ARTETA’S CLEAN SLATES HAVE ALL BEEN WRITTEN ON. TIME FOR A NEW MOVE.
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.