It might have not been against the greatest of sides, but Arsenal’s performance in the 4-1 victory over Rapid Wien put a smile back on the faces of fans. There was a cohesion about the way we moved the ball forward which has been missing in recent times.
This was the Arsenal that people were used to – moving the ball quickly, creating chances at regular intervals and on a more jocular note, missing chances for fun.
In the Europa league, Arsenal average 19 shots per game. The numbers in the Premier league however, tell a different story – we are 15th in shots, averaging only 9.5 per game. Even if you want to factor in the quality of the sides faced, the difference is still quite high.
So why is it that Arsenal aren’t able to manage many shots? One of the main reasons is the lack of centrality to our play. This means there are 2 consequences:
1. It becomes predictable. Teams in the league have started figuring us out.
2. We don’t have any great headers of the ball in our squad bar Gabriel Martinelli who is yet to regain full match fitness.
As a result, we are a team that plays crosses into the box in the hope that we can make something happen from those second balls which is a far from ideal way of attacking.
Arteta’s solution to counter this issue in the last 2 games has been to field Joe Willock in the number 10 role. However, it just hasn’t worked considering Willock isn’t what I’d term a ‘link player.’
Willock is more of an #8 and a player that can drive forward with the ball nicely and make Ramseyesque runs from deep. But he isn’t someone who can consistently play with his back to goal and link the play against a deep block. Additionally, Joe has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the weight of his passes and decision making in the final third.
Lacazette has emerged as a potential temporary solution in this regard. He has always been someone who thrives when he plays with another striker. Dropping deeper and linking up the play has never been his main issue – it is his lack of athletic qualities and efficiency in front of goal which has been the main reasons for criticism. But as we saw yesterday, he does possess good technical quality and might have emerged as a viable internal option – FOR NOW.
It is clear to see why Arsenal want to bring in an attacking midfielder. You take a player like Mesut Özil for example – he is so much more than just goals and assists. A player like that finds space, is always available to receive a pass under any situation and can occupy the opposition players. The last part for me is the most interesting thing.
Aubameyang was used on the left because of his vertical running which could be utilized better when the centre forward occupies the centre halves. Similarly, a good attacking midfielder can not only free up space for the wide players and allow midfielders to come in from deeper, but also help the centre forward. This is what I love about the beautiful game – how one type of player can help the team as a collective.
Having said that, what Arteta does expect from that type of player is to also work hard off the ball and do well in every aspect of the game. This is evidenced by his love for Houssem Aouar, a player who is well rounded with potential to improve the team in a huge way.
Arsenal in some aspects currently remind me of how Manchester United were before Bruno Fernandes. With Pogba injured for large parts of last season, they were basically playing 2 defensive midfielders with either Lingard at number 10, or no one at all. The net result is that they struggle against deep blocks, but do better against teams that come at them – sit back and counter with their pace on the break.
It is a real shame we weren’t able to bring an attacking midfielder in the summer, but it is clear that the club are looking at one now. We’re linked with different names – Eriksen, Buendia, Aouar, Szobozslai, among others. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Rodrigo De Paul of Udinese, but we haven’t really heard anything on him yet.
The bottom-line is we need to find our own player who can slot in there – whether one such player makes us a top 4 team I doubt, but I’m convinced the team will improve in a huge way if we bring the right player to play in this position. The onus is now on Edu and the board to make it happen.