Three Big Dilemmas for Arteta: Nr3 – Who Will Be Arteta’s New Alex Song?

Until now I have covered two dilemmas for Arteta: who to pick from Leno and Martinez and what to do with the xx-large talents of Saka and Martinelli. Both are in reality luxury dilemmas: we have quality in goal and quality up-front, and Arteta knows that competition will not harm the motivation of his players as long as he manages their expectations as best as possible.

See the source image

A far more complex dilemma for Arteta is to get the system of play, formation and balance within the team right. This dilemma is all about playing football the Arsenal way, getting the best out of the squad AND gradually build towards something special.

Now that the fixtures list is out I think it is fair to say that we will start with a tough first third of the games in the PL, followed by a reasonably hard second third, and then a quite doable final third.

Therefore, I feel that Arteta could continue with the most recent and successful set-up of 3-4-3 in which we are good at absorbing pressure and focus on taking one or more of the relatively few chances we create. Nothing wrong with doing this during the first third of the season, as it might maximise our points return whilst keeping confidence high.

Then Arteta can gradually change things to a more attacking style of football that will make the in recent decennia acquired ‘purist-Gooners’ happy again (and I am one of them). But this is not easy: how does he transform a caterpillar into a butterfly?

Regardless of system of football etc, I believe Arteta has a clear picture of his favourite spine in the team: the very starting point of a successful team (or indeed organisation). The spine should be full of experience and players who understand what Mikel wants: they are the protectors of what Arsenal stands for and can carry the team through difficult periods. The spine is likely to be: Martinez/Leno – Luiz – Xhaka – Willian – Auba.

Xhaka is Mikel’s embodiment on the pitch: same style, same talents, same leadership and organisation skills and same limitations. If he can find cover for those few limitations he knows he will have a world beater in Granit. For me this is the biggest challenge for Arteta.

Arsenal Training Session

The same goes for Luiz in terms of talents v limitations. It is a team game and if the right people are put around Luiz he really can lift the team to great performances.

We have to hope that Auba signs a new deal and Arteta has said he wants to build the team around him. Furthermore, with Pepe finding form it is unlikely that Arteta has convinced Willian to come to Arsenal with anything else than a more central role for him. It would make no sense to let expensive Pepe and experienced Willian fight it out for the right wing position, if you ask me.

So Willian goes central and that is where he is needed most. The former Blue Brazilian is not as good as Ozil in terms of finding key passes but he offers everything Arteta is asking for: he is tenacious, energetic, aggressive, creative, and a good dribbler and passer with plenty of goals and assists in his locker. Some have remarked on the length of his contract, but Willian has the physique and stamina to go on till he is 36… and at the end of his contract he will still only be 34, so what is the big deal?!

The key question for me is where will Willian play: in the hole in a 4-2-1-3 formation or 3-4-1-2 formation, or next to Xhaka in the recently developed ‘Ceballos’ role? Or may we even see the very attacking formation of 4-1-2-3 with Willian and say Saka or ESR, or even the much rested Ozil in the ‘2’ behind three beasts of attackers?

Yes, with the signing of Willian and the talents of Saka, ESR but also Joe Willock and one or two others playing with two advanced creators is a possibility. And if Arsenal can secure either of Ceballos and Coutinho this would become even more attractive. But I am not getting carried away and realise that Xhaka is not the right player in that sort of formation, and that is probably too attack-minded for the premier league.

But hold on a minute… Arsenal are reported to be interested in Partey and would he be the player in the ‘1’ in midfield to allow everybody in front of him to dance the ball into the net? I doubt it. From what I have seen he is more of a B2B midfielder but without the goals etc.

What I believe Partey would be is the ideal partner for Xhaka in deeper midfield and the perfect link-up player for our attackers, with Willian benefiting most from his link up play further up in the hole position.

Xhaka needs an Alex Song next to him: Alex and Mikel formed a great partnership and one could only excel whilst being partnered with the other. I expect Partey, or a similar player if we cannot get him, to come and play in tandem with Granit and then Willian to play in the hole.

With two out of Auba, Martinelli, Laca, Eddie and Pepe in front of them this could lead to the transformation we are looking for, hopefully leading to beautiful yet winning football.

