Arsenal have been awesome against the top teams under Arteta with wins against MU, the Chavs, Pool and Citeh in various competitions, but there is a feeling amongst some supporters that we have struggled against the ‘lesser’ teams (and absolutely no disrespect to them!). Recent lost games v Aston Villa, Spuds and Brighton are often mentioned by supporters, and they may – or may not – have a point.
I thought we were quite unlucky against Brighton and the injury to Leno unsettled us as a team. Furthermore, Guendouzi lost his focus and so did we as a team, and we lost the game very late on when the thorn in our side – who was the main reason for Guendouzi’s ‘losing it’ – scored the undeserved winner.
We were poor against Villa, probably our worst game of the Arteta-era, but the boys were knackered after a heroic FA cup win against Citeh and these things just happen now and again.
But there is a bigger question regarding our 3-4-3 formation and potential lack of creativity in midfield. Unless we push up high and hem the opponent into their own half, which let’s be honest is not our natural game right now, we leave a lot of space between the midfield and the attackers in the central part of the pitch. Under Arteta, we have developed very strong wings, especially on our left, but through the middle we lack that bit of bite and invention.
And when we play the ‘lesser’ teams i.e. those that prefer to sit deep and let’s us come on to them, we can look a bit one-dimensional. So you would say, those are ideal games for Mesut’s magic, but that boat seems to have sailed – and probably with good reason.
I feel strongly that when Arsenal play 3-4-3 with adventurous, attacking wing-backs, Arsenal need to keep it tight in the middle. I think Arteta recognises this too (and much better than he predecessor). This means a disciplined midfielder next to Xhaka is required – the pivot in the team; one who can either defend very well (Elneny, AMN?) or defend reasonably well but can also move the ball forward well through passes, runs with the ball or dribbles (Ceballos, Willian, AMN, Partey?). I think Arteta is almost there; and surely, if we were to sign Partey and keep Auba we are in super fine shape next season – I would even argue that the Partey signing is not really essential and may hold back playing time of other good alternatives, but there you go. Happy if we get him/ okay if we don’t.
The one thing that could make us more balanced and more creative is to make a change to the three attacking positions. Do we really need three attackers without a ‘traditional’ nr.10 to feed them? Do we need wingers – Auba and Pepe – without a typical strong-in-the-air CF in the middle whilst we have fabulous wingbacks to feed the central attackers with quality crosses and passes?! I don’t think so.
Laca often moves into the ‘hole area’ and is effective in disturbing opponents’ midfield play and winning the ball back, but he is a CF and not an advanced attacking midfielder and we suffer from this. Now I would imagine that if Ozil were to put in the sort of shift that Laca does, he would have featered in many a game since the lockdown, but love him or loach him, Mesut is just not that sort of player. And that is why the Spaniard was keen on getting Willian from Chelsea on a free.
So to cut a long story short, if we play Willian in the hole/as a false nr9 and play with two attackers with loads of freedom to play on the wing or centrally, we should become much more effective in attack yet lose nothing in terms of denseness of our midfield and protection of our defence.
This would be the team I would LOVE to see getting starts against teams who will sit back and play us on the counter:
A relatively simple adjustment if you ask me, but what are your thoughts?