Attacking solution enclosed
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
“Do Rapid Vienna have a goalkeeper? I haven’t seen him yet and this is the 55th minute”
“This looks like a massive game of keep away. Again.”
“If we are going to score, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be from open play.”
“Eddie looks lost. Why is Reiss on the bench?”
These are a few of my thoughts from yesterday’s rather fortunate victory.
Looking forward, I’m not worried as everything Arteta has touched has improved, just wondering if there is another attacking plan, who is in it and when we will see it.
In my head I’ve toyed with Arsenal’s line up much. When I pick my line ups for my team I have 5 main criteria that I go by;
- Is this good on paper but not something my player’s are comfortable with?
- Does this line up concern our opponents?
- These players may be individually good but have they played enough together to make the team dynamic work?
- Does it illuminate our best players?
- Are we getting the best out of each individual in this system?
I want to hone in on the last two criteria as I believe that if your answer is ‘yes,’ then the other 3 criteria are probably a ‘yes’ too.
Until Martinelli returns and Saliba adapts, and after hours of dreaming, this is my favoured Arsenal line up….
and this is why it makes sense to me…..
Firstly, I believe our best players are currently Leno, Gabriel, Partey, Saka and Auba. So, I prioritize getting the best from them first.
So, I’ve decided to put Leno in goal first. Smart man, me. Gabriel looks comfortable in a 3 or a 2 so I feel comfortable there.
Partey has everything. Play him as the sole DM and you limit 50% of his game. He can certainly move there if the game state needs but I’m not starting out by limiting.
Saka is a phenomenon. Looks good in all the 5 positions he’s played, but where is he at his best? Let’s look at his primary qualities. Crossing, dribbling, combining, quickness and the ability to turn when others are afraid to do so. As his list is so extensive this tells me that you don’t want to limit him to one area. Much like Grealish, you want to allow him to wander and feel the game. I’d officially start him wide left but give him freedom to wander inside. Some games clog the ’10’ role and others allow for those penetrative balls between the lines. Let him feel the game.
It is hard to argue that Auba isn’t an effective wide forward as he has been highly effective there. The question becomes then, ‘Can he be equally effective as a CF, allowing us to add creativity to our forward line?’ You’d have to eliminate the CF coming into midfield as our injury free star would get kicked from behind and be 50 yards from goal facing the wrong way. You allow him to stay high and use Saka as well as our two CM’s to find themselves between the lines either from lateral or vertical movement with and without the ball and give Auba short slot passes and low crosses.
Now that our best 5 are in positions to maximise their talents, you try to do the same if possible, with the others.
Luiz in a back four isn’t optimal, but until Saliba is ready I still believe that Gabriel is best served with experience next to him. Secondly, Luiz has been consistently good so far and I don’t discount Arteta’s ability to improve players as he has done with many.
I’d love to have Partey at DM as well as box to box, but alas. Dani Ceballos has greatly improved his defensive understanding and work ethic and clearly is comfortable on the ball. Most clubs choose a DM to either destroy or create. Few have both. Much like Jorginho, Ceballos can do both even though his athleticism hinders him somewhat. I considered Xhaka, but he is becoming a target for the press as a DM and I’m trying to maximize, not minimize.
Maitland-Niles is one of my favourite players. Perfect modern skill set. A little of everything. I think he may well end up at DM. Watch this and dream.
Currently I am most concerned with adding creativity and helping our attacking game. AMN has played LWB primarily. A role that sees him on the left side of a 4-3-3 in midfield no less. I’d take away the responsibility to get back in the defensive five and tell him to penetrate on the dribble from midfield. Much like Saka does. As evidenced by his shutting down of Traore, Mahrez and Salah, AMN is quick over 5 yards. There are various ways to create more opportunities in the modern game and one is to accelerate through midfield and bring someone from their defensive line out to meet you, freeing up a forward. I’d have both AMN and Partey doing this, one at a time.
Pepe is our unpolished gem, but he is yet to play inside right like Salah and get the volume of shots that the Egyptian gets. His best quality is shooting and finishing, yet he doesn’t do it much.
Tierney and Bellerin have to attack. Bellerin is our most improved of late, especially his combinations in the final third. He gets the right flank when Pepe is inside. Tierney gets the left flank when Saka wanders.
This much adventure has to work in balance so if Partey goes, AMN stays and vice versa. Same with the full backs. Attack with five and five sit behind the ball.
This line up has emphasized our best five players. Check. It has also managed to emphasize Bellerin, Tierney, AMN and Pepe. That’s 9/11.
Questions remain over Luiz in a four and whether Ceballos can play DM even though he would always have defensive support from one of two high level athletes. Both of these potential issues are addressed when Saliba matures and we sign a modern DM (see ‘Hopes’)
So, if you are wondering how we create more chances and score more goals…… Attacking solution enclosed.
- Thomas Partey is a problem for opponents. Press him and you can’t get the ball and you are out of position. If you sit off him and he can pass short, through lines and over the top. A dream midfielder.
- Gabriel exudes confidence. He really shouldn’t though. New to the league, young and not an English speaker. Much like Sol Campbell, when you know that your toolbox is full, why shouldn’t you have swagger.
- The ElNeny and Bellerin combination has created two winning goals for Arsenal in recent weeks. Bellerin in particular was a player I was ready to sell. He was too content being a 7/10 player. Got in advanced areas and passed the buck. We hear that he is staying behind to do more attacking work and now we see a braver version.
- Must have been a little wild for the players hearing a partisan crowd. We pine for more of this.
- Why Nketiah on the left and not Nelson? Is Nketiah being pacified?
- Willock is being challenged to improve his final product as the energy and line breaking legs are only good if there is final product to go alongside. Arteta’s midfield are firstly cautious so he will also have to improve his passing security.
- It would be quite lovely if we could start with intent rather than wait for shock to shake us into being more adventurous.
- We may be forced into Auba at CF if Lacazette’s form doesn’t improve. I’m not seeing a strength anymore.
- When we are in a crossing position, I don’t believe. I’m not a stats man. I prefer feeling. I want our forward line to get me up off my couch when we are creating.
- Leno is too stiff in possession. Perhaps this is why he got picked off. The playing out of the back shouldn’t make a GK too confident. The ‘if in doubt, kick it out’ thought must be a feature over risk.
- Pepe’s set plays were a strength last season. Bring them back.
- For a team often built to counter attack, we don’t move the ball quickly enough to be effective at it.
- The modernizing of our midfield is likely not over. To give us the flexibility to continue as a hybrid team I maintain that we will wish we had 2 or 3 Thomas Partey’s. So, we look for another midfielder who can be a hybrid player. Play DM and CM. Ideally early to mid 20’s. Not star value, yet. Imposing athletic size. Quick, fast, anticipatory, multi passing range. Here is a player you might not have heard of but one that has just broken into the German National team after a stellar 2020 at Moenchengladbach. Fits the profile above exactly. I’ll let you delight in what is probably the pass of the season in this clip.
Introducing Florian Neuhaus. 23 years old. 6 ft tall. Athletic, modern hybrid midfielder. 30M max.
Much will be revealed as to how Arsenal will compete this year in the next 6 games. If we fix the attacking issue and keep a balance, we could shock a few in 2021.
Former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with 3 kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years.
Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.