Arsenal’s disciplinary record under Arteta is poor, and whilst it would be easy to lay the blame at Xhaka’s door, I think that would be unfair. However, the number of games in which we have ended the match with fewer players than we started with leads us to an interesting development I would like to see Arteta use more often.
Many times throughout the season, usually when trying to close out a game, or if we had had a player sent off, Arteta would switch to five at the back. This usually meant Rob Holding would enter the pitch, but you can’t have it all your own way. What it highlighted though is that we have a good squad for this formation.
Kieran Tierney is rightfully our first choice left back and left wing back. He has demonstrated not only his ability to overlap but also his tenacity when defending. However, whilst it would nice to have an understudy to cover for him when he is inevitably injured I don’t think we should be looking to bring in more new faces. Either show faith in Tavares (or Maitland-Niles) or move him on. Whatever the decision I actually think our first choice understudy should be Bukayo Saka.
He’s our best player. By quite some way. And even as I write this I can hear Alan Hansen’s immortal words echoing from all those years ago, “play your best players in their best position”. And I’m largely in favour of this. But no player is bigger than the team, and if someone else can fill your position and you are perfectly adept at filling another, then that decision needs to be made.
So many times last season when Tierney wasn’t available there was an opportunity to play Nicolas Pepe out on the right and move Saka to left wing back. And I do advocate wing back, not full back. Saka down the left and Cedric down the right of a FIVE. Tomiyasu has demonstrated what an excellent defender he is but his attacking support leaves somewhat to be desired. The opposite can be said for Cedric. So Tomiyasu as the right of a 3 man defence would be quite effective I think.
With Saliba set to stay for next season this switch to 5 at the back could offer great stability to our defence, which despite a decent record never filled me with confidence. It would mitigate the necessity for the double pivot and not place so much reliance on Thomas Partey to be everywhere at once.
My first choice would always be for Saka to play further forward, but for those times when Tierney is crocked I really think he should be the next in line. It would solve the problem down our left side which has persisted for so long. It would give Tavares time to evolve, or leave, and allow some of our other attacking options more game time.
It would just be nice to see Arteta experiment at other times than when our backs are against the wall. We have the players for it. Does he have the quality and conviction to coach it?