Arsenal Analysis: We still need a playmaker – but which one?

Arsenal Still Need a Playmaker by AI

Arsenal knew they needed a creative force going into this season. Houssem Aouar was supposed to be the answer to that but it was not to be—mostly because they couldn’t sell players in a window suffering from the effects of the pandemic.

Arsenal started with a 3-4-3 that had Lacazette, Willian and Aubameyang leading the line. On paper, that was a seemingly good front 3. An inside forward in Aubameyang, a central forward who can drop to build up play like Oliver Giroud and a playmaking forward in Willian. All of them are Premier League veterans and one is a genuine superstar.

The first game of the season showed what this frontline was going to be all about: Lacazette would drop to fill in the midfield, Aubameyang would move into the central hole left behind, Willian would be responsible for serving it to Aubameyang from out wide. On that day, Aubameyang scored from a Willian pass and the Brazilian got an hattrick of assists. But since then, performance levels have dropped and it has a real struggle to get goals from the frontline. As the situation got frighteningly worse with Willian seemingly tired of football, transfer rumors started linking Arsenal to Dominik Szoboszlai. It made some sense. Cheap, young, good in the final third and setpieces, the Hungarian could have been a great buy. But something was missing — Arsenal were too quiet about the transfer—and it became apparent with the new round of rumours linking them to Julian Brandt and Emiliano Buendia.

Julian Brandt and Emiliano Buendia have a different profile to Dominik Szoboszlai. They are less about direct actions and more about contributing to play. Dominik Szoboszlai has the profile of a creator: someone who receives the ball and often immediately attempts to make a decisive action. Bruno Fernandes is a player with this profile, too. But while Arsenal’s attack suffered from the low quality of their final third actions (be it crosses, shots or passes), a deeper problem was revealed by the data analysis community: Arsenal were one of the slowest at moving the ball up the pitch.

A creator wouldn’t necessarily solve that issue. This is why Sporting FC had often used Bruno Fernandes in a deeper role. Smaller teams usually lack the quality to move the ball quickly and cleanly up the field. It’s a testament to the Portuguese’ intelligence that he was able to fulfill this role for Sporting. But most creators simply won’t have Fernandes’ versatility and Dominik Szbozlai was one of them.

What Arsenal needed was a playmaker: someone who is good at contributing to the buildup, shielding the ball, carrying it and keeping it in the final third. Eden Hazard, Neymar, Jack Grealish are notable examples of this. It is extremely important to be able to move the ball quickly and keep it under pressure when you are playing against a lowblock, which was where most of Arsenal’s problems were stemming from. This helps you maintain sustained pressure against the block where they do not get out and you can then attack in wave after wave. This is best mechanism for breaking down a lowblock. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were very good at this. And so are Liverpool and Manchester City now.

Emile Smith-Rowe has shown Arsenal what they were missing in the last couple of games, but an injury-prone youngster, though extremely talented, is not who Arsenal should rely on throughout the rest of the season.

Julian Brandt and Emiliano Buendia are adept at being playmakers to a certain extent, especially the former. This is the sort of profile that Arsenal are looking for and should look for. Houssem Aouar is the best option out there. Don’t be surprised if Arsenal decide that there is no good option out there, reintroduce Mesut Ozil and wait for the summer to resume their chase of Houssem Aouar. That’s who and what they need.

Agboola Israel

50 Comments

  1. gotanidea says:

    We don’t need another CAM, since we’ve got Smith-Rowe, Ceballos, Willian, Nelson, Willock, Lacazette and Ozil who can play as no 10. We need a player type we don’t have

    1. Winston says:

      We definitely need another CAM.

      Ceballos has been played in the CAM position a few times before, but he failed to impress.

      Willian, Nelson, Willock and Laca have not done well in that position in league games

      1. Dboy says:

        Totally agree.

      2. Aaron says:

        Agreed Winston!

      3. Dee says:

        Ceballos is an 8. Smith-Rowe is inury prone. Ozil is the finer choice, but Brandt is someone Arsenal needs. I remember what he did with Leverkusen.

    2. Princewill Madu says:

      True, Arsenal cannot rely only on Smith Rowe, and we cannot buy additional 10 while we have someone like Ozil pocketing money every week without doing anything.
      We all know Ozil comment last weekend is truth, the team look good with n10, Arsenal did mistake to froze him out from the team,
      I hope they reinstate him, with Smith Rowe we can go forward.

    3. GunnerDev says:

      I think you missed the point. Its the TYPE of player we need, not a player we can play in that position.

      1. T Fenias says:

        But he’s even better than those pointed on, it’ll take time for the club to get a player that can play how Ozil does, there’s a Ltd number of such players

    4. RSH says:

      And only one of those players can consistenly create chances. Willian is a flop, Ceballos never been a creator, Nelson is a winger and not ready, willock also not a creator and doesnt cut it, laca a striker, ozil is finished. ESR is the only creative midfielder we have on the squad, and he’s young and has an iffy injury record.

