A Look at Mikel Arteta’s Potential Internal Solutions at Arsenal
By Rob Worthington
Arsenal’s 1-0 victory at Old Trafford to end our six-year wait for an away win against a ‘big six’ side feels a world away right now. It feels the depressive aftermath that has ensued following the demoralising 3-0 defeat against Aston Villa on Sunday will continue to be felt in the Arsenal community for a while.
Yet, in some sectors of the Arsenal faithful, there remains optimism. In fairness, it is easy to see why. We have a manager who has delivered us two trophies in his first year in management. Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes are representative of two superb signings. Meanwhile, our promising youth players signify a bright future for Arsenal.
The promising youth players we possess will be the main focus of this piece. They indicate that all hope should not be lost. In spite of our current lack of attacking fluidity, it is possible that those youngsters who are currently confined to our Europa League squad could provide ssolutions Mikel Arteta is looking for in the Premier League.
Joe Willock is a man who is being talked about readily in the Arsenal community currently. After delivering man of the match performances against Dundalk and Molde in Europe, many have suggested the 21-year-old should be intergraded into the Premier League starting XI. Thus, the fact that he’s been left out of consecutive Premier League squad is somewhat frustrating.
Willock offers us something different. In Thomas Partey, Mo Elneny, Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos we see players with similar preferences on a football pitch. Each of these players prefers to sit deep and progress the ball forwards. Willock doesn’t fit into this category of midfielder and could therefore be useful for Mikel Arteta.
Willock is a player who, as we have seen in the Europa League, thrives at making forward runs into the penalty area. He is fantastic at breaking the lines and often getting close to his striker. That extra body in the box distracting defenders and thus creating space for other attackers has the potential to help us offensively.
Emile Smith-Rowe is quite similar to Willock in this regard. Danny Cowley, Smith-Rowe’s manager at Huddersfield during his loan spell with the Terriers, spoke of his “ability to receive the ball in behind opposing midfielders” and then “drive, draw and commit defenders”. If Arsenal’s creative problems persist, it won’t be long until Willock and Smith-Rowe are vying for a place in Mikel Arteta’s starting XI.
Elsewhere, Reiss Nelson and Nico Pépé will surely be looking at the underwhelming recent performances of Willian as an opportunity to break into the first XI. Nelson offers a determination and willingness on the ball that no one else in the Arsenal squad possesses while Pépé’s ability to make something out of nothing can’t be ignored much longer by his manager.
At the back, of course, William Saliba’s impatience will be growing by the day. Rob Holding looked shaky against Aston Villa and David Luiz never looks particularly comfortable as a right-sided centre-back. So, Saliba must be taken into consideration by Arteta. He is simply far too good to be playing for Steve Bould’s under-23 side.
The overriding message here is straightforward. Mikel Arteta has options. The drab attacking displays cannot just be accepted as a matter of fact until a fair amount of experimentation takes place. The January transfer window is still a fair way away so these potential internal solutions must be trialled or else any hope for a top four finish could be rendered as nothing but a pipe dream in the not too distant future.