All Arsenal’s new signings have one big thing in common

Versatility – Arsenal’s word of the season for 23/24

What do Havertz, Timber and Rice have in common? Apart from the fact that they are all three signing up for The Arsenal, they are each known for being players that have been deployed in a variety of positions. The three new recruits therefore readily evoke head coach Arteta’s new buzzword – “versatility”.

Let’s take a quick look, one by one.

Declan Rice broke into the first team at West Ham playing as a central defender and only later moved forward to a defensive midfield position. In recent interviews he has even mentioned how he believes he is at his best when driving forward in attack. In our record signing we have a man who can do it all, shifting from excelling at the back with his defensive positional nous to driving forward with penetrating ball carries. He has been known to be a goal threat too.

Jurriën Timber is primarily a centre back but has also played as a full back as well as in the defensive midfield position. His superb ball skills mean he will be another key element in linking up the defence with the attack, permitting our lads to quickly transition from one to the other, turning potentially dangerous situations into offensive openings.

Kai Havertz is also known for his capacity to play in a number of forward roles, used as a wide player, a central striker or also a deeper-lying attacking midfielder. His versatility allows the manager to experiment with various formations and strategies to unlock an opponent’s defence.

Though the diverse skillset of each of these new signings is refreshing, Arteta’s philosophy of focussing on versatility is not something that comes entirely out of the blue. We could already see over the course of the last season how effective a strategy it can be, creating uncertainty for the opposition on the question of who should be marked by whom. In fact, a mobile, everchanging formation has come to be something of an Arteta trademark.

Last season we saw:

Gabriel Jesus, though operating as a number nine would very often drop deep back towards the halfway line, leaving Martinelli and Saka up ahead of him. Captain Ødegaard too was frequently seen coming back to collect the ball from Aaron Ramsdale and start driving it further up the pitch. Zinchenko was officially a left back but transformed into a creative central midfielder when in possession. Saliba has the ball skills required to drive out of defence with the ball and at other times contribute to attacking phases further up the pitch. Ben White was a flying wingback but also one of a line of three centre backs. When Trossard and Martinelli were on the same turf they seemed to have an intuitive understanding of how and when to interchange the wide and central roles. Furthermore, the excellent Martinelli not only at times operated as though a striker, but at others filled in for Zinchenko on the left of defence too. Xhaka was an offensive midfielder but would also fill in on the left, plugging the gap.

All of these shifting positions and patterns made it hard work for opponents to follow Arsenal’s attacking play, and our successful attacks often started from the back moving forward quickly. We got rather used to it over the course of season and came to think little of it, but the strategy came very apparent by its absence at the moment when Saliba was side-lined, causing a sudden and dramatic drop in the fluidity of our performances. Rob Holding is a solid defender, but not at all a versatile ball player. He always tends to slow the game down with the time he needs to take a touch, look up and then hesitate before making a pass. When Kiwior came in he made a difference not necessarily because he is a better defender, but because he is a better attacker – comfortable on the ball and capable of carrying it forward.

Now, with the additions of Havertz, Timber and Rice, the coach finds himself with yet further mouth-watering prospects as concerns the flexibility of his squad and the various possible metamorphoses of the on-field formation. All three are young, intelligent and willing to invest themselves in adapting to Arteta’s system, and after a successful learning period together with the first team over the pre-season preparations, may well represent a significant improvement to last season’s already highly malleable setup. Imagine Rice pushing forward to find the gap he’s left behind being filled in by Timber or another player of equal positional awareness and capacities of ball control. Or just think of how Havertz, Jesus and Ødegaard will be able to interchange roles, making it impossible to know whom to pick up and where.

This last point is why I find it hard to be convinced that Arteta will go all in for an out-and-out striker such at Osimhen (most likely not for sale anyway) or Vlahovic (most likely not worth whatever money will be asked) because they would not bring added versatility to the attack.

It seems to me that Arteta would rather have a front four/five that will each one of them score 10-15 goals a season than put in place a focal point striker that will get 30 goals but reduce the productivity of those around them. I also suspect that the gaffer has great faith in Gabriel Jesus’ potential to have a fantastic injury-free season, fulfilling the early potential he showed in his first appearances in the shirt before hampered by injury.

As our squad gets deeper and more versatile, expect our opponents to have a harder time still than last season trying to contain the team. Even when inevitable injuries occur, the manager will have a variety of top-quality options at his disposal.