      1. gotanidea says:

        Ceballos doesn’t play regularly in EPL, yet he is the second best through ball creator. His through ball stat is on a par with De Bruyne and just below Fernandes

        In West Bromwich, Ceballos is the best tackler with 4 tackles/ 3 successful ones, the best interceptors with 5 interceptions and the best through ball creator with 2 through balls. Ceballos or Willian need to be tried as CAM in some matches, before Arsenal waste their budget for another no 10

        1. RSH says:

          We’ve had Ceballos for 1.5 seasons now and he’s not convinced and cannot hold a starting spot. You need to show me these stats also. Because Ceballos does not consistently do through balls, so getting some sort of ratio to compare to would be nice. Either way, he’s not at all convincing as a creative force and has only been in form for us during the restart period. Ceballos is squad player level of quality and cannot work the ball quick enough in advanced positions. And the few times he was tried in more advanced positions he went completely missing

        2. GunnerDev says:

          Nit picking stats to try on prove your theory. Im sure if i looked into it i would find many stats as to why ceballos wont cut it as our no10/attacking midfeilder

          1. Innit says:

            The players Gotanidea mentioned are either not good enough to be our top CAM or not a specialist CAM

            It’s not about quantity. It’s about QUALITY

            We need a top CAM
            ESR is an excellent back up and one day could be a top CAM

        3. T Fenias says:

          Oh!!! I’m so surprised you guys D ceballos is not that type of player that you can trust to get you killer passes good for the likes of martinelli and Aubameyang to score

        4. Dee says:

          that does not make him the best tackler…and his throughballs don’t get him a par with kdb and bruno as a playmaker.

    5. Weeble says:

      Well its a minority opinion but I agree with you. We need a Partey doppelgänger.

  2. Arsenal2win says:

    I don’t trust my team when it comes 2 transfers cuz we only go 4 the impossibles, players their clubs are unwilling 2 sell. For Christ sake, Isco is available 4 sell, why can’t Arsenal make a serious bid 4 him ? Arsenal will continue beating around d bush until a serious club like Chelsea acquires him & turn him a flop like the others & at d end of this window, Arsenal will not buy anyone. Trust me.

    1. Benjamin Britton says:

      Wasnt it you who said “trust me” we ain’t getting Partey?

      1. Arsenal2win says:

        @ Benjamin Britton, I don’t think its me, pls revisit that post & confirm. I’m a partey fan but never commented on his transfer.

  3. Winston says:

    60m for Houssem Aouar is a definite no no for me. It’s a gamble as huge as 72m for Pepe

    1. RSH says:

      Agree. We need to be smarter with transfers. Stay away from the 50mill+ deals for players that aren’t certifiably quality like Partey is.

      1. Winston says:

        Exactly RSH. We have thrown enough money down the drain. At this point, we simply cannot afford any more big money flops

    2. Protiq says:

      Better get eriksen. EPL proven. swap him with Ozil and other deadwood

  4. MAXCAT says:

    Wondering if Buendia is any more than a flashy mid table player? Same for Benrahma at the Hammers.

    1. Declan says:

      Well with us being a mid table team he should fit right in 😜

      1. ozziegunner says:

        👍 Declan and at least these players are EPL proven, unlike Aouar. There is a big diffence in having to turn up twice a week in the EPL and cups and the game pressure in other leagues, even taking Champions/Europa Leagues into account.

  5. Skills1000 says:

    Since we spent 72m pounds on Nicholas Pepe. Why not play him in the number 10 role? He is the most composed finisher in the squad. we should also go for one of Isco, Eriksson, Thomas Lemar and Nabil Fekir. Smith Rowe should be rested. Also, Saka deserves some rest. He could be injured considering the amount of games he has played. Play Pepe behind the striker or as a false 9. We need a big squad to compete. So many games to play.

    1. GunnerDev says:

      He is too slow in his decision making for that role in my opinion. But you never know 🤷‍♂️

      1. Davi says:

        I fear you are right but would like to see it tried. We should try something different to wake him up. He’s been playing exactly the same way for 2 years and getting nowhere

    2. Aaron says:

      That is hilarious, Pepe is not that player.

      We are talking one-two’s, floating into space, moving side to side, not giving the ball away, and can play with both feet.
      That is ESR, certainly not Pepe.

  6. Grandad says:

    If we are to make a real impression in the EPL next season we need upgrades on Xhaka, Ceballos and Elneny to support Partey in midfield.Ceballos will return to Spain without having made a great impression in the EPL and the other two are basically lacking in drive and pace .Not having seen Brandt nor Aouar for some time I am unable to judge them, but I have watched Buendia on a number of occasions without being very impressed.To me he is a tricky hard working winger , but is he better than Saka or Martinelli, I think not.He may be effective in the Championship but I very much doubt if he could be a successful number ten in the EPL.Two midfielders who have impressed me this season are Bisouma of Brighton and Anguissa at Fulham.The former is more defensive but has good pace and is very good on the ball.Anguissa is more of a B to B exponent who has energy to burn.Either of these two would improve our midfield and should not be beyond our budget if ,for example we used some of our fringe players in any deals.Chambers is already well thought of at Fulham and Nketiah could be a good acquisition for Brighton.

    1. lcw says:

      No matter what happens we shouldn’t be in a hurry to buy one this January.

