The Arsenal midfield problem that Unai Emery has yet to resolve

Generally speaking, Arsenal goes with a three man midfield, there may be different formations and setups and certain players upfront more or slightly deeper but overall we are talking three players in the middle of the park.

But which three players are the best options and should Unai Emery be more consistent or continue to rotate depending on the opponent?

If you look at the upcoming game against Tottenham there appears to be no real consensus on which players Emery should go with and truth be told none of us has a clue who Emery himself will go with.

Yesterday I did an early predicted eleven and went with Willock, Torreira and Ceballos, Emery could so easily go with Xhaka, Guendouzi and Ozil and therein lies the big problem for Arsenal.

You have to have some consistency otherwise how is the team expected to develop relationships on the field of play, the link-up between defence and the forwards is so important but the players never know from one week to the next who will be playing in those roles.

Emery has clearly not settled on his prefered options, he changes it far too often and until he does players will continue to be played out of position and not function to their true abilities.


  1. xhaka will always start
    ….I don’t know why.But why do Wenger ,emery and the swiss coach always starts xhaka and most arsenal fans don’t like him…is there something these three coaches see that we dont ..i dont understand

    1. Xhaka is a top player, and controls the game fantastically, rarely does the wrong pass and can set us up for goal, his defending has improved and with Torreira, it is a perfect combination with either guendo or wilcok as a back up. The only reason fans don’t see his full aptitude is due to a certain lack of speed (not that slow though) and doesn’t force its way th often through the lines (like kante) and this impresses the audience, reason is his afraid of loosing the ball and makes errors. I think Emery should force Xhaka to force its way more because he has the strength and capabilities

    2. This is why some of us may be are not top class managers.
      But I have always asked myself what managers see in the likes of Xhaka. There must be something that we as fans are missing that managers see.

      It is the exact debate with Jordan Henderson at Liverpool. From day one of his liverpool career we have been making fun of him. Saying how average he is. But every single manager that has managed liverpool for the past 7 or so years has made Henderson their first choice CM.


    1. Ozil is the one not to be trusted! And any football aficionado or Arsenal supporter that has been paying attention for the past 2-3 seasons would agree I´m afraid.

      1. I am man aficionado and have been paying attention for the last 2-3 seasons but I don’t agree with you

        1. So are you saying he’s been great for the past two or three seasons??
          I want to know your honest view.There more evidence as to why he should be sold than why he shouldn’t.He’s even lucky to be here after last season and will probably be once again after this season.

          1. No Kev- there is no doubt we should have got more from Ozil.But be honest.Has he been helped by the set-ups he’s had to work with?A new Manager that obviously doesn’t want him?A team void of a consistent pattern? Tactics (sic) such as a high press introduced that are obviously alien to his natural game?(And every other player at the Club-we have NEVER looked comfortable playing this way and never will with the players we have).Niggling injuries preventing a run of games early season?
            It’s not all on Ozil.But facts suggest otherwise and he simply HAS to get himself into the side and perform consistently.Despite having a Manager who shows ZERO signs of having a settled team system and line up.

          1. Forgot to answer your question Phii. He sell shirts because fan boys still think he is the same player he was YEARS AGO. Two assits last season proves he is not.

          2. GunnerDev, you are so correct, it is blindingly obvious that selling shirts gives us zero points…only an idiot would think or say that and no-one ever has – your question thoroughly answered.

            NOW: Back to Phil’s question, which you sidestepped – why does he sell so many shirts?
            Looking forward to your answer.

          3. GunnerDev, just saw your reply – so your answer is that his “fan boys” (in the majority it seems) aren’t as clever as you in analyising a players abilities?

            Well, it looks like we need a new coach, because he sees him as captain material and part of his future plans – at least that’s what he officially says.

            But we are told not to believe what coaches and players say, because they don’t tell the truth.

            Ah well, let’s see what happens Sunday and just hope UE has a plan(!), sorts out tactics(!) and selects the players with the best stats…Xhaka plays again!!

        1. @Dan kit, i will take my time to reply as i have work to do also.
          @ken1945 If ozil was so highly rate by managers and coaches how come no other team have tried to sign him up, its happen plenty of times with our best players over the years.

          1. Believe me GunnerDev, so many top teams tried to sign ozil last season but we told them he’s not for sale, PSG Barcelona real Madrid even Manchester city tried to buy him but we can’t afford to lose him because even if he doesn’t perform on the pitch, he still sell so many shirts and who needs points when we make gains selling shirts, am sure ozil even sell more shirts than Messi and Ronaldo.

