Arteta Needs a Proper Nr8 for More Goals but Who Can It Be?



A half full cup. A half empty cup. They are identical. The only difference is in the point of view. So it is with Saka. A left full back with clear instructions to always join the attack. A left winger with strict instructions to always track back to defend. For me Saka is the latter. Not that the tag matters,  “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” said Shakespeare.

In other words we have five attackers: Saka or Kola, Auba or Marti, Laca or Eddie, Pepe or Reiss, Ozil or Willock or using one high strung string: Saka, Auba, Laca, Ozil and Pepe. Thats as good a quintet as one can get to bear down on opposition box through all the five channels. Let us look at what is behind them, Xhaka (deep lying cum left back space coverer), Torreira (DM and a ball circulator), Bellerin right back tucked in to help the deep lying horizontally stretched duo). Then come Luiz and Sokr (central defenders).

That gives a 2-3-5 shape during the final phase of our attack. This 2-3-5 is the state of the art tactics of the bigger more adventurous teams as they climax their offensive move. For example for City it could be Sterling, D. Silva, Aguero, De Bruyne and Mahrez and for Liverpool it’s usually Mane, Firmino, Salah with their full backs Trent-Arnold and Robertson filling in the outside channels.

While City has scored 65 goals @ 2.6 goals per game, and Liverpool had scored 60 goals @ 2.4 goals per game, we have scored 32 goals @ 1.28 goals per game; while under Arteta (the relevant stats for this analysis) we’ve been scoring at the rate of 1.14 goals per game. This would have worked out at a total of 29 goals for the 25 games played so far.

Again, while City had been making an average of 19.9 attempts at goal per game, Liverpool @ 15.6 per game, under Arteta we have been making 10 attempts per game (our season’s average is 11.2 per game). Palace at 9.5 per game is the bottom team in attempts on goal in the league.

Our shot conversion rate stands at 11.4% under Arteta (exactly the same as our season’s rate and a little more than the league’s average of 11%). City’s shot conversion rate is at 13.1%, Liverpool’s at 15.4%. Obviously we need to better our shot conversion rate but even more than that we need to dramatically improve our chance creation rate. If we created more we should have scored more and most of our stalemated games would have been victories.

Why we are not creating enough becomes the big question. The answer though is simple. Personnel and by extension structure. By skill set and role, our usual team set up under Arteta has Ozil as our only attacking midfielder. Please note carefully the qualifying use of the expression “skill set and role”. One can have the skill set but not the role. Another can have the role but not the skill set.

Auba is a great player off the ball, great at getting at the end of things. With the ball he is quite ordinary but he has been given a role that demands he be a major actor in our build up play. Wrong role. It is to his credit that he is still able to score so many goals.

Laca is a box man, Jermain Defoe type. Dropping deep as he does, he offers only raw energy which is just not enough for the aspiration of the team. His first touch in our build up play often lets him down, and contrary to popular conception, the ability to play with the back to the goal, does not always necessitate a hold up play, his go to style.

A classical example was our 2nd goal against Bournmouth in the FA cup. Mustafi gave a good penetrative pass to Nketiah who had his back to goal. He simply gave a 3 meter first touch back pass to Willock (facing goal) who laid a 25 meter pass into space for overlapping Saka to cross for Nketiah to tap in. Brilliant from beginning to end with Nketiah originally back-to-goal contributing two simple but vital touches.

When Laca plays he should stay around the box like Wenger used to urge him to do. Note though that he drops deep because our central attacking space cries for more bodies. Wrong set up that invites a wrong usage of a talent.

Pepe still has a lot of adjustment to do and despite glimpses of his game changing quality he is not showing that he is at home with exquisite triangles. As a high risk, high reward player, he should not be a major cog in our build up play.

Xhaka has to sit deep. He knows he dare not venture up field where there is not enough space or time, the ingredients that make his game.  Torreira is best breaking up opposition moves in front of the central defence and despite Arteta’s encouragements he is not building himself any reputation as a forward penetrative passer.

