The succession of Mesut Ozil
What makes a good #10 in football?
While it might be a cliché, my answer would be unpredictability. Or maybe I’m cheating, as a player can only be unpredictable, if he/she is highly capable of dribbling, passing and scoring. That makes the life of a defender a nightmare, because if you mark the attacker the #10 might get to shooting distance, but if you step up to stop him, he might provide an assist with a through ball behind the gap you left behind. And a fine player always has a few tricks up their sleeves from a one-touch pass to a cheeky nutmeg. Because #10s are also especially skilled in ball control.
That usually makes them contenders to take set-pieces, but this is not a obligatory. If you visit Mesut Ozils’s WhoScored profile, it checks most boxes: he is a great passer and crosser, he is strong when it comes to holding – and controlling – the ball, he is dangerous with set pieces. On the other hand he is more vulnerable in aerial duels and doesn’t bring those defensive contributions to the team as the holding midfielders.
Mesut has 1 year left on his contract. I don’t think we would (nor could) sell him in the summer, and he should take a hefty salary cut if he wants to stay with the club after 2021. So our question for today: who will be Arsenal’s main attacking midfielder from 2021? I will high-light 3 alternatives, and looking forward to your view on the subject.
Many top clubs play without a #10. For example Liverpool has such a strong front 3 that they don’t deploy a further attacking player. Same applies to Juventus and FC Barcelona, they play with 3 CMs behind a deadly trio of attackers. And while Isco, one of the best AMs of our time works for Real Madrid, the royal club often plays without him in the regular 4-3-3 formation with 3 defensive-minded midfielders. But there are other popular formations without a #10: Inter plays in 3-5-2, and when Eriksen is on the bench, they rely on the 2 strikers (Lukaku & Martinez). Atletico Madrid plays 4-4-2, and they don’t even have an attacking midfielder in their squad. Borussia Dortmund play a visually attractive attacking football in 3-4-3. So it is perfectly feasible to play without a #10.
However, many top clubs still use them: Man City has de Bruyne, Tottenham has Alli, Leicester has Maddison, United has Fernandes (the best transfer of the season). However. Leicester and Tottenham don’t play a front 4 – and even Man City rarely puts de Bruyne with Silva and Sterling to support the lone striker – so the 2 clubs (besides Arsenal) that regularly plays 4 attacking player are Bayern Munich (where either Müller or Coutinho supports the already tough trio of Gnabry, Coman & Lewandowski) and Manchester United (where Fernandes provides the front 3 with key passes).
I’m 100% positive that we would concede a lot less goals in the regular 4-3-3 formation with Xhaka, Torreira and Ceballos at midfield (thus no #10), but most likely we would score a lot less too. I’m not preferring this option, but it is clearly an alternative. It is up to Arteta and the club to pursue this scenario if they see reasonable.
- SOMEONE FROM THE TEAM
Let’s see, who can be a capable successor for Ozil among those who already play for Arsenal. I will list a few options and try to give a score how well they could supersede the German magician.
A: Dani Ceballos
He is good with the ball, and has a vision that not many player have. He has the dribbling skills of Ozil and not bad with short and long range passing either. But he is a weak finisher. Plus he is too good with tackles and interceptions, so the #10 role is not a perfect fit for him. Successor score: 7.0
B: Lucas Torreira
While Emery tried him (to our surprise) in box-to-box role as well as in #10 I don’t really think that would be a viable option. He can pass, but doesn’t have the vision of an attacking midfielder. He is not a big threat for the goalkeeper. And his key skills like tackles and concentration would be misused in a more advanced role. Successor score: 4.5
C: Joe Willock
Many see him as Ozil’s successor, but I’m not among them. Only if we abandon the #10 concept and replace the German with a box-to-box midfielder. Because Willock is indeed a box-to-box midfielder. He has the stamina to run all game, he has the muscular build to look for body vs. body challenges. Joe can dribble and he’s not a bad finisher either, but he is a weak passer. But even worse: he is a poor decision maker. And those 2 skills are vital for a #10. Successor score: 5.0
D: Emile Smith-Rowe
The 19-year-old is a natural central attacking midfielder. His competency profile is practically identical to Ozil’s: strong in passing, dribbling, chance creation, weak in aerial duels and defensive contribution. According to TransferMarkt he is right-footed, but I think he is as close to being ambidextrous as it gets. He already has 18 junior caps and played in the Europa League, the FA Cup and the Premier League. Just look at this video – especially at 1:18 and 1:56 – and don’t forget, this was 2 years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aeh_HipbupM He has the raw talent, no doubt about that. Now it is up to him and the coach to bring the best out of him. Successor score: 9.0
E: Gabriel Martinelli
He is a year younger yet worth 9 times as ESR, but less of a natural choice for the #10 role. He is another gem of the season – I think TA is already composing his post on him – as he is an efficient, almost clinical scorer and a dangerous, fast winger. Unfortunately we have better strikers in the squad (disregarding current form it is unlikely that he would displace Auba, Lacazette or Nketiah from the first team and the primary substitute), and similar applies on the wing as Auba and Pepe, hell maybe even Nelson comes before him in the pecking order. But for somebody who is a capable finisher, a fine dribbler and doesn’t mind switching between the wing and the center he can be a surprise yet viable candidate for the #10 role. He has to work on his passing skills, but never say never. Successor score: 8.0
- A NEW SIGNING
Given our financial situation I don’t think we have either the cash or the attractiveness to sign Kai Havertz – my main man for the position – and the ships to buy Donny van de Beek or Martin Odegaard have probably also sailed. The only way to sign an experienced, big name attacking midfielder is the Aubameyang-swap. We can either exchange him to Coutinho with Barcelona (who earns a lot, but does have a good season in Munich) or swapping the Gabonese with the duo of Ceballos and Isco with Real Madrid. Isco is 27 (just like Coutinho), but didn’t have a single assist this season. Ceballos and Isco together worth 81M according to Transfermarkt, but Real wants to get rid of him in a major summer overhaul, while we would rather stick to our Golden Boot candidate captain, so this double swap is not entirely unlikely.
We decided not to sign Cristopher Nkunku in the summer, which was probably a mistake. We could have bought him on the cheap as he was a former Emery player who was not satisfied with the lack of minutes at PSG. They sold him to RB Leipzig for 11M in the summer, and after 19 goal contribution in 2000 minutes he worth more than 31M now. But that is all in hindsight.
We are often rumoured with the following young starlets: Eberechi Eze, 21 (QPR, 12 goals and 8 assist in 3400 minutes), Jonathan David, 20 (KAA Gent, 23 goals and 10 assists in 3250 minutes) and Orkun Kökcü 19 (Feyenoord, 3 goals and 6 assists in 2800 minutes but another 19 goal contribution last year in 2000 min). From them I would go with the latter, whose only main disadvantage is his name. (Especially as Jonathan David has already stated that a jump to a TOP6 club in the EPL would be too soon for him.)
Among those who haven’t been associated with an Arsenal move, my choice would be the Croatian Nikola Vlasic, 22, currently playing for CSKA Moscow. He has already played for Everton. Good at passing and dribbling, and capable of dangerous long shots. He is not a shere talent as Ozil or ESR, but he is diligent, hard-working and experienced.
What do you think? Who should be Mesut Ozil’s successor?