Versatility is the word, and you can expect to see a lot more of it next season.

Mr Munday

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  1. So a “jack of all trades but a master of none approach?” If we need a CM I’d rather we get a top CM instead of someone that is ok at CM, ok on the wing, or ok as a 10.

    I’d rather have Rodri as a DM ( best in PL, probably the world) than Rice who is 2nd or 3rd best but is ok at CM too.

    Rather have a top top striker up top instead of Jesus who is good as ST and RW but not great at either.

    Versatility is good but does everyone have to be versatile?

    White is a good RB and CB, but who do you want in the back, a versatile White or a specialist CB like Saliba?

    Rather have Odegaard as our 10 or versatile Havertz?

    Versatility is wise and offers great cover, but you need specialists, you need top performers in the positions, masters of their trade because Jack’s won’t suffice.

    1. We need versatility, because of our dynamic formations and the number of games we will play. I agree that jack of all trades is a master of none, but each of our new signings has been specializing in one position

    2. I don’t think ‘jack of all trades’ can be applied for Arteta’s team. I think ‘team of all trades’ is more suited for Arteta’s philosophy.

    3. Do you think a specialist RB can do what zinchenko does or Ben white at LB, martineli, xaka and Jesus have played across the front line and that’s why they can interchange positions at ease, in today’s games versatile players are far more important and valuable than specialist ones who play only one position, they don’t allow the team to be flexible with tactics

  2. Yes versatility is good , but it is the chemistry that will make the team click.
    To execute on the pitch a player must have an understanding of his team mates that extends beyond friendship.
    Teammates must be aware of each other habits and capabilities and exploit them to obtain a desired result.

    One way the legendary Frenchman was able to achieve this feat, was by allowing a set of players consistently playing together.

    Team that win often have players conduct post game media and will first mention how well their teammates performed, a good sign of team chemistry.
    Teams always are more inspired when they have a leader to rally behind, someone who consistently leads by example and is able to fire up a hard nosed group a players necessary for the formation of chemistry on the team.

    The best teams are ones who whose buys into the process and make a point of brandishing their badges as a part of the identity
    Having a destination for the program can help team mates be on the same page about what they are really playing for.

    Teams do not need to have the best players in the world in order to have team chemistry, Being able to find reason to improve can initiate bonding that cannot be found anywhere else. The nuances form from the daily grind, shape a team’s identity while forming relationships that will last a life time

    1. Team chemistry have nothing to do with player vasertality, no amount of chemistry can make haaland switch position with greenlish and still be as dangerous, this days it’s about the intelligent of players understanding the basics, structure and tactics they play and want to play

      1. Gun down
        Am happy you use Man city as an example, they’re perfect for this argument that versatility is good but it actually aid teams chemistry.

        The Citizens were scoring goals for fun before Haaland join, infact it was argued they would have been out of sight in the league by their standards.
        It did became easier for teams to take points off the Citizens when Haaland came, he was scoring but they weren’t winning.

        Not until they had developed that telling factor, Team chemistry, with the Norwegian, had they starting to look rampant scoring goals which add to my point.

        The importance of common understanding between players should not be discounted, it is that which have lead to great team chemistry,
        Michael Owen once said, ‘Once Emile Heskey is in control of the ball he knows where to run and he would always get the ball, Have herd countless arguments ,with my limited experience on the pitch to back this theory

  3. Look at gadiolla teams, he also buy a lot Of flexible players, in fact any team that wants to play the way pep and Arteta wants to play needs versatile players especially in midfield, they give you the liberty to switch systems at will without having a drop of quality because they understand different positions. Players like ake,Bernardo,stones,gandougan etc have played different roles at city too, yo have a possession dominant team you need to have players who can move around and occupy different spaces and still know what is expected of them

  4. Even the originators of ‘total football’ had position-specific players. For every Ronald de Boer, who could play anywhere there is a Marco van Basten. I’m all in favour of having versatile players but a world class striker is a wonderful weapon because even if they aren’t scoring themselves they make defenders worry which can open up space for others. Man City were apparently worse with Haaland yet won the ECL in his very first year. Funny that.

    1. They were worse with haaland for a while, but around the middle point of the season he adjusted to the team and the team adjusted to him.

      1. Davi
        That’s exactly my point to Gun down.

        They were worst for a while until they developed that telling factor, chemistry.

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