Therefore there exists this structural chasm (in terms of real space and/or skill sets) between the three front players who lack the skill set for build up play (of course one is not talking on absolute terms) and the two deep sitters who by assignment or limitations in skill are not sufficiently part of the advanced build up play.

Lost in this structural chasm is boy alone Mesut Ozil. The result is that we are completely unable to regularly create chances from the middle, and Saka or Kolasinac, instead of being used as auxiliary route for creating chances, have become about our only route. It’s made our offence damn predictable. Any wonder we can’t lift ourselves out of mid table in-spite of the “quality” of our personnel.

In a nutshell despite being well manned with goal scorers and deep sitters we don’t have enough of suitable bodies linking the two. Our front three are then forced to feed on their own scraps.

The City quintet that I cited as an example has D. Silva and De Bruyne with one of their central midfielders (say Gondogan) able to move up to partake in the build up play which is the platform for creating chances.

Arteta needs to address this flaw and that should mean one or two or three of the regulars finding themselves not so regular anymore for the sake of balance. With 13 games to go and only 7 points from relegation, now is no time for small steps. One thing is certain, result-wise it can’t get any poorer trying something different.

It’s time for Arteta to act on his deeper convictions after having masterfully given everybody a clean slate. On those slates each has written his own script ….. a starter, a bencher, this role or that role, this formation or that formation. When it is one’s script, sulking isn’t likely to become an issue.

To make space for a No. 8, one of the two deep sitter role has to go. Otherwise between the front three of Auba, Laca, and Pepe (or their backups) at least one of them have to make way for a proper attacking midfielder. The big question is who and who do we have to step up to the occasion? Willock? Ceballos? Torreira? Nelson? Maitland-Niles? Or ….?

The loan signing of Pablo and Cedric doesn’t quite feel like its only to add numbers to the back line more so with the resurrection of Skodran (man come from the dead!). Something appears to be cooking. Would Luiz become the lone DM with a rippling effect that might find Xhaka at left back? Or has Arteta got some other cards up his sleeve? I have a feeling that when hostilities resume after this winter break, we would witness Arteta’s 2nd major leap, the 1st being that our shots concession has dropped significantly.

That 2nd leap better be.


By PE.

16 thoughts on “Arteta Needs a Proper Nr8 for More Goals but Who Can It Be?

  • A very well researched and balanced post, PE. Top Notch!

    We have seen glimpses of Arteta-ball but of course it takes time. We will get there and you are pointing the main areas of focus for him. I believe that both Xhaka and Torreira are the couple to base the midfield on and they will be able to push up together going forward… it is all about playing with a high line and being confident and focussed. Guendouzi is slowly playing himself into the double-pivot but it is a work in progress.

    If I were Arteta, I would sacrifice Pepe to become my super-sub for the rest of the season, move Ozil to the right in a free role (but with defensive duties on the left flank) and play Willock in the hole (other options are Ceballos and AMN, or Seventeenho’s choice… Saka). That leaves us with Auba and Laca as nr.1 options for the other two attacking slots, with then Martinelli, Nelson and Eddie offering quality alternatives.

  • I totally agree with you here. We lack quality in the middle of the pitch to receive the ball in the centre circle and pick out a pass or drive forward with the ball to take a opposition players out of the game. This means the forwards are always being given the ball with their backs to goal which makes them look bad (Laca is definately struggling here).

    Sadly for me Ozil isn’t playing well enough so much as I hate to say it he’d be my man to lose out. Maybe try a 4-3-3 with 2 6s and an 8 or one 6 and 2 8s depending on the opposition. I’d like Willock and Cebellos to have more playing time. The trick is not to go back to how we used to play this formation where the middle three get all drawn out of position exposing the back four when we lose the ball. That’s down to Arteta to coach the players.

