Like many others I was very impressed with Joe Willock’s performance against Molde. He seemed to play in a free role behind the attackers and he added real penetration and ‘coordinated chaos’ – yes it’s an oxymoron – in the opponent’s box. His sheer athletic, physical presence and ability to penetrate a tight defence with his dribbling and ball-control skills led to not one but two, more or less forced, own goals; and he also scored a goal himself from the edge of the box late on that was pure class.
We all know Arsenal have been missing a scoring midfielder for quite a while. The last one was Ramsey who could be great once he was fully fit and had a few games under his belt. Unfortunately, Aaron was too injury-prone for us to be able to count on him and he hesitated too long with signing a new deal. These days he warms the Juve bench in a zebra shirt and his career is petering out, as is the case with so many of our recent midfield super talents. A sad story but that is for a future post.
Under Areta the team is gradually evolving to a much more disciplined and balanced team, and I think more change (and possibly some setbacks/bad results) is to come. Partey’s signing offers the manager great opportunities to make us both defensively sound and more effective and dominant in attack. As our favourite currently inactive Taxi-Driver-Kev has said: Partey could be Arsenal’s ‘Van Dijk signing’. Yes, the one who allows us to make a paradigm-jump. First signs are good, very good. The question is where should the Ghanaian giant play to have the biggest impact?
I have little doubt that Xhaka will retain his left-sided deeper role in midfield for most of our games. Granit is so like Mikel was in his footballing days, but both need a proper box-to-box midfielder next to shine properly. I reckon left-footed Xhaka and right-footed Partey will make a formidable couple, and Elneny is ideal as back-up and regular replacement for either of the two. All three will get plenty of games as long as we are playing the cup competitions or playing two leagues games in a week. It is great to have now a luxury of three excellent midfielders for these two key positions. I also rate Ceballos as a fourth option but am less enthusiastic about his play compared to other BKers. But there is plenty of time for him to develop further, of course, and I love Ceballos’ workrate and enthusiasm.
So Thomas for me should play mostly in a box to box role and thus help us to push up the team closer to the box of the opponent. This is vital for our ability to connect with the attack and create much more chances through our passing and runs into the box. Partey can pick great passes and can regain the ball in no time when turnovers occur. Alternatively, he can occasionally sit back and allow Granit to push up and dictate our attacking game with his sharp diagonal passes and lobs over the top. We would be more unpredictable than we are currently, and our attackers would become less isolated. Much more than adding an Ozil-like creator to the team, I believe that being able to push up 20-30 yards into the opposition’s half is paramount for creating more chances and thus scoring more goals.
But there is one more benefit of playing two of Xhaka-Partey-Elneny at the base of midfield, and I really hope this is Mikel’s next evolutionary step: we can play a player in the hole, the Nr10, area. An area I am sure that Ramsey – who I never really saw as a proper B2B midfielder – would have been playing under Arteta had he signed the Gunners’ contract.
What Arteta seems to want in such a position is a KdB sort of type, with freedom to move round but also play a very disciplined game in terms of positioning, workrate, defensive duties etc. The Aouar rumours were strong and we are just eight weeks away from the next transfer window…
But I don’t think we need to buy for this position as yet. We have options: Saka, Willian, ESR, Ceballos and even Martinelli, once he is fit, could be awesome in front of the DM/B2B midfielders and behind the attackers. All these players have great potential and Willian would be a safe pair of hands with his PL and CL winning experience.
But now that Willock has put in some very strong performances albeit against lesser opposition, let’s see more of him in the ‘nr10’ role in Arteta-ball. No doubt Joe will have setbacks again as he is only 21 and that is a very big role to play well in game after game, so let’s be patient. But Willock was instrumental in our recent UEFA-League wins and he keeps producing assists and scoring goals which is so rare for Arsenal midfielders. Maybe now is the time to allow him to play some PL games in front of and behind the big boys.