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An Analysis of which combination gives the best balance to Arsenal’s midfield?

The engine room of the team. Regardless of whether Arteta decides to alter the system or not, it’s fundamental that the Spanish tactician finds the correct balance in midfield. With eight games completed in the Premier League, the Gunners have already tested five different midfield combinations, suggesting that no one has cemented their place in starting eleven. In this article, Arsenal’s current central midfield options will be analysed before concluding which partnerships work best.

Thomas Partey

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A player who the club have been in dire need off since the departure of the ‘invisible wall’, Gilberto Silva. Physicality, tenacity and an incredible engine are just a few attributes that the Ghanaian international provides. Furthermore, Arsenal’s new No.18. possesses an exceptional range of passing and is a fantastic dribbler. Regarding weaknesses, there aren’t many in Thomas’s game. Whilst watching him in Spain, the only noticeable area that Partey could improve on is his ability to consistently play forward line-breaking passes when opportunities arise. But what should be noted is that the £45M signing is a certain starter, who arguably walks into any midfield in the Premier League.

Granit Xhaka

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The Swiss International divides opinion amongst the fanbase and it seemed inevitable that his Arsenal career was over after the chaotic Crystal Place incident. Under Arteta however, Granit has rewarded the head coach’s faith in him with consistency and quality. Playing as a holding midfielder on the left, Xhaka possesses the ability to break the lines with intricate passes as well as delivering dangerous balls over the top and progressing his team in this fashion. In the five Premier League games, Granit has started, he’s shown to be an important player in the build-up play.

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Against West Ham, Xhaka finds Saka in a pocket of space, before the talented youngster initiates the next phase of the attack

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During the build-up for Arsenal’s goal at Anfield, Xhaka’s line-breaking pass kickstarted the move

Lapses in concentration in his defensive actions have also reduced. Whilst the 28-year-old does possess desirable qualities, he has his limitations. A lack of mobility/pace and press resistance do create problems for Xhaka and if Arteta does decide to eventually create a team full of athletes, it’s hard to see where the experienced Swiss International would feature in future seasons.

Dani Ceballos

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A mixed first season in England for the Spaniard. Under the guidance of Emery, he failed to show consistency in his performances. It didn’t help that the former Arsenal head coach failed to utilise Ceballos correctly. With Arteta however, Dani was flourishing, particularly towards the backend of last season (post lockdown). Playing in a midfield pivot with Granit, Ceballos demonstrated many qualities such as press resistance, dribbling out of pressure, defensive awareness, forward passing and ball carrying traits. The rise in his performances forced the club to sanction another year on his contract.  But with 13 games played across all competitions, this season, the 24-year old’s form has been inconsistent.  In games against West Ham and Liverpool, the Spaniard demonstrated quality moments of play.

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The Spaniard spots the position of Eddie and plays the ball early for Nketiah to convert. The timing of the pass was perfect

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Ceballos spots the run Lacazette is making with an excellent defence-splitting pass, but the Frenchman fails to convert the chance

But overall, the expectation was that he would kick on and maintain consistency for the Gunners this season. One paced and holding onto the ball for too long rather than quick-release are a few noticeable weaknesses for Arsenal’s number 8. With a huge chunk of games still to play for though, it’s vital that the Spanish international raises his levels if he wants to strike a permanent move with the club.

Mohammed Elneny

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For Mohammed Elneny to even be in the conversation to play for Arsenal in 2020 is astonishing, and huge credit must go to Arteta in getting the best out of the Egyptian. Whether it’s in the Premier League, Europa League or Carabao Cup, Arsenal’s forgotten man has gone about his business quietly. Wearing the number 25 shirt, Elneny has always managed to do the basics very well, such as drop deep, receive the ball from the centre backs and provide tidy ball retention. However, progressive ability and forward passing has been lacking in his game. But this season, the 28-year-old has been instrumental in kickstarting a few successful attacks and against Manchester United, the Egyptian international was arguably man of the match.

Joe Willock

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Ascended from the Hale End academy, Young Willock has now featured in the first team for over three years. During this time, the 21-year-old has showcased many attributes. With his dynamic forward progressive runs, Joe is capable of evading pressure and progressing his team forward. One of Joe’s key traits is his desire and willingness to get on the end of crosses and occupy goalscoring positions, similar to the style of former club star, Aaron Ramsey. Regarding weak points, decision making and composure in danger areas are aspects that need improvement. But in the two games, he has started in the Europa League this season, it appears that the Englishman has improved on his all-round game.

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The ball finds its way to Willock after Pepe’s shot was blocked. The 21-year-old showed great composure with the finish

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Initially receiving the ball in a pocket of space, Willock plays a quick one-two with Xhaka and delivers a great ball across the face of goal, which Sheriff Sinya converts into his own net

Consistency is key, which is what Willock will need to implement in his game. But the qualities he possesses could improve the team’s ability to create chances in the League, with the way he runs beyond opposition backlines and drifts in between the lines.

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Willock always eager to move between the lines and make a darting run in behind defensive backlines

Most balanced partnership? 

Depending on the opponent, Arteta must select midfielders who complement each other’s attributes. Thomas Partey’s profile is fantastic. The Ghanaians physical attributes make him unique in comparison to his midfield teammates, with the 27-year-olds qualities in and out of possession making him a guaranteed starter. The Partey-Elneny combination at Old Trafford was breath of fresh air, with both players covering acres of ground. Mobility and energy are essential qualities needed in high octane games against the elite sides within the division, so this partnership may be one that will bring Gunners success.

But Arsenal’s season will be defined by the results obtained against the teams they are expected to beat, and where the onus is on Arteta’s side to take the initiative. The Gunners need players within midfield who are capable of moving the ball forward, quickening the transition from defence to attack. Granit Xhaka is Arsenal’s most progressive passer. Statistically, last season, his ratio of passes forward to total completed passes ranked higher than any midfielder within the team. With the Swiss international being left-footed and Partey favouring his right, this partnership provides the team with balance and structure. A 4-2-3-1 suits the current profile of players within the squad. With one of Willock, Saka or Willian playing in the hole, this may improve creativity.

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One Response to An Analysis of which combination gives the best balance to Arsenal’s midfield?

  1. jjgsol November 17, 2020 at 9:14 am #

    None of the players you highlight have any particular ability to provide the creativity that we need.

    They are all predictable and I suspect eventually easily smothered by the so called weaker teams that we really need to dominate by scoring goals and not just keeping possession in or own half and near the half way line.

    It is goals that win games. Where is the inspiration and creativity going to come from?

    Not seemingly from any of the players examined in your post.

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