My dream team could look something like this in the coming season:


If we keep Lacazette then we have even more firepower up-front. But what do you think:

  1. How can Arteta turn us from a more defence minded, withdrawn team to a more attack-minded, forward-playing team without leaving our defence exposed?
  2. What is the best formation for Arsenal to get the balance right?
  3. Who does Arteta need to buy to achieve this (one or two players)?

By TotalArsenal.


43 thoughts on “Three Big Dilemmas for Arteta: Nr3 – Who Will Be Arteta’s New Alex Song?

  • My expectation is that Arteta will want to move to 4-3-3 for most games with a 3 at the back as occasional defensive option. In my view we already have the base of our midfield in Xhaka and any midfield additions will need to give us more forward thrust and creativity. I am therefore inclined to believe the Aouar rumours. I am very sceptical that we will really buy Partey given his price and our well documented issues in chance creation. If i turn out to be wrong, we would almost certainly end up playing 4-2-3-1.

    I could see Saka grow into a left sided central midfid role where he acts as the central creative brain in the way Santi did in the latter stages of his time at Arsenal. This season I expect Willian to be the primary player in that role.

    In central defence, the left side will be Mari / Gabriel whilst the right will most likely be Mustafi / Saliba within hopefully only ever playing in the central position in a back three.

  • Hi CvK, that all sounds logical and possible to me. I like the thought of Saka in the Santi role and yes Willian in that role would make sense too. Cheers.

  • GN5, I saw Gnabry play at Carrow Road, it may have been his debut, the game passed him by and he looked right out of his depth…

    We have a guy whose sole job is too look after the welfare of our loanees, to check up on them, to be a sympathetic ear etc and the club in general are far more professional in deciding who to loan to and the type of football philosophy they have, none of our players would go to a Pulis type club these days that would never happen again.

  • Yes Total, I can’t see Arteta tampering too much in the early part of next season with the tried and tested 3 at the back, but then it may well all depend on the opposition and he might go with a back four against a team that’ll park the bus. That’s the beauty of having a squad full of versatile and intelligent players who can switch systems without the whole thing coming apart.

    Let’s get Gabriel over the line first and see Aubameyang sign his deal, then Arteta can think about moving some players on and raising some revenue to balance the books.

    Partey, if we can get him, has the potential to do for our midfield what Van Dijk did for Liverpool’s defence, it could be transformative and allow us to play a more offensive style.
    If possible I’d try to get Ceballos back as well whilst hanging on to Maitland Niles.

    We need to sell well in order to buy well so if Leicester can get £50m for a left back then selling Chambers for £12m as I’ve seen suggested and Holding for £10m is nonsense.

  • Kev, being born on Avenell Road I used to go every Saturday (back in the day) to watch the first team one week and then the reserves the next. So I was very familiar with both squads, these days I know the academy players by name only, and sadly I will most likely never see a live game again.
    However it’s a rare occurrence for me to miss a game, but being a couch spectator one gets a very different perspective of the game.

  • Yet another fine post TA, I’m just a humble supporter and I’m in awe of the tactical nous that you and many other BKers display. You clearly have a fine understanding of the squads strengths and weaknesses and how they can be knitted into various tactical formations. Thank you for the education.

  • Great stuff TA! This is actually different from what I was planning on writing, so there should be little overlap. It’s going to be anywhere from a 3-5 part series, mostly my musings and what I’ve noticed and how it lends to what I think Arteta will do.

    1. There’s something beautiful about counter attacking football and there’s also a difference between parking the bus to absorb pressure (ie Maureen) and what Arteta is doing with a high press and waves of defensive pressure to win the ball back and prevent any progression.

    If you want to play beautiful football, you will need to sacrifice the back three to add a body in midfield that isn’t an inverted fullback. If Arteta plans to play Willian centrally and starts Xhaka, he has two players who are capable of pressing, a metronome who is adept at man marking and shutting opposing players down (Xhaka) and another that has bags of pace and dribbling ability to create something out of nothing at any given point (Willian).

    The best option to complement those two then imo, is a silky central midfielder capable of exploiting half spaces and a threat at transitioning defense to offense in a nano second, while not sacrificing the pressing and defensive responsibilities that Arteta demands from his CMs.

