Mikel Arteta is facing a selection dilemma ahead of Arsenal’s Premier League clash against Crystal Palace next Monday.
As the Spaniard waits to discover which of his contingent have returned from international duty unscathed, one player he will certainly be without for the London derby is Granit Xhaka.
The midfielder suffered a knee injury in the win over Tottenham Hotspur and is set to be out of action for the next three months, thus leaving Arteta with a major issue to solve.
Without the Switzerland international, Arsenal’s midfield set-up has to be altered as they often line up with a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation when he’s available.
But during Xhaka’s other absence this season – because of a suspension – Arteta moved away from 4-2-3-1 and adopted his 4-3-3 system, with Thomas Partey alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard.
And despite sticking with a 4-2-3-1 against Brighton before the international break, the experiment of Albert Sambi Lokonga alongside Partey in the engine room didn’t quite go to plan.
Whilst Arteta was full of praise for the Belgian youngster, the fact that Arsenal effectively lost the midfield battle by struggling to gain any control throughout tells its own story.
Yet as Lokonga didn’t go away on international duty, he could be in line to retain his place for the visit of Palace as Arteta keeps faith in the 4-2-3-1 formation.
In addition, Smith Rowe’s performance for the England U21’s against Slovenia may have proved that his best position – at least for now – is on the left instead of in the centre.
Which provides a dilemma for Arteta.
Arsenal will be expected to dominate possession against Patrick Vieira’s side, so reverting back to a 4-3-3 formation would be the best option if Arteta wants to avoid dropping costly points at home.
Another reason is the goal threat as under Arteta, the one main criticism of the Gunners is they don’t score enough as there’s been an over-reliance on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in recent seasons.
The Spaniard is aware of the problem having previously challenged his midfield players, in particular, to step up and help share the load.
“It’s very clear. If you say ‘can they do it?’ it’s a question mark. Have they done it in the past? The answer is no,” said Arteta back in December 2020. “We haven’t had any goals from midfield, it’s not something that happened [just] this year, it happened in other years and is something that has to be addressed.
“A big team needs players in midfield who score goals.”
Arteta will have taken note of Ghana’s 3-1 win over Zimbabwe at the weekend, as it was a game that saw Partey open his account for the season.
The midfielder is yet to get off the mark in Arsenal colours, but as spotted on Reddit, showed brilliant composure and skill to find the back of the net for his nation in their World Cup qualifier.
That, coupled with Smith Rowe’s three goals for club and country, and Odegaard’s effort against Burnley, means Arteta’s dream midfield trio are all up and running now, which was never the case at any point last season.
Amongst many Arsenal supporters, the hope is that Partey can replicate his Ghana goal at club level, having tried for over a year to break his duck following his £45million transfer from Atletico Madrid.
In a 4-3-3 formation, the 28-year-old does have more license to get forward as it’s Odegaard – in Xhaka’s absence – who often tends to drop deeper and dictate play from in front of the back four.
Partey’s goal for Ghana came from him winning the ball deep in Zimbabwe’s half, two strides later he was in their penalty area and one strike later he was celebrating.
Arteta knows the formula to get his midfield general amongst the goals for Arsenal and the visit of Palace might be the perfect opportunity to unleash it again.
Source by Football London