After an abject performance by Arsenal at home to Aston Villa, you can bet the last thing Arteta and his carefully selected coaching team wanted or needed was a prolonged, enforced period, in which they were unable to work with their squad. However, against Leeds, the line up and team structure at least suggested a new approach had been worked upon.
If he had listened to the fans, he would have heard calls for Aubameyang to played centrally and for a return to 4 at the back and both wishes were granted. However, with Pepe’s moment of madness we did not get a full 90 minutes to see of the new strategy might bear fruit.
The change for the visit to Elland Rd, at least showed that our coach has accepted that his 343-hybrid system, whilst efficient and productive against strong attacking opposition has limitations when it comes to attacking creativity and opening up more defensive, lesser opponents. The reversion to 4231 at least offers the supporters hope that Arteta is seeking to get our creative juices flowing one more, with a firm foundation of a team vastly improved without the ball and more organised defensively.
Of course, the fundamental issue with the 4231 is the lack of an obvious creative central influence, with Ozil not ‘available’. With 2 solid central midfielders, Partey plus one, acting as a double pivot, we can hope that Bellerin an Tierney will be given considerable licence to attack and we have seen how much creativity can be derived from the fullback when we cast a jealous eye at Liverpool. However, if Aubameyang is to flourish centrally, and not with his back to goal, Arsenal will need not only fullbacks and wider attackers for width but crucially accurate ball behind, through and also over the defensive line, to exploit the skipper’s runs and his pace.
Currently he has limited obvious options play in the central attacking midfield berth and Arteta cannot move decisively until the January Transfer window to address that glaring deficiency. The Premier League title race is wide open and will be attracting punters across the globe, there is even online gambling in Iowa and across America now the Presidential election is finally resolved. For Arsenal, and their young, developing coach it is case of finding a way to get consistency, creativity and stay in touch with the leaders until he can bring in the playmaker he wants.
On Sunday he deployed Joe Willock as the advanced central role. The young player has starred in the Europa, causing fans to call for his inclusion, but he simply not a link player. Willock is a box to box central midfielder, adept at arriving in the box late, third man runs and generally causing. All fine attributes but he is not a creator in the ‘10’ sense. This being the case it seems Arteta has four choices for the creative responsibility until the New Year.
He can try Emile Smith-Rowe there and we may see him there against Molde tomorrow, he can ask Ceballos to play move advanced, he can give Willian the role he craves, or he can deploy our best creative player there in Bukayo Saka.
Whist still so young and evidently productive from the left, Saka has risen to every single challenge placed in front of him, both for Arsenal and recently for England. In the short term, until Arteta can buy the creator in January, he must be sorely tempted to give his go to player the additional responsibility of unleashing Aubameyang from central positions. Of the options he is he form player, but I sense he might ask Saka to player left of the three, move Ceballos into the hole and play Xhaka with Partey.
It will be interesting to see his line up against Wolves…
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