          2. GunnerDev, first things first.

            Why has no one tried to sign him up? Hmmm

            Why has no one tried to sign Kane, Salla, Aquaro, De Bruyne or any other player you want to name?
            It’s because the clubs have not put them up for sale, and the players have not stated they want to leave.
            (Kev – watch how the trolls will come on and try to say I’m comparing Ozil to the other players mentioned!!!)

            No matter how much you and the others who use this argument want it to be true, unlike Elneny and Mustafi, he has not been officially transfer listed.

            Now Ue made it crystal clear in his public announcement that he wanted both of these players to find new clubs, have you actually seen anything as precise and official regarding Ozil?

            So the captaincy choices made by UE, are from experience but not ability?
            What does that tell you about our coach then?

            Shirt sales??? I love to keep mentioning them – it just brings out the “shirts’s don’t give us points” brigade, as if this is a startling new revelation!!!
            Just look at Lenohappy’s wonderful insight into what it means – when actually,he just cannot say that the majority of gooners support the player with their hard earned cash.
            It’s like having a puppet on a string, just jerk it about and up they pop!!! LOVE IT!!!

    2. Dan, £6,000,000 a year???
      Bleeding the club dry mate, bleeding the club dry!!!
      Love your selection, perhaps it oozes too much class for some though?!?!

  2. Why do people have this much trust in Ceballos? Three games in an arsenal shirt, three passes given away in or around the arsenal box. The same stuff we blame Xhaka for. Did you see the one at Liverpool? Passed the ball to Salah right in the box? Newcastle, pass the ball to joelinton outside our box ? All these were errors leading to shots on our goal. On the contrary, Granit had 15 ball recoveries and wasn’t beaten on the dribble once against Liverpool, and somehow some fans will ask you why all coaches find him good.

    1. It is in his game mate. Risk vs reward, almost every player has mistakenly passed it to an opponent but you can´t teach what he has. Which is why no one questioned trusting Guendouzi (though I suspect you probably wrote this exact same type of comment for him as well.

      If you can´t see how much Xhaka stiffled our playing out the back, then I don´t have time to explain how he is a tofu-leader on the pitch either…

      1. In the last 3 arsenal games, which player has the most errors leading to shots in the arsenal squad? Ceballos was meant to be an attacking mid against Liverpool. Trusted to hold the ball as the game progresses. Did you know Xhaka played more forward passes than him? Actually Dani Ceb had the least value addition of any of the arsenal mids on the day. Believe it or not, Ceb is another Ozil. He can only play when we have space. Xhaka has been quietly effective though. It’s been long since I saw him put a foot wrong

        1. Bruv, I´m not gonna even argue with you and your tofu instastats…check the heatmap and get back with me.

          Are you honestly trying to assert that Xhaka is a more valuable asset than…umm…any other mid on our team let alone Dani?? You likely may be the only Xhaka champion here buddy.

        2. Joe, “A long time since you SAW him put a foot wrong” eh? Assuming you are very not old, then isn’t it rather important to look after your eyes rather better than you are doing? Specsavers perhaps?

  3. for home matches i’ll play Torreira–Ceballos(should never repeat the Liverool performance)and Ozil….we should attack,attack and attack at the Emirates.

    1. You cannot go to Liverpool and play that formation allowing the best fullbacks in Europe that much space and expect your team to defend like they have never done since I can remember with such inconsistent defenders like we have. Playing Zhaka and Guendouzi in the midfield kills the pace, grit and power required to face a proper attacking team. These two players don’t have intelligent positioning and pace and that is why Zhaka will always comit His silly fouls. A midfield trio of Torreira, Ceballos and Willock is power, pace and grit.ozil can come in the mix maybe but we have to play our best three upfront.

  4. Your final sentence sums up the situation perfectly.The lack of balance in our midfield is a major problem.It seems to me Emery would like to play a 4-3-3 system like Man City and Liverpool.However we do not have a physically powerful, centre midfielder like ,Fabinho,Fernandinho and the new man city acquisition ,Rodrigo who are vital cogs in making this system work .They effectively act as an additional centre back when their Full backs bomb forward and have the football intelligence to spot trouble and nip it in the bud.Torreria and Xhaka have worked in tandem in a more defensive role without looking entirely convincing against top quality sides.Neither of them has the skills and physical attributes to carry out the duties of a top DM on their own,and heroin lies the problem.Ceballos, Willock, Guendouzi and eventually AMN will develop into fine box to box midfielders but they need a top class”sitter” behind them to make the engine room work effectively.

