Ben ‘White back’ creates pathway for Saliba
When Mikel Arteta looked at the right back problem this season, the one problem he probably didn’t expect to deal with was a lack of players.
But as it was announced that Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Cedric had all joined Calum Chambers in testing positive for COVID-19, the Spaniard was left with none of the four options in his squad.
Forced into some quick thinking Arteta opted to shift Ben White across from centre back out to the full back position.
Another option would have been to play Nuno Tavares – who has played on the right for Benfica – but the Arsenal boss had clearly decided he wanted to opt for the player in his squad most capable of performing some sort of Tomiyasu tribute act.
The Japanese international has been essential complimenting Kieran Tierney’s attacking thrust down the left hand side, and that balance is something Arteta clearly values in the way his side sets up.
In many ways the role wasn’t too different for White, who had license to dribble up the field when required and generally found himself in that right central half space when in possession generally.
Unsurprisingly he handled the role well, providing support to the outstanding Bukayo Saka where necessary, rarely giving the ball away and providing the defensive solidity that left both Brandon Williams and Przemysław Płacheta particularly frustrated during one instance in the first half.
It should be said that Norwich provideda negligible task for White to deal with, but the biggest beneficiary of his accomplished display may in fact have been someone who wasn’t even at Carrow Road at all.
Much of the talk around Arsenal’s upcoming transfer business has been over how they will look to find someone capable of replicating Tomiyasu’s inverted full back role for when the Japanese defender needs a rest.
Cedric has generally been the favoured back up, but is a different type of player, while Chambers and Maitland-Niles’ long-term futures appear to lie elsewhere.
With White having shown that he’s capable of fulfilling the role it perhaps opens up a spot for William Saliba to come back into the squad next season.
The Frenchman has played right back himself while on loan at Marseille this campaign, but if there are any injuries in the position at the Emirates next year, you could easily see him coming into the side to play the right sided central defensive role Rob Holding covered in at Carrow Road.
football.london understands that Pablo Mari is open to leaving North London due to his lack of game time, so it’s not unimaginable that the man the Gunners paid £27m for two and a half years ago, could finally come in and play a key role.
Much of Saliba’s frustration during his time at Arsenal has been over game time so anything that moves him closer to the Gunners’ starting XI feels like yet more positive news on what was a fantastic afternoon for Arteta’s side.
Partey time for Xhaka
Many of us spent the summer watching Switzerland almost make the semi finals of EURO 2020 pining for the Granit Xhaka that was on display for his national side.
The 29-year-old is not exactly known for his mobility but when he swapped the red and white of Arsenal for the red and white of Switzerland he seemed to have developed the ability to be simultaneously everywhere at once.
Most Gunners fans were gobsmacked as they watched on having spent the season observing a player who seemed to be playing a game of the floor is lava with every other part of the pitch except for the left defensive half space.
But since his return to the side following a three month injury layoff a new side to Xhaka’s game in an Arsenal shirt has appeared.
Against Norwich he continued a run of barnstorming performances where he had been given license to get forward and support the attack following on from similar displays against Leeds, West Ham and Southampton.
At Carrow Road the midfielder created more chances and completed more final third passes than any other player in the Gunners team as proof of this.
So what is the secret to having suddenly unveiled international Xhaka at club level you ask?
Well, the answer is two words – Thomas Partey.
The Ghanaian had been having a rotten season this time out which seemed to have climaxed with a stinking performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford that led him to rate his time in North London as a 4/10 before then going on to drop a 3/10 display in the following game away at Everton.
Partey looked a player shot of confidence, but slowly and surely he is starting to find his feet again.
Whereas before the 28-year-old was forcing passes that simply weren’t on in bid to eagerly impress and make up for lost time after missing much of last season through injury, he is now doing what he did best at Atletico Madrid – keeping things simple.
Now playing in a slightly deeper role where there is less of an onus on him to almost single handedly drag Arsenal up the pitch the Ghanaian is thriving.
Where last year Partey was the more box-to-box while Xhaka stayed deeper to help build up, things have swapped recently and it seems to have benefitted both players.
Partey is much more adept at beating opposition high presses than his teammate, while Xhaka is the superior passer in the final third.
What this has amounted to is a far better funcitoning midfield that is serving the purpose of getting Arsenal up the pitch quicker, and this positive play seems to have impacted Partey’s mood.
“We feel very happy,” said the much more upbeat Ghanaian after the win over Norwich. “This is a game we really enjoyed.
