Recruitment is the Next Step by AI
In a previous post, I wrote of how Arsenal have found a new identity under Arteta, one that, since its inception, has lead to consistent results in all competitions. The league table from December 26 shows that Arsenal have earned the fourth most points in the league while playing 2 less games than Manchester United who are second and ahead by only 4 points.
Put this way, if Arteta had been given the privilege of an available No 10 from the beginning of the season and we had switched the setup earlier to a back 4, we would be favourites for a Champions League spot. This is still with a team that has Cedric Soares and a bunch of teenagers as first-team contributors. So what if we had even better players (for example, a better backup midfielder than Ceballos who’s given the opposition 5 goals this season)?
This is where it goes beyond identity into recruitment. Of course, recruitment must be in the service of identity or there’s no project at all. To recruit properly, we need to know how the manager wishes to play. Here’s an excerpt about that from the earlier article:
“Our identity is a brave, possession-hugging structure with plenty of nuance: our fullbacks go high and one of them often tucks into the midfield. The inverted fullback frees a midfielder to leave the midfield and join the last line of attack in the halfspace which means that one of our wingers stay wide and high. This leaves us with a deep 2-3 structure (both CBs and the midfield pivot+fullback) for compactness and counterattacks. Since Tierney goes wide, the left winger is required to come inside and play as a ball magnet (which is why Pepe, Auba and Martinelli are not preferred there when Willian and Smith-Rowe are available). The central forward has to be complete and dynamic enough to interchange with the No 10 and the inside winger as well as running the channels and stretching the opponent backline. Basically, in the forward line, there is height and depth, ensuring ball retention and runners into the box provided Tierney or another outlet has space for a delivery.”
Those that fit this blueprint at the club (irrespective of performances) include Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Willian, Kieran Tierney, Calum Chambers, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gabriel Maghalaes, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, and that’s it. The likes of Martinelli, Saliba, Guendouzi, Mavropanos can be moulded to fit these specific patterns of play but nothing is guaranteed. Let’s look at the open spots and the profiles that are needed.
At left wing, we need a creative winger who’s preferably rightfooted and is comfortable drifting inside and playing between the lines. Martinelli does not fit this profile, neither does Aubameyang or Nicolas Pepe. Players like Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Eberechi Eze are what’s needed. Internally, we have Willian and Smith-Rowe who have the right attributes. At central forward, we need a complete striker who is physical, active, technically comfortable and can play in between the lines. Aubameyang does not fit this profile but the likes of Lacazette can do a job there. Martinelli can very much evolve into that role but it remains yet to be seen. Bamford, Benzema, Firmino, Gabriel Jesus, Depay are the right profiles.
At attacking midfield, we need a technically outstanding player who is comfortable especially on the right flank and is keen to defend. Both Smith-Rowe and Martin Odeegard fit this profile but it is not clear where Smith-Rowe will be longterm and Odeegard is not yet our player. Emiliano Buendia is almost perfect profile-wise.
At rightback, we need someone who is comfortable underlapping and overlapping with good technical attributes in tight and open spaces. Maitland-Niles is the closest profile to this at the club but he does not prefer to play there. Max Aarons, Achraf Hakimi are prototypes. In between the sticks, we need an aerially dominant goalkeeper who is good at sweeping and distribution. Bernd Leno is not a perfect fit but he’s more than serviceable. Emiliano Martinez, Alisson, Ederson are examples of the correct profiles.
So, obviously, the most important thing in recruitment is the profile of the targeted players. Apart from the fact that he is the best goalscorer at the club, Aubameyang is a very awkward fit to how Arteta wants to play. Players can be very good and yet have the wrong profiles for a certain way of playing. It is up to the hierarchy to make sure that they understand what the coach wants and get in the appropriate players. Left wing and right back are two positions that if the recruitment is right, heavily influences our progress under Arteta.
Hopefully, we can get the proper investment…