  5. Last season Emery did brilliantly almost getting
    CL from both the League and the Europa League.
    This year Arsenal are even stronger.
    Leno starts from the off.
    Bellerin Lans.
    Tierney is a new signing.
    Torreira has a season of Arsenal football behind him.
    Ozil can only be better this season.
    Pepe provides a new right wing left footed dimension.
    6 fringe players are gone or going.
    Koscielny Iwobi Jenkinson Wellbeck Monreal Elneny (loan).
    Ceballos is highly rated. Guendouzie is a year wiser.
    Willock looks capable of making the step up.
    CB remains a question mark while Mkhitarian still struggles.
    But over all the squad is leaner and meaner.
    All this achieved in one full season and 2 summer windows.
    After 3 games Arsenal sit 3rd behind the worlds best two teams.
    A win could see us kick clear of the pack there for
    meaning we can focus on one competition not 4.
    Don’t want to even think about a loss.
    Please just win

  6. I will be more than happy if a club comes for xhaka and he leaves.

    I dont know why arsenal cant buy doucore from watford. He is the kind of DM we need.

    Arsenal vs spurds is gonna be very interesting. Atsenal will not want to lose at home.

    1. Doucoure is a box-to-box MF.

      Also, too expensive for us at the moment as are most players already proven in the EPL.

  7. All eyes will be on Torreira this season to know if he can improve.
    Last season he looked promising but as the season went on some of his flaws were exposed maybe due to form or tiredness or maybe he was being himself.A full season from will help us judge if he’s long term the right man for the job.
    Xhaka was never good enough and Guendouzi’s role in the team is questionable bevause he seems to be all the place at times.Its also debatable if Ceballos is better at AM because he seems to drop very deep at times and looks to drive from the deep end.
    Willock has impressive to me in his consecutive matches.

    I believe our midfield should be Ceballos-Torreira-Willock or Ceballos-Torrera and Ozil at No. 10 if Ceballos and Ozil work well together.Thats just to make sure Xhaka isn’t anywhere the lineup.

    1. Am also curious to see Ozil, working with PAL, though with Ozil you just never know what kind of shift he’ll put in on the day. He could produce a masterclass (25% chance) or just jog around and cry to the referee for 90 mins (75% chance). He’s been rested for the whole month so should be fit to play. If he misses again then Emery has not ended his beef with him and is still trying to push him out.

      1. Ozil has worked with both Laca and Auba but hasn’t done much.
        Expecting him to do much is wishful thinking.He will start because of lack of quality not because he’s so good which these days ain’t the case

        1. keV, last season when Ozil played with Auba, Laca & Ramsey we won all the five games, so your comment falls flat.

          1. And how many goals and assist did he contribute when they played together? Ramsay was way better than him

    2. @kev-don’t you believe the form of Torreira was poorer as the season went on due to Emery moving him from a CDM to a more forward role? He started as the answer to our prayers.At last a CDM who broke up play and moved the ball forward as quickly as possible.Then what happened?Emery moved him further forward to break up play in the attacking third.Why did he do this?F***ing clown.He tried to fix something that just was not broken.
      OT- kudos to you for sticking to your guns yesterday re the Aubamayang Headline. Stevie Wonder could have read and understood what you wrote but it seemed some just decided to interpret what they wanted to read and not what you wrote.Anyway fair play to you for not giving up and defending your post in a dignified manner.

      1. @Phil What you’re saying is indeed the case that the form of Torreira was poorer as the season went on due to Emery moving him from a CDM to a more forward role.
        However, I kind of felt that Arsenal lacked a physical presence in the middle.This isn’t me following the a Viera like player bandwagon but we were cut through so easily on days where he was even in his original position.This season I’d like to see more from him.
        Thanks for understanding me on the Auba topic.It didn’t really matter that much if we agree or not but at least you understood me.Stevie Wonder might have called it poor music lyrics though?

  8. Personally, the most stable midfield base I’ve watched under Emery has been Xhaka and torreira with Xhaka sitting deeper . Torreira playing as a destroyