With many of the Arsenal faithful still bemoaning the fact that Aston Villa beat the club to the signature of Buendia, our attention turns to a position on the pitch that I believe is far more crucial. The Argentinian may well be hugely talented, but my feeling is that we are blessed with young creative talent to play behind the striker. The reason the likes of Saka, Pepe, and Smith Rowe, don’t have the type of numbers Villa’s new signing has, may lie in the fact they are playing against far better defenders in the Premier League and that Arsenal have not got the balance right behind them yet.
In Arteta’s fluid 4231 the double pivot in central needs to provide the balanced platform for the transition in attack but also the right defensive protection and shape without the ball. It would be fair to say that in 20/21 the young Spanish manager has failed to strike that balance consistently and in short, find the best partner for his big signing, Thomas Partey. When on song, which has not been as frequently as hoped, the Ghanaian, can simply dominate a match, as Vieira once did. Of course, for Vieira to shine he needed the foil of Petit, then Parlour and finally Gilberto.
After 6 years the Arsenal fanbase are still divided on Granit Xhaka, and it now seems likely that the Swiss captain will be departing for Italy. His often incisive and accurate passing range, defensive discipline in covering for Tierney and his ability to receive the ball from his keeper are undoubted. However, his concentration lapses and lack of pace and mobility have always counter-balanced those positive attributes. This being the case the priority for Arteta and Edu must be in this area of the pitch, particularly as Guendouzi and Torreira are not returning.
A decision will need to be made swiftly on Joe Willock and I hope he is brought back into the fold, but the currently free scoring midfielder is not a double pivot player. His box-to-box strengths has shone in Newcastle’s 352, where he is the spare man, with less defensive responsibility and for that tactical set up or if Arteta opts for a 433, the Englishman could be an asset. Then we have Mo Elneny, who I would love to see retained as the perfect squad player, able to fill in for either first choice player, much as Edu, did for Vieira and Gilberto.
Neither of the above will be considered the regular first team partner that will enable Partey to flourish and dominate as I believe he can in 21/22. Which brings us to the 2 players with whom Arsenal are linked, Ruben Neves and Yves Bissouma, both of whom have very different profiles.
Neves, who excites me, although does not seem to be a popular choice with the majority, is a cerebral footballer, in the mould of Arteta himself latterly. The Portuguese international, has dropped deeper of late, reads the game well, has quick feet in tight situations, a fabulous passing spectrum and importantly is far more mobile than Granit Xhaka. He also has an eye for a goal and might be the set piece exponent we obviously lack. My concern, and it is not my money, is the rumoured price tag, although if the player wants the move, I am sure Wolves would be forced to accept less.
Bissouma, if we are to believe reports, want to play for Arsenal, which is a good start, and he is a very different style of defensive midfielder to Neves of Xhaka. The Malian is more of an all-action midfielder, who will make tackles and interceptions and break up the oppositions play. He us a Kante style terrier of a player who will assist his team win the ball back and then give it simple to a more creative colleague. The concern with Bissouma is that he really is not a passer, at least at the level of Xhaka.
The decision therefore for Arteta seems to be whether he wants a younger and more mobile deep play-making style foil for Partey, equally involved when appropriate in the team’s offensive play or whether he wants a tigerish aggressive spoiler who will patrol in front if the back four and allow Partey more freedom. The answer for me is that with the right sales and decisions Arsenal can buy both, knowing that it gives top level options to vary play and style dependent on the opposition. Arteta is on record that he wants Premier League ready additions, so If he can convince both to be part of the project, we might, for the first time in many years go into a season with genuine strength and variety in the engine room.
This the full unedited version of Thursday’s Sun Fan Column.
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.