The race for the top 4 was thrown further open by Arsenal’s disappointing 3-0 loss to the Eagles, Tierney has been forced to the sidelines to receive surgery on his knee, ruling him out for several months and therefore the end of the season.
Resolving the LB woe will be crucial to Arsenal’s position come the end of the season and finding the right man for the job will prove hard work for the Gunners boss.
With Tierney being injured, Arsenal resorted to the summer arrival Nuno Tavares for the trip to Selhurst Park. Arteta was looking at the Portuguese to bounce back after a very poor performance in Arsenal’s FA Cup shock against Nottingham Forest in which he had to hang up his boots in the 33rd minute. Despite this, Tavares, who had big shoes to fill, did exactly the opposite and only last 12 minutes longer than in January! When scoring on his debut, Tavares was heavily hyped as someone who could get forward and provide Arsenal with attacking character, much like the injured Scotsman but Tavares has failed to do so this season and is yet to show full value for the money that Arsenal paid for him.
Whilst looking at Tavares’ performances in his last recent matches, I cant help but think that we are playing the Portuguese out of position. We saw his finishing ability against Rangers and I believe that his natural position is a winger. The furthest back Arsenal can afford to play him is a wingback, at fullback Tavares often makes risky passes or dribbles resulting in a turnover of possession at a dangerous area on the pitch which, in the most intense league in the world will often operated into a good opportunity.
In the second half of the 3-0 loss, Arteta called on Xhaka to fill the LB spot from his usual defensive minded midfield position, this has been reliable at many other times in previous years when Tierney has picked up other knocks or injuries, both under Arteta and Emery. When Arteta made this tactical switch, Arsenal played a lot better and in the second half Palace were only able to get 2 shots on target.
If Arteta chose Xhaka as Arsenal’s step-in LB for the remainder of the season, it would mean that Sambi Lokonga would either have to start in his position or Odegaard or Smith-Rowe would be forced to play in a deeper role to the ones in which they are used to. This would not be a terrible idea as Odegaard is very good at scanning for great long range key passes, something he averages around 2 per game of. However, forcing Odegaard to sit deep would mean Arsenal’s forward thinking press would be harder to achiever as Odegaard unlocks this style of play. The Norwegian also prefers to play on the right side of the field, something he would be unable to do whilst in Xhaka’s position.
I am not a fan of Xhaka moving to a LB role as it will only weaken our midfield. Something Arsenal pride themselves on is their strong spine, right from Ramsdale through to Lacazette who has good hold up play despite his lack of goals this campaign and moving Xhaka to the wings will only weaken this. By moving Xhaka to fix our LB problem, we are only creating a problem elsewhere on the pitch in a much more crucial position.
Xhaka May Fill In At LB
While the options that Arteta could like to use are not deemed fit, Arteta must come up with a new tactic to give Arsenal the best chance of collecting 3 crucial points at the Emirates on Saturday. I believe a back 3 will best suit Arsenal heading into the game with Holding in a very rare appearance for the CB with the usual Gabriel and Ben White either side of them. With Gabriel and White both being great passers of the ball, they will feel comfortable and composed whilst looking to spread the play to the two wing-backs. Ben White played for England in the RB spot against Ivory Coast so the ex-Brighton man is accustomed to that style of play.
Despite the current uproar around the possibility of Saka playing LB, I think that he could prove to be a great asset in the position he was once a regular in. Whilst playing in a wingback role, he will be able to make overlapping runs and feed balls into the box for the striker, Martinelli. This is one of the many reasons Lacazette must sit on the bench this Saturday.
With Partey also out with an injury he sustained during the 3-0 upset, Arteta may chose to play Odegaard and utilise a more attacking player to break down Brighton’s back 5. If Arteta does not deem this the best fit, he may use Sambi Lokonga, the summer signing has impressed in his infrequent appearances and will start if Arteta deems it necessary to play a more defensive midfield duo alongside Xhaka. With 3 CBs behind them, I feel the wingbacks and the midfield partnership will feel more comfortable getting forward and taking risks on the ball, something the Gunners were unable to do with Zaha causing problems throughout the 90 minutes at Selhurst Park. Starting Smith-Rowe on the left will mean that he can drop slightly deeper to feed Saka through before making a darting run into the box himself to add onto his goal tally. Pepe and Cedric could be lively on the right hand side. In our FA Cup winning season, many fans were impressed with those 2 on the right side and may be reunited this Saturday.
Arteta has been successful as the Arsenal boss with a 3 centre-back formation, we saw this in his FA Cup winning season when Arsenal posed a strong defensive unit that Manchester City and Chelsea both could not break down in the trophy lifting tournament for the Gunners. This seems like the most reasonable and reliable option for Arteta with his current fullback situation. The transition phase is sharp and quick, often one pass releases the pressure and the team can move up the pitch. We saw this when Tierney unlocked Aubameyang in the FA Cup semi-final where Aubameyang made it 2-0 to the men in red.
Brighton have lost 6 out of their 7 previous games, only drawing to Norwich in that time. If Arsenal want Champions League football in the Emirates next season, they must capitalise and secure a win against teams on form such as Brighton’s. With Brighton also only scoring one in their last 7 games, I believe Arsenal should play an attacking side to create as many chances as possible due to Arsenal rarely being clinical with their chances this season.
Passionate Arsenal fan since aged 6 when I lived in Northern Ireland. Now live in England and I am a season ticket holder to the team I love most with the ambition to become a sports journalist.