“We have had a couple of games now where the team is doing very well and performing and I think this is what we have to keep doing.
“I think we are working harder, we are doing what we have to do, everyone is playing their role very well and that is the mentality that the coach wants us to play with and enjoy one the field and that is what we are doing.”
The 28-year-old is not quite back up to full speed. There was one instance in the second half where he drew the ire of Aaron Ramsdale for playing a free kick straight back to Norwich’s defence in a brief period of the game where the Canaries seemed to be threatening to establish something resembling momentum.
But there can be little doubting that he’s on the right track. It’s a shame this form comes just as the AFCON arrives to stunt the run, but with a blue print in place, Arteta will be keen to get his first choice midfield up and running again as soon as Partey is back.
Arteta gets his dream Arsenal attack
Last season one of the major things Arsenal were criticised for was the pace of their attack.
The build up from the back was so slow and methodical that by this time last season they ranked fourth for touches in their own defensive third, but just 13th for touches at the other end of the pitch.
The predictability made the Gunners stale and often difficult to watch at times, but in recent matches things seem to be on the up.
‘El Rondos’ have always formed a crucial part of the practicing done at London Colney during Mikel Arteta’s tenure in charge.
For those unaware the drill essentially amounts to a game of footballing ‘piggy in the middle’ where two defenders try to win the ball back off a group of players who are stood in a clearly defined circle.
The purpose of this is to encourage the kind of quick play required in match situations to pull opposition defences out of position.
Speed of passing is a legacy of the Arsene Wenger era that had long since vanished after his departure. Starting with a sublime back to front goal against Southampton though, Arsenal seem to have found their rhythm again.
This was on full display at Carrow Road as in the build up to Bukayo Saka’s opener, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard all combined for some quick one touch play that the Norwich defence simply couldn’t cope with.
This is by no means a coincidence for the Gunners. Instead it is a crucial tenet of their manager’s footballing philosophy that seems to finally be being put in place on the pitch.
Noticing that Kieran Tierney was taking too many touches before releasing the ball up the left hand side of the pitch, Arteta could be seen pulling the Scottish international to the touchline during a stoppage in play to encourage him to distribute quicker.
After that Tierney was up and down the left wing with minimal touches, combining with his teammates to progress the ball into areas where Norwich couldn’t cope, and although it was necessarily from the 24-year-old’s side the move that led to his goal was yet another example of the speedy attack Arteta wants.
“Yes obviously the start was difficult, but we are scoring more goals because we are getting into those positions in much better condition,” said the Spaniard when describing the improvement his side had made.
“Every process is done much much better, and I guess better positioning and chances to the strikers. At the moment they are being really effective.”
Arsenal were criticised rightly for their lack of success in front of goal, but they have now netted 19 goals in their last five matches. The pace of the offensive play is certainly a key part of that.
Arsenal get the break they wanted
As he left the press conference following his side’s victory at Carrow Road, Mikel Arteta confirmed that he would begin preparations for Arsenal’s game against Wolves on the coach back down to London.
The compressed nature of the festive schedule meant that the Gunners would be facing Bruno Lage’s side less than 48 hours after the match with Norwich.
Arteta had expressed his dissatisfaction with this claiming it damaged the integrity of the Premier League, so you can only imagine that he would have been quietly please when the news came through that Tuesday lunch time’s match had been postponed due to rising cases of COVID in the Wolves camp.
While playing game would probably have been ideal, what this does give the Gunners a chance to do is to rest their key players in the build up a brutal New Year’s Day fixture against Manchester City.
With the strength in depth of Pep Guardiola’s side and the inevitable rotations that Arteta would have had to deploy, hangover-based puns were being prepared in their droves across outlets looking for headlines to start the year.
But now Arsenal have the opportunity to go into the game fresh.
Someone like Alexandre Lacazette for example has generally struggled to complete 90 minutes until recently, and you get the feeling that a fully fit Frenchman will pose far more of a problem to the City front line
Of course, the likely absence of Takehiro Tomiyasu will be a massive blow, particularly given the quality of the opponent, but being able to play the same side that has been in such fine form in recent matches with be a huge boost as the apprentice seeks to finally beat his master in the Premier League.
It seems like tempting fate with the current COVID situation across the division to make any real plans for starting XIs, but the advantage of extra rest over City, Arteta will now feel that he has a massive chance to put out a statement victory showcasing how far his team have really come.
Source by Football London