Last weekend’s impressive performance against high-flying, although admittedly injury plagued Leicester, on the back of the comeback against Benfica, has understandably raised anticipation levels. For me, at least, this is not just about the performances of the team but the performance of the squad.
Arteta raised the collective eyebrow of the fanbase with his multiple changes from Thursday to Sunday but his gamble, if it ever was thus, paid off. I speculated after the win that perhaps the manager finally has genuine competition across the squad finally, which will offer him the ability to rotate without weakening his team too much, on the season run in.
How lovely for Arteta and for us to not be concerned whether it is Mari or Gabriel, Luiz or Holding, Cedric or Bellerin. However, it is actually the addition of Cedric over our Spanish first choice that has, indirectly inspired this week’s column. The observation that Pepe simply shone when playing with Cedric in a way he has failed to do with Bellerin, was not lost on the knowledgeable Arsenal supporters. Cedric sees to offer more energy getting up and down the pitch, he overlaps well with the Ivorian, but equally overloads the right-sided attack to give Pepe more options for a pass, or indeed just leave him one less defender to deal with himself.
This is wonderful to see but it led me to seek a fans opinion, given how effective Bukayo Saka has been on the right since it has been his settled position. There is no argument at the young England International has been Arsenal’s premier performer this season, but he has been simply brilliant on the right since Christmas. We all know he can be sensational and influential wherever he plays but would we wish to see Saka moved to the left to accommodate the Pepe/Cedric partnership?
Pepe played well on right and chemistry with Cedric obvious. However it isn’t that simple is it?
Is the Pepe/Cedric relationship worth enough to the team to move Saka off the right to left?
Assume Auba ahead of Odegaard so ..
— Dave Seager (@goonerdave66) February 28, 2021
The results were emphatically in favour (65%) of not moving our young star but instead playing Pepe on the left. He certainly played well there a few months ago and of course we know that Kieran Tierney will offer the tricky forward similar if not superior support to that he received from Cedric Soares at the KP. I am firmly in favour of this as I like Pepe to be able to beat his full back and cross with his natural foot as and option and his form and unpredictability warrant him starting.
Whether Smith-Rowe is fit or otherwise, I think the 4231 has a better balance with the tow natural wide forwards, rather than endeavouring to wedge the Croydon De Bruyne and Odegaard into the three behind the striker. We will have games coming thick and fast and I would rather see the two central attacking midfielders sharing the 10 role.
Coming back to my initial point that with the squad virtually injury free and coming into form, offering the manager more options, we have the lovely prospect finally of Willian arriving at he 20/21 party. The Brazilian’s delightful cameo against Benfica, showed glimpses of the player we witnessed at Chelsea and he backed that up with an excellent energetic display against The Foxes. This may complete the picture for Arteta, allowing him finally Willian as a justifiable first change or rotation for Saka on the right or Pepe on the left.
Only the Aubameyang, Lacazette, Martinelli conundrum to resolve, perhaps for another day, but again quality strength, variety, and depth there too!
This is the full unedited version of my Sun Fan Column yesterday.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.