Midfield Mind Games

The new season is upon us. It feels exciting. It feels scary. It feels refreshing. For the first time in 22 years, we go into the season facing the unknown. It’s not something we’ve felt for quite some time and it brings both positive and negative emotions to the fore, however mostly positive. Everyone’s discussed this over and over again, but the change seems to have quelled the usual naysayers and starved them of content. It feels good.

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So far as Arsenal are concerned, it looks as though we have addressed pretty much every area that has required looking into. We needed a keeper, we got one. We needed a centre back, we got one. We needed a defensive midfielder (and have done for 10 years!), we got one. We needed cover at right back, we got it. As to the quality of these signings, we know that we aren’t shopping in the elite market so to speak, however that’s what the coaching staff are there for. We can only judge this over time, and the new set up allows for some of that. The only real missing piece of the business is a new attacking wide forward. It feels like we need that gap plugged if we are to make a real impact this season, however it could become a minor gap depending on how our existing options fill that void i.e. Lucas Perez and Danny Welbeck. They’ve flattered to deceive thus far and I can’t help but think a more exciting option will give us another dimension going forward. The already existing piece of the puzzle that remains to be fully glued down is in the shape of Aaron Ramsey’s contract situation. And that’s what brings me to the crux of this article. Our midfield options.

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We finally look to have a multitude of good options in the middle of the park as we finally look to have addressed the gaping hole that was the defensive midfield position. With Torreira a certain starter the question that needs to be asked is, who will it be alongside and how many of them will be a part of the midfield make up? Emery’s past couple of seasons with PSG have been largely played with a 4-3-3 system with the electric front three of Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe propped up by the trio of Verrati, Lo Celco and Di Maria. Quite attacking as you can see. You’d expect the three behind to be more conservative considering the front line, but the manager went with a protagonist-like approach. Dominant on the ball and always forward thinking. With the options we have, if indeed Emery plays the same formation, it would suggest a front three of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Ozil with Ramsey, Xhaka and Torreira making up the base. You can imagine the home games vs stubborn opposition for us to play Mkhitaryan as a part of the front three with Ozil taking the place of Xhaka in behind, if indeed the approach is to be mirrored to PSG last season. The key difference with Arsenal to PSG is simply that we do not have a player within the squad that can demand everything to be centred around him. Ozil is maybe the closest to that type of player but he has played wide, in the deeper role as well as a more traditional number 10 for both Arsenal and Germany previously, so he’s more malleable in comparison to Neymar.  The 4-3-3 formation was dictated by Neymar and demanded to operate in the free role, creating more work for the remaining five players. Ozil won’t shirk the workload as his numbers have shown time and again, so it still remains to be see as to whether 4-3-3 is the system chosen.

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Our formation during the friendlies has chopped and changed throughout, with formations and players interchanging as phases of games go by. It’s been clear to see that the team has been put together in stages and for one game we saw what looked like our starting back four. The same has been tinkered with as a front three, however the game vs Chelsea looked like the closest to what we could see shape wise vs Man City on the opening day. I’m not sure we’ll see Torreira feature in that game just due to his lack of pre season, but even then the mix of players we have seen we just don’t quite know who we may play. We have to pick three of Ramsey, Xhaka, Torreira, Elneny, Guendouzi, Smith-Rowe and Maitland-Niles. The first three are the obvious choices, however if one or possibly two of them aren’t fully fit it begs the question. In any case the very beginning of this piece referenced the excitement and fear of uncertainty as a positive going into the season, and I truly feel the same way about our midfield shape and personnel. It’s an exciting time to be an Arsenal fan purely because of change. It’s not always good and it doesn’t always work but it does give you hope. And what is football without hope?

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

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