      We are not one or 2 players away from stardom. Our best bet is to reactivate Ozil and let him tutor ESR and be his backup.

      Hopefully in the summer many players depart and only then we can evaluate the team and choose what’s best.

      This season should be left to the youngsters to improve.

      1. Blink says:

        Ozil has not been good for a long time tbh.
        Im not sure he has the physical attributes & work ethic needed for the prem nowadays.
        Dont get me wrong he would still put in a decent performance now & again but he cannot be relied on.
        He would be more suited in Italy or a lower intensity less competitive league inho.

    2. Trudeau says:

      We could do worse than either of Bissouma or Anguissa but unless there is a good deal on the table I’d be inclined to wait until the summer when Arsenal will also need to make a decision on Guendouzi.

      Having said that, none of those three are the playmaker this article is saying we need. Hopefully ESR remains injury free and we have a bigger sample size to be confident that these two games aren’t beginner’s luck. The real test will be when teams start setting up to counter his strengths.

    3. Davi says:

      Interesting to hear your appraisal of Buendia. I haven’t watched him live and have been going by reviews, clips and stats, which are all impressive and indicate that he’s the kind of player that would improve the squad, but I’d trust your view over that if you’ve watched him in matches.
      Everyone’s hot for Bissouma and have heard good things about the Fulham player as well but I think we really need some cover for ESR first – we just don’t appear to have anyone else for that position, even though we definitely could improve in the midfield.

  7. Winston says:

    Bissouma certainly caught my eye too.

    If Brighton goes down, he may be available for a decent price like when Everton signed Doucoure from Watford

    1. ozziegunner says:

      Winston, I agree re Bissouma. I am still fuming over Arsenal not going for Doucoure at around £20 million. Tough, smart and experienced, he would have complemented Partey in our midfield and provided a good solid platform for ESR.

  8. Blink says:

    Arteta & the club was obviously expecting way more from Willian. Many felt he could do a decent job from wide right or as a ’10’.
    Unfortunately though he has been a massive disappointment so far.
    You cant really legislate for that.
    Wonder if ceballos could do the ’10’ role as an alternative to ESR.

    1. Quinton says:

      Ceballos seems comfortable playing in his own half rather than further forward. Against WBA he had many touches in our box. Besides like someone mentioned earlier he slows down our attacks at times with his too many touches.

  9. RW1 says:

    Isco is the obvious solution… smith rowe is simply not at the level we need now … i personally dont think he will get there but will be very happy to be proved wrong … but compare him to grealish or fernandez or pulisic or de bruyne or neto or maddison and the gap in class is obvious and yawning … a combination of partey isco and ceballos (or torreira) and saka would be a quick and creative midfield that would move us forward

    1. Davi says:

      Isco is another Ozil. Would end up an expensive mistake. We need to sign up and comers who see Arsenal as a step up, not players who largely failed at the top and are looking for a big contract to sit on.

      1. Quinton says:

        I agree with you. We have taken in enough flops from big clubs who still flopped for us. Youngsters or up and coming players will be the way forward.

      2. RW1 says:

        no idea what that means … which up and comers do you have in mind … chelsea tried that with zayich and havertz with no return so far … we need someone to hit the ground running and can be the link between a more mobile midfield and strikers .. isco fits the bill am sure there are others but its a question of availability … certainly he has a couple of years of top class football left in him …

        1. Davi says:

          Not sure who fits the bill right now. Buendia looks.a better fit to me but not sure.
          I could be wrong, but my understanding is that Isco plays well when the team plays well, rather than stepping up when the going is tough (like Ozil). He’s been at RM for a long time but not really cemented himself as a major player. It could be that he’s looking to leave because he has an unquenched desire to really make his mark (like Alexis), but it could also be that he’s had his time at the top and is looking for a comfortable place where he can pick up a nice paycheck. It would be an expensive risk to take when we could go find someone who definitely wants to take the step up.

  10. Dboy says:

    Rumours has it, that we looking at offering either Willock or Nelson plus cash for Buendia. I would say through Willock in there. Keep Ceballos till the end of the season, loan out WILLIAN, Saliba, Sokratis, Mustafi. That should get us sorted till the end of the season.

    1. Davi says:

      Can’t see us letting either of them go personally. Arteta loves Willock and i think he has plans for Nelson too

  11. jon fox says:

    Fine article Al but ruined by your last fantasy two sentences. There is not a cat in hells chance of this arch leech of all time ever wearing our shirt in a match ever again.

  12. Gun Smoke says:

    I must admit this is a very good article and I support it no more mediocre players , We need nothing less than Greilish or Aouar as simple as that period.

  13. antonioro says:

    Julian Brandt is the chose. one.25 mil-cheap as air.Great player!

  14. Stan Adams says:

    Hahaha Ozil will never play for Afc again final nail in his coffin was when an Afc legend and gentleman who loves Afc said “Ozil is a bad man in the dressing room and on the pitch ”
    Bravo Liam(chippy) Brady thats what many of us thought but now we most certainly think true after an Afc legend and all round good guy gave us a real insiders view on Ozil.

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