  • I’d look very seriously at Southamptons Stuart Armstrong. Otherwise, for me, Joe Willock is the most natural forward facing midfielder in that role. This is a great article, well balanced and reasoned. In my opinion, with today’s squad, the midfield should be Torreira DM, Willock B2B, Ozil No. 10. It’s a bit rough on Guendouzi, who I like a lot, but hey, only 11 spots to fill, right? Willock is still young and will have the odd bad game, but is an excellent prospect. In my mind, Ozil is struggling badly, and we should let him go to Turkey this summer at a cut price so they can afford his wages. Who’d replace him? I’m not sure. Maybe Willock and Armstrong would work, but I’ve always liked James Rodriquez, even though his star has waned a little of late. It would not be a zero risk signing, nor a cheap one, but if it panned out you’d have a cracking forward line, with Gabi, in my view, being a long term fixture, and the natural replacement for Auba in the 12-24 month range….if we can keep him happy and settled as the seasons pass, I could see him passing Henry’s total…he’s that good.

  • TA … Xhaka is a lovely player but it seems it all has to be right for him. The quick pass and move of the attacking areas not quite for him and at the same time as the last man shielding the CD not quite for him. But in his nitch non can be better. That’s the Xhaka conundrum.

  • Daniel … good idea abou the 2×6+8 or 6+2×8. But don’t you think that Ozil could begin to flower if he has more intelligent ball players around him?

  • Sammy … that’s what makes it so tough, 11 players only. I like your midfield 3 of Torreira, Willock and Ozil. With that 3, I wouldn’t mind Xhaka as a tucked in left back with Saka as left winger. We need to think always on how to improve our chance creation without compromising our defensive shape.

  • PE, who is still playing with a single all-powerful, classical DM? Put Henderson or Milner alone in front of their back fours and they would struggle. Double, or even triple, pivot that pushes up is the answer and then an extra attacking midfielder in the attacking-four and Bob’s your uncle… imho. 🙂

  • You are right TA but usually one sits deepest like Fabinho in Liv and Rodri in City. What am trying to get at is that 2 sitting without one being something of a b2b is a minus to the team’s offensive strength.

    Just bothered that we are not creating enough.

  • Interesting thoughts guys. If we’re thinking that the B2B mid also has to be a second DM, then for me, Guendouzi fills that role, but doesn’t have Willocks goal threat. I’m not a Xhaka fan, TBH, and I don’t fancy him at left back at all. Cards all day. We’re rueing Tierneys injury really. Saka has done well filling in though, and Saka/Gabi is a lovely combo that wouldn’t have happened otherwise unless we go three at the back, god forbid.

  • Atm, we are not creating through the right flank because the right full back is used more defensively. If Arteta cannot get more creation of chances from the center he might opt for 3 at the back so his team can begin to create from the two flanks using the full backs. In which case we’d have a line up like this:


  • I can see where you are coming from, PE. Like SNP, I reckon Arteta is working hard with Guendouzi to have a B2B option, so you may get your wish over time. For me, it is about the double pivot pushing up and sitting back together. If we then play both Ozil and say Willock, we have so many passing players and then we should be able to create loads more chances.

    I would like to see this line-up:
    ————- Leno ——————
    Bels —– Sok ——- Luiz ——- Saka
    ——— Tor/Guen —— Xhaka ———-
    Ozil ——-Willock/Ceballos ——–Auba/ Marti
    ————— Laca/Auba/Eddie —————–

  • I know we are on to a “new post”, but just had to throw on my compliments to PE for such a well thought-out article, addressing a contemporary issue with the Arsenal. I agree with your concerns and also feel this ‘winter break’ training is just what Arteta needed to tweak with something, after his transfer window activity.

    If we can have three quick, reliable, game reading centre backs, no reason why we can’t unleash both Saka and Bellerin/Cedric on the opposition flanks, while allowing Ozil and Auba tuck in from a false winger role, just to give us bodies in the central areas as the wing backs whip in balls or link up with the tucked in forward men. I say this with the assumption that Laca will keep his place with Pepe and Gabi coming on as subs. Personally, I don’t think it will take Gabi long to show he can play the role Laca plays (dispossessing unwary defenders, being strong in possession and laying on the ball for better positioned attackers/midfielders), if not more efficiently, so Laca is on borrowed time unless he starts to score goals again.

    We are in unfamiliar territory with our position on that league table today, seeing as our “rivals” (Sheffield United, Everton, Wolves, Spurs, Leicester, United and Chelsea) seem to be getting the points they are expected to win.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s