Mesut Özil is gone, we can all move on.
When in the mood, he was one of the most creative players in the league, someone whose qualities we could do with at present, but sadly he hasn’t been in the mood for quite some time and now he’s gone.
Emile Smith Rowe is in desperate need of support, guidance and competition for the attacking midfielder role he made his own over the Christmas and New Year period. As brilliant as he is, he’s not a Cesc Fàbregas kind of player and we cannot expect a similar return, week in week out.
He needs someone to teach him a few tricks, someone to challenge him for the starting spot behind the striker and make him grow and fulfil his potential.
Rumors about new signings have gone very quiet on that front, though, and the recent financial struggles should keep us alert about the fact that any incomings could be delayed until the summer. Should it be the case, how can we make sure we look after one of our most brilliant talents and don’t burn him into the ground?
Although the lack of creativity and inventiveness is still pretty visible when we take on defensive teams, Mikel Arteta still has a few options available to make us less dependent on Emile Smith Rowe’s relentless movement across the final third and his special awareness of space and time.
The most obvious one would be to play Nicolas Pépé in the hole. The Ivorian is under heavy scrutiny after failing to live up to the expectations and there are calls for the Club to cut their losses at the first opportunity, which I believe would be a mistake.
I agree that he doesn’t produce in a way you’d expect a player of his quality to do but he’s also being deployed in a role that doesn’t suit him. Nominally a winger, Nicolas Pépé looks to me more like an inside-forward, a player who should stay away from the wing and be allowed to drift inside, on his stronger foot.
Any time he receives the ball with his feet on the line, he immediately gets doubled up and nine times out of ten he loses the ball, while when he gets the ball on the half-space, he gets to combine with the striker and usually finds the right pocket of space to shoot or pass.
Given his recent efforts when defending, Nicolas Pépé is now in a better place compared to where he was some time ago and seems to have gained a bit more trust from Mikel Arteta, making him the next in line to come back to the starting XI after his exile.
Bukayo Saka’s incredible form in the past weeks kept him out of the team but I do feel he could be worth a shot in this new role, which would see him closer to goal and less predictable, compared to what we regularly see when he’s played as right-winger.
To make it work, though, Nicolas Pépé should let go of the ball much quicker than he used to do and lose that bad habit of his of slowing down the play, when he’s in possession: get the ball, pass the ball, move; get the ball, pass the ball, move.
No breaks allowed, no contemplating allowed but fierce effectiveness, brutal efficiency instead. Would he be able to do so?
Another option, one that I don’t favor at all, would be to play Willian in that role: funnily enough, he’s touted to be a great playmaker but I feel he’s the purest winger we have in the squad, the one player you really want to keep his boots on the chalk and work that channel.
Of course, the Brazilian has the technique and the experience to do an acceptable job in that position but I wouldn’t expect anything more. Also, at 33 we might not get much enthusiasm and willingness to learn a new role, especially under these circumnstances.
The option with the most appeal is playing Bukayo Saka in a more central role: his quickness on the turn, his unpredictability on the ball and his ability to roll players over might be exactly what we need when spaces are tight.
By his pace and directness, he would naturally draw one or two opponents towards him, forcing defenders to make a choice: attack him or retreat? Those ten yards, either in front or behind the defensive line, usually make the difference when it’s down to creating chances and are what we couldn’t find against Crystal Palace: Emile Smith Rowe was too enthusiastic and played way too close to Lacazette, who didn’t have the space to come short and create spaces behind him.
Already extremely effective when playing wide, Bukayo Saka might become even better when deployed centrally, given his high-risk style of play, his great passing and cool finishing.
Three options to take into consideration while we wait for the right player to become available in the market, instead of rushing another deal and get the player we don’t necessarily need.
We made too many of those mistakes already, we cannot afford to make any more.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.