    2. I think formations are a bit overrated. Arteta seems to like fluid football and have the same principles regardless of formation. Even within a game, the shape often shifts depending on how he wants to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. I think Arteta will end up being more Nagelsmann than he will Pep.

    3. Based on what I said in #1, the minimum would be to buy a silky midfielder. Dani could fulfill this role or Arteta could look to someone like Aouar as an upgrade to fill this void. I think Aouar would fit the role better than Partey and while both would certainly be transformative figures, Partey brings more of an engine to the team that forces the opposition to play around him (very valuable), while Aouar brings that hub to the team that can make things happen by either doing things himself or by drawing in defenders and playing balls into dangerous spaces for our threatening attackers to exploit.

    Ideally, you bring in two CM options to allow for further tactical flexibility. A player like Partey that can shield the back four and force opponents to avoid the middle and the silky midfielder I noted.

  • Side note, I don’t think Coutinho has the requisite abilities to succeed in Arteta’s systems. He would certainly help fill the creativity void, but it would come at the cost of our ability to press and be defensively resolute.

    Coutinho is the type of player you would ideally add to a team when you already have a strong foundation in place and can afford the luxury of a creative player that can drift and not put in a full defensive shift. If Arteta’s route is to go for Partey, then Coutinho would make sense since Partey and Xhaka could cover for any of Coutinho’s pressing and defensive shortcomings.

  • Sky Sports finally confirmed that an agreement has been reached with Gabriel. He’ll be flying to Monday tomorrow for the official signing and unveiling!

  • I love that claim, Kev, that Partey could be the ‘VDijk’ in our midfield. I prefer to call me the Vieira of the twenties if he were to arrive, though 😀

  • Cheers GN5, I am just rambling about players and positions based on real excitement regarding the arrival of Willian and maybe one or two others.

  • “The best option to complement those two then imo, is a silky central midfielder capable of exploiting half spaces and a threat at transitioning defense to offense in a nano second, while not sacrificing the pressing and defensive responsibilities that Arteta demands from his CMs.” Agreed and so there may still be space for both Torreira and Maitland-Niles in our squad. But an upgrade on those two would be great of course.

  • I believe formations and tactics are v important to Arteta, and that is where he has excelled compared to Emery. Agreed that he makes subtle changes to it when he feels this is needed.

  • Above comment is re your second point.

    Re your third point, I see Partey as a better combo for Xhaka. He is more of a defensive midfielder with a conventional ability and desire to go forward as far as I can tell, just like Alex Song was. If then WIllian plays in the hole and links up with both Xhaka and Partey regularly, I feel we would have a very strong midfield.

  • I think, GN5, that moving all our junior games to Borehamwood has had a mixed result, it’s great for the pitch of course but it means that fathers taking their sons to see the Stiffs on a weekend or the Youths in midweek is a thing of the past. It was like a rite of passage as you introduced your saucepan lids to the big stadium, where they’d watch the stars of tomorrow and maybe see a big name coming back from injury and some of the lesser lights of the squad. Halftime a bag of crisps and a drink, then the second half whilst having an ear on what the 1st team were doing.
    Then after the final whistle off to the Gunners Fish Shop, Blackstock Road for a fish supper then the drive home discussing the game.

    It was how my father introduced me, watching the reserves from the Clock End, now I’m not sure how it works, although it must be great if you’re an Arsenal fan in Borehamwood, but Highbury was so central and reachable from wherever you were in the Greater London area.

  • The big issue is still what are we going to do if Xhaka gets injured? The role he plays and the way he does it may not be appreciated by everyone, and that is fine with me, but we are a lesser team when he does not start. It is like taking the central springs out of a matrass. We need good cover for him, and I still feel that could AMN with good guidance from the master.

  • TA – hope all’s well. I don’t see Partey as a new Vieira but if anything, nearer a Petit – as unfortunately Partey’s goal scoring stats are pretty limited. For the price comparison I’d rather go for Doucoure – proven prem league ability.

    HH – I think the pressing strategy is a coach lead thing, so I’d hope that Arteta could get Coutinho and make the most of. I doubt that Koeman would be that silly to let him go though, unless facing other directorship pressure going on at Barca…. also don’t think we’d ultimately have the funds too and may now want to avoid anymore immediate deals with Jorabchian 🤔

  • Hi 5am, good point about the goals. I was more thinking of the ability to find that great balance between being defensively sound and moving the ball through midfield either by padding it or running with it. That is what I see in Partey.

  • @5am, it’s not a coaching thing with Coutinho. He’s now had several coaches that don’t think he’s well suited for a team that relies on pressing to win the ball back quickly. He’s averaged the least successful presses of any attacking Bayern player that’s played at least 1000 mins.

    There’s a reason Coutinho hasn’t been first choice at CM for Klopp, Flick, Kovac and Valverde. If you’re playing Coutinho at LW, he can hide more and drift in, but he’s not an ideal CM anymore unless it’s specifically at CAM.

  • TA, latest news is that Arteta is still hoping to bring in a forward and two CMs (one being Dani on loan), which is music to my ears and what everyone is asking for (with one potentially being a Xhaka alternative).

    If we’re still looking to bring in another forward, it leads me to believe that we’re serious about selling Laca or sending Nelson on loan.

  • TA, it’s not that formations and tactics aren’t important to Arteta – it’s that I believe the emphasis on what formation we start with being overrated. I think Arteta likes to be fluid match to match, but his tactics are much different than Emery’s. He’s able to communicate his plan more clearly and the structure is considerably better. Arteta’s team also includes many of the same players, which has helped them to develop better chemistry with one another.

    All together, this means players have to make less decisions within a game and are following a more streamlined and coherent strategy. Instead of being given complete freedom (or lack of a clear plan), there’s fewer options, which is more predictable for teammates making runs/passes (without being just cutbacks that we often saw with Emery).

  • Half time. PSG been giving as good as they are getting and a bit more. Still 0-0 but quite a few goal mouth moments and bad misses by top men. Let’s see what the second half brings.

  • All Bayern by the second half and they have, deservedly, won it. May have been a different story had the PSG front three taken their early chances. A couple of penalty shouts for PSG and Bayern though.

  • Better add Gabriel Magalhaes into the mix TA. Was busy last week and could not comment here.
    I am not sure about Partey though.

    It had been a topsy turvy season for us, and the FA Cup win only took some of the stick out of Mikel. Having watched the highlights of the UCL final I realised what we had been lacking is the creativity. We had the guts and the desire, but the creativity was lacking. If we can get Coutinho in it will be massive boost for us and our gameplay.

  • Bergkamp was right about not flying all along with all these bugs going round 😬

    @HH good other data pointed out about Coutinho. Would still like to see him join for his goals and assists that’d be added to the team though. Could be tricky getting holding however if Barca now wanna keep, or with the list of other teams interested too. Same’s gonna be for Aour too…

  • Strong rumours that Leeds are close to deal to sign 18 year old striker Sam Greenwood from Arsenal. Greenwood is a really good player and with the prospect of Balogun leaving would have really pushed on, it’s a very strange transfer if it happens?

  • Greenwood was the star of his year in the Sunderland academy so it was a bit of a coup when we signed him from the Rokerites. He is similar in style to John Jules in that he can play anywhere across the front three or in the hole, he’s a very technical player and I have to say that it’s a bit of a shock if we’re selling him?

  • He is a northern lad of course so maybe he wants to move back north?

    Alternatively this could be Agent inspired as it was his agent I suspect who was behind him leaving Sunderland for Arsenal therefore Greenwood’s advisors could be behind agitating for this move as Leeds are reported to be offering him a 6 year deal and will probably give him 1st team football long before Arsenal would or could?

  • Allezkev, that would be a big blow for our youth teams and future prospects in general. I don’t like the timing as apparently Balogun is also set to depart.

    It leaves us very short of options at ST for the U23 team aside from John-Jules who was rumoured to go out on loan. Greenwood was supposed to feature there this coming year but with the promise of being in a prem first team, I can understand why he wants to leave.

  • @5am, I have a problem with Coutinho’s wages too combined with a likely big loan fee that Barca would want. I think Coutinho is still a very talented player just maybe not the best piece for Arteta.

    I don’t like to bring in players on loan unless there’s a reasonable offer to buy and with future value as well (either sell on or could be with the club for a long time). Otherwise, you could better spend the money on a permanent player you could start developing or find another loan with an option to buy (praying for Ceballos!).

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