For any manager it’s key that you learn your best starting lineup as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s a case of making the best of what you’ve got, while on other occasions time and money is needed to mould it. Mikel Arteta has his.
With three transfer windows behind him, plenty of new arrivals and a host of exits, the manager now has what appears to be his settled Arsenal team.
Behind the striker there is the obvious trio of Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka. Well-known, easy to predict and almost entirely unarguable.
2 players with positions that shouldn’t change this season are Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe who have their best roles at Arsenal figured out
Crucial in that, however, is getting his two Hale End stars in the right positions.
Smith Rowe broke into the team operating in the No. 10 slot, an easy enough place for him to hold down due to there being no other viable options to slot into the role. From Boxing Day on he excelled there, only then moving out to the left when Odegaard arrived on loan.
He’s found real comfort on that flank. It suits him down to a tee. As the brilliantly gifted footballer he is, his continued high level of performances out on that side mean he must remain there. While superb in the central hole, as the effective ball carrier he is there is more opportunity for him to express those talents out on the left.
This is demonstrated in his numbers this season. As per FBRef, he ranks in the 93rd percentile for carries into the final third in the Premier League this term. The distributive side of things is best left to a certain Norwegian. His ability to touch and move on the half-turn either left or right side is one of his biggest strengths, and with grass to run into from wide areas he can make this darting late runs into the box.
Slotting out into that position for the England Under-21 side during the international break it appears he is cementing that as his best position outside of north London – even grabbing a lovely breakaway goal against Andorra. It’s where he has to keep playing, which, of course, temporarily rules out a 4-3-3 switch as it doesn’t cater to his finer qualities.
While absolutely capable of playing there, he is finding his niche in those zones and playing there regularly may be one aspect that puts the breaks on Arteta adopting a single pivot – unless it’s against weaker opposition. It has its uses, just not all the time.
As for Saka, it’s no different.
Continued on next page…
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