By Tai Emeka Obasi.
Mikel Arteta inherited a team completely lacking in self-belief. What he did with that stuttering Arsenal team to win two trophies just within eight months of his first ever kick as a football coach. That is akin to a miracle, regarding the competition inherent in today’s English football.
Let me say it again: I never would have employed Arteta at the stage he came aboard as an Arsenal chief coach. I wouldn’t have employed anybody to start his coaching career with the Arsenal first team. It was a HUGE gamble but one already handsomely paying off. When the former Gunners captain was playing under Arsene Wenger, the Spaniard played with so much intelligence both on and off the ball that I nicknamed him Arsenal’s assistant coach. But I never believed he could be this good on his own as the chief coach at just 38.
When the former Everton midfielder’s first interest in a player was Pablo Mari, I checked on the Spanish journey man. My first impression was the height – 6’4”. Wow!
If I had to coach in England, I would never field a central defender less that 6’3” tall. I follow Arsenal like a religion, especially under Wenger. Most of the stupid goals we conceded were from set pieces. Wenger continued to sign CBs that were barely six feet tall and the Drogba’s usually had a field day.
So, if Arteta’s first interest was a 6’4” mountain, he got my immediate approval. Any smart coach starts building his team from the defence. Attack may win you some matches but solid defence wins you titles. You can ask Jurgen Klopp!
So I reckoned that having played four seasons with Wenger that Arteta knew exactly why they were failing season after season. And the ‘baby coach’ was evidently thinking like I was while watching from my television screen.
Arteta equally found out that he needed David Luiz’ experience but never as a member of a back four formation. In a back four, the ex-Chelsea bully is a disaster against any side. But playing in the middle of a back three, Luiz is a marvel – commits fewer fouls, reads the game superbly and beats most attackers to the header. Luiz, on his own, is nearly 6’3”.
Now, Arteta has added Gabriel Magalhaes. The 22-year old Brazilian defender is 6’3”. Hence, it’s evident that with a new signing, William Saliba, another 6’3+” towering defender from France, Arteta is not only interested in building his team from defence but he also knows the personnel required.
I can imagine a back three of Saliba, Luiz and Gabriel shielding Emilio Martinez. Even the likes of Vigil van Dirjk will struggle to get to a header against Arsenal in any dead ball situation. And more, the bullying days of Arsenal defence are over, especially if Mari and Rob Holding(6’2”) are waiting on the bench.
Thumbs up Arteta!
Compare to Unai Emery, whose first defensive signing was Sokratis, barely six feet tall. Or Torreira, a great player but clearly lacking in the physicality to effectively shield the back four. And then Wenger, who had Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Tomas Vermalaen, Laurent Kolscielny, Gabriel and even Mikel Silvester, Squilacci, etc, all barely six feet as centre backs. In the cases of Toure and Gallas, even shorter than six feet. Football is not just about techniques, physicality is very important too.
Now, to compliment this work so far, Arteta should just sign Thomas Partey and start the season.
With Willian, Arsenal made a fantastic addition. Willian can play from the left side of attack in a 3-4-3 or play as 10 in a 4-3-3. Ideally, Arteta should alternate between these two systems in the very demanding EPL. From top four, we now have top six in Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. And it doesn’t stop there – Leicester and Wolves have forced themselves that we presently talk of top eight.
In matches against these top eight teams, a 3-4-3, particularly at away grounds, should suffice. Even at Burnley and Southampton, same tactic can go.
But against ‘lower’ teams that can sit deep, especially when they visit the Emirates, Arteta should play a 4-3-3. And Willian will be very important in either switches.
Partey is strong and a very assured DM. He is who Arteta needs to seal a defensive unit the way he seemingly wishes.
In midfield, with hugely improved Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballous, Arteta has his two midfield musketeers of the ended season. With Lucas Torreira almost gone and Matteo Guendouzi certainly to follow, Arsenal may be short, particularly if Mesut Ozil is finally frozen out. It will be left with Joe Willock and Partey when he comes. That is where keeping a versatile player like Ainsley Maithland-Niles is very vital.
In attack, Aubamayang is certainly staying. There is Eddie Nketiah, who is steadily rising and, of course, Gabriel Martinelli, who I regard as one of the biggest next things to happen to football in no distant time. On the flank is Nicolas Pepe, one of the greatest dribblers of the modern game. Watch out for the Ivorian this season!
Now, Alexandre Lacazette. Rumours every day say he is transfer-listed. I hope Arteta never makes that error. What if Aubamayang gets injured for say two months? Then a kid like Nketiah will lead the attack on his own? Laca is a great player, a workaholic, who compliments greatly in a 3-4-3 to compensate for lack of a number 10 in the shrewd system. He only had a goal drought ended season. He’s 28 and peaking. Arteta should hold onto the Frenchman.
Arteta should also hold tightly onto Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He’s home grown, he’s versatile, he’s got pace, he’s just 23 and he’s good anywhere he plays. AMN and Bukayo Saka provide Arteta with the assurance that his team would not be seriously affected by injuries and suspensions. Both youngsters can play almost anywhere, including midfield. And I have this feeling that Arteta used the Community Shield to convince the Arsenal board that AMN should stay. And believe me, that was smart!
Again, Arteta should hold onto Holding. He’s homegrown, he’s tall, he’s young and is already clicking with Luiz. Imagine that Arsenal played Liverpool twice, Man City and Chelsea without conceding from a set piece! Any coincidence with the involvement of Luiz and Holding? It will take Saliba, Gabriel and even Mari long to adapt to the EPL. Holding, as the only tall defender alongside Luiz, is very vital until the aforementioned trio set in. Even at that, there are many competitions, not to mention injuries and suspensions.
With now eight centre backs, far too many, Arteta needs to offload Calum Chambers, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi. As well, off load Torreira, Guendouzi and Ozil.
Now, rumours are strong about Hector Bellerin going to PSG. The Spaniard is a great right back when fully fit. But he’s hardly ever fully fit for a reasonable period of time. If the price is anywhere near £30 million, sell him asap and bring Partey in. And then give AMN the chance to displace Cedric Soares for a regular EPL stay.
In summary – buy just Partey and then close the shop. You can’t correct all your lapses in one window. Wait for Christmas window or even next summer.
Keep Lacazette, AMN, Holding and Martinez. On Martinez, keep as number 1 to start in the EPL. Let Bernd Leno come in only if the former loses form or is injured. Leno can do with the cups and wait for his chance to reclaim the number 1 spot. That is how to pay Martinez for his hard work and bravery.
It’s not going to be easy decisions but I know Arteta is smart enough.
Can’t wait for September 12. It’s time for the fans to dream again.
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