Red Hot Chili Pepe – Arsenal’s latest burgeoning star
A tactical wish
The signing of Nicolas Pepe from Lille to Arsenal is certainly a boon.
The son of the club’s owner, Josh Kroenke, said lately to “be excited”.
On this basis, we’re excited alright.
Though whilst Arsenal needs defenders, I wish to expound on a tactical wish here.
Pepe would definitely bring more flair and creativity to Arsenal’s attacking options.
Though I’d favour something different to last season, or even the previous seasons at the club.
Of most current formations, 433 is my favourite.
It offers a general mix of attacking, defensive, and transitional options. And it enables width, covering, tracking, and pressing, from various areas.
In Arsenal’s case, I feel this would comprise a good system.
As can be noted in the link, Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette all would be up top. Though they would interchange, and not play in the set positions as stated.
There is a reason for this, namely:
- It would allow complementary strengths. All are pacey, though Pepe and Aubameyang are perhaps the quickest. Pace troubles most, nay all, defenders and they would hold difficulty in tracking runs and closing spaces accordingly.
- Lacazette is the most technically able of the trio and perhaps is Arsenal’s best player overall. He was voted Arsenal’s Player of the Season in 18/19, and unlike Pepe and “Auba” is a nine and a half. He likes to drop deeper and is adept at moving in tight spaces with his higher technical control. This can further create space for Pepe and Auba, and ensure that Arsenal’s attack remains fluid at all times.
- Pepe himself can move from the wings, and in some ways this attack could resemble Liverpool’s, with Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino all combining ably.
- Aubameyang can play from wide positions but is far more deadly in central areas. He did win the Golden Boot in 18/19, and with less need to move to a wide position can perhaps top this next season.
Pepe also is an able tracker and can press and win back the ball from deeper areas. This would thus help the side defend better, and be more mobile in midfield and attack.
A major part of Arsenal’s poor defending is due to poor opposition tracking, and leaving gaps in key midfield areas.
Pepe won’t solve all of these areas, but it would be a step in correcting a problem position apparent.
With presumably Pepe, Auba and Lacazette occupying the front spaces, how would Arsenal’s midfield shape up?
I feel to ensure a good balance, the ideal trio should be Torreira, new loanee Dani Ceballos, and either one of Guendouzi, Joe Willock or Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Torreira has offered a new dimension in the midfield due to his tough tackling and ball-winning. Though Guendouzi has good energy, stamina, and short and long-range passing.
Maitland-Niles too is energetic and can carry the ball well, and Willock is similar and has impressed in the club’s pre-season games lately.
In short, the club needs to move to a more mobile midfield format, and Xhaka and Mesut Ozil need to be sacrificed in this context.
Xhaka is a regista, and akin to the greatest regista of them all – Andrea Pirlo – needs space and time to pick out passes from a distance. He also needs a good balance around him to succeed, which he hasn’t obtained at Arsenal. His misinterpretation by fans as a defensive midfielder didn’t aid things when he joined in 2016 from Borussia Monchengladbach, and he clearly is not a defensive-minded player.
The best midfields have a broad triad of tenacity, creativity and power. Tottenham, Chelsea, Man United, Man City, and Liverpool, all have this. Liverpool is a good example, with Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Naby Keita ensuring this balance is struck.
Moreover, head coach Unai Emery favours a pressing and mobile style, and the introduction of Pepe could better suit this.
Though it’s imperative that a new midfield shape – in my view at least – is implemented.
This mobile triad would also provide better defensive cover, and ensure all midfield areas are sealed.
Arsenal only needs to look to the1998, 2002, and 2004 title-winning sides, since the midfield formula back then was perfect. Granted, it was a long time ago and in a different era of football. But the principle was the same, which is repeated in contemporary teams. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto Silva, and current technical director Edu Gaspar, all ensured the triad of tenacity, creativity and power were secure.
Pepe’s signing must be the first step towards not only a strong attack, but a new midfield and overall team shape.
The defence can remain the same – though Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, or Sead Kolasinac, can all still add width when required.
What is needed though is strong coaching, and the replacement of defenders who have caused numerous errors (Shkodran Mustafi).
Via coaching and holding players with a superior mentality and concentration, the club can enhance its defensive record and move up into the Champions League places again.
A number of goals Arsenal conceded last season, and even in pre-season, were due to structural and systemic faults.
The 2-1 loss to Lyon in the Emirates Cup saw two goals from Moussa Dembele, arising from poor marking and tracking accordingly.
The 1-1 draw and penalties win vs. Angers saw an early goal conceded via weak tracking and marking.
And the Europa League final defeat to Chelsea saw a clumsily conceded penalty, and some slick passing around the Arsenal defence which they couldn’t handle.
Moving to a 433 formation would get the best from the side tactically, and adhere to a standard pattern in the modern footballing world.
It’s not about aping what other clubs do – Liverpool and Man City notably play 433. Though more tactical options are needed, to gain a stronger defensive edge.
Pepe, whilst a forward, would be a major part in this development, though not as a primary part of his play.
So welcome Pepe. Hopefully, he can provide a better tactical balance and be the latest in a long run of successful Ligue 1 arrivals.