Since the appointment of Mikel Arteta over a month ago, Arsenal have shown many promising signs. A 2-0 home win vs United followed later by a 2-2 draw with 10 men away at Stamford Bridge. These performances have given Gunners fans hope that their former Spanish midfielder is the man who can help them regain their status as an elite English team. It is definitely early days, but these early performances are promising. No doubt a long term appointment. So rest assured, we THINK Arsenal fans and the board will give their former player time and patience.
Arsenal under Arteta – Progress, but improvement still needed
Since his return to the Emirates, Arsenal have shunned the 4-3-3 that Emery persisted with. This has largely been down to personnel. Instead, the North London side have found themselves using a 4-2-3-1, which plays as a 2-4-2-2. David Luiz is the primary ball distributor in this system as Lacazette and Ozil drop deep to collect, with the wingers (Aubameyang & Pepe) pushing up. This has coincided with Arsenal’s increased defensive solidarity. Their expected conceded xG down to 1.04 from 1.70 under Emery, per xGStats.
However, problems still exist. With Arsenal having not had a world class defender for years, their defence remains a weakness. This coupled with the fact that Arsenal have no progressive midfielder meaning that Luiz still starts as answers to both of Arsenal’s biggest problems. Arteta will hope the acquisition of Pablo Mari will reduce the number of goals the team currently concedes
With that being said, here are four possible signings for central midfield and centre-back that we believe will allow Arteta to use the 4-3-3 and build a team that suits his pseudo Guardiola style.
It must be said that Matteo Guendouzi can play this role to a degree. But with the Frenchman only being 20 and erratic, this position calls for an immediate solution. With Torreira as Arsenal’s ball winning midfielder and Xhaka as the deep lying playmaker, a third midfielder with similar bite to the Uruguayan is needed. But one with more progressive passing and impetus. Step forward Kalvin Phillips.
Cultured, destructive and energetic, the Englishman is likely to be in the Premier League one way or another next season.
In a similar mould to Liverpool’s Gini Wijnaldum, Phillips was originally an 8 come 10, who had interesting qualities but seemed disinterested. Yet, the appointment of Bielsa has been the making of him. It was the Argentinian who curbed him and decided he was better suited as a 4 or a 6. Here, Phillips suits Bielsa’s system perfectly, due to his high energy and press resistance.
If teams play deep or a low bloc, the 24 year old is very adept at driving or passing through the heart of teams. If teams press high, he is just as comfortable with being able to squeeze between forwards, encourage a pressing trap and beat it to put his team on the front foot. With a good range of passing, improving temperament and high technical ability, Phillips would be a perfect player to set the tone in the middle of the Gunners.
Southampton’s season has turned from a relegation scrap to coveting a place in the Top 10. Many factors have contributed to this. Danny Ings finally staying fit, Nathan Redmond coming into form, Hassenhuttl learning from mistakes and finally, the form of Hojbjerg.
Joining from Bayern, he was seen as a coup. Long regarded as the future of the Bavarian midfield, he had grown weary of being behind the likes of Thiago and Vidal. In 2016, he finally took the plunge by joining the south coast club.
Standing at 6ft1, Hojbjerg is a dynamic midfielder who is versatile, robust and excellent in transitioning from defence to attack. Hassenhuttl’s 4-4-2 has allowed the Dane to dictate play centrally, whilst Ward-Prowse plays box to box, putting in the hard yards. This allows the 24 year old to control the tempo of the game, alongside being a defensive presence.
In Southampton’s 2-1 win over Norwich, Hojbjerg won the ball in the midfield EIGHTEEN times. The most by a player since WhoScored started recording ball recoveries in the 09/10 season. This coupled with the fact that only Veratti, Casemiro and Conrad Laimer have more passes into the final third than him, you can very easily see why Pep was a fan. But, with Tottenham interested just before the transfer deadline, Arsenal must move quick if they are to acquire him. They so badly crave the leadership and forward passing he could bring.
With Bournemouth enduring their weakest Premier League season to date, there is a realistic chance that Ake will be on the move this summer. Chelsea do have a buy back clause. But with Rudiger, Christensen, Zouma, Azpilicueta and Tomori all vying for central roles, they seem fairly stocked for the time being.
The Dutch international provides two things that Arsenal are crying for. A centre back who is extremely comfortable on the ball and one with pace. Good in the tackle, Ake is a defender who wouldn’t look out of place in most positions on the pitch. However, with the 24 year old competing for 11.2 duels per 90 and winning roughly 55% of them, he still has room for improvement. In terms of aggression and being able to command a defence.
Yet, with Bournemouth playing deep at many different times in a season, the former Chelsea defender has shown himself to be astute in defending for long periods. Incredibly aware of his surroundings with a high level of concentration, Ake has shown that he has the raw ingredients to become a top defender.
Invariably, he would thrive in a team like the Gunners. They have much of the ball, which would suit his deep passing and mean less frequent defending. If Arsenal cannot secure Upamecano (more on him later), he has to be one of their main priorities.
Arsenal tried last summer and according to multiple reports, will try again to get their man this off-season. As we have seen with Liverpool’s pursuit of Virgil Van Dijk, sometimes patience for the right player can completely alter your team’s fortunes. Arguably the most coveted young defender in Europe, Dayot Upamecano has all the qualities to become their defensive linchpin.
Physically blessed with strength and pace, it would be disrespectful to pigeonhole Upamecano. Like Ake, he is exceptionally comfortable on the ball with an impressive 89% passing accuracy. He often finds his forwards in a similar fashion to Juventus’s Bonucci or Tottenham’s Alderwiereld; long accurate over the top passes for his forwards to run onto. He also completed nearly 2 dribbles per 90 in the Bundesliga last season.
This highlights his comfort in stepping out and breaking through lines. He would be an upgrade on David Luiz in nearly every department and still has much development ahead of him. Though the French defender would cost a premium with Leipzig reportedly placing a £70 million price tag on his head. I’m confident he would go far in solving Arsenal’s long time defensive troubles.
So here’s 4 players we think Arsenal should sign. Highly unlikely they’ll sign all knowing Stan Kroenke. But even one of them we feel would significantly improve their side. Do you think we’ve missed someone out or disagree with our choices? Let us know in the comments or of course, tweet us with our handle down below.
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