enough foil to complement White who could drop and sweep for long balls played to his side as the Japanese defender challenges.

The important thing is we have a capable squad with a number of strengths that could be utilised depending on the opposition we play. Mari hasn’t come off well from the Brentford game either and has been written off by many but many times last season he was a very capable defender. One game should never be used to draw all conclusions on a player. This is why they train all week, why they review their performances as a team. They can work on where they went wrong and make sure those same faults are not a regular occurrence.

Midfield will be an interesting choice. Last week Ainsley Maitland Niles took advantage of a suspended Xhaka and an un-risked Thomas Partey to line up in his preferred position alongside Sambi Lokonga. He did alright there whilst not showing anything to prove he would be starting if all available players were fit. The question is whether Mikel Arteta will partner AMN or Lokonga with Partey. It’s pretty nailed on that a fit Xhaka would be favoured over both by Arteta but with him not available it’s hard to call. Sambi Lokonga would get my vote as he hasn’t put a foot wrong since coming in and just oozes a silky calmness you don’t teach but comes naturally.

In the no.10 role Emile Smith-Rowe started the game on the bench whilst Martin Odegaard took up the responsibility. The selection last week may have been forced by Smith-Rowe’s illness that caused him to pull out of the England u-21 squad left him short of full fitness. Whilst on paper it seems a straight battle between the two playmakers to start in the no.10 role it wouldn’t be a shock to see Smith-Rowe deployed in one of the wide roles. In his youth he played across the three front positions often and he did make one or two starts in that position last season. Smith-Rowe playing wide right or left could come at the expense of Pepe or Saka for example.

where does he play?

One thing Mikel Arteta has this season is options and he has at his exposal the option to bring in Martinelli and Smith-Rowe. Either way they are all players that would be good choices from bench if game isn’t going our way.

Aubamyang as captain would give the impression he would be a starter but Lacazette could easily be chosen to add more of a physical presence and hold up play up front. Aubamyang could be deployed on the left side of attack as another wide option.

It does seem a lot of changes suggested whilst Mikel has been more of an advocate for sticking with winning line ups over making drastic changes. We will see come 2pm when line-ups are released.

What is important is we build on the 3 points gained last week. Burnley currently occupies one of the bottom three places but a win for them would allow them to leapfrog Arsenal. They are yet to win a home game in the Premier league after a draw with Leeds and losing to Brighton. It might be a bit more motivation for them to register points for their fans especially to make up for their 2nd half collapse against Everton on Monday gone.

What Arsenal need to do is take full advantage of Burnley’s fragile confidence and not provide a booster like they did in the same fixture last season where a mix up playing out from the back gifted them an easy equalising goal.

There is a great opportunity to take the three points today, come on boys, let’s do this.

Enjoy your day people

P.S I decided to put myself forward as a fans forum representative for season ticket holders this season. Fans get to vote for their representative. Please help me out by casting a vote for me Dwayne Bingham.

Cast your vote here

Thanks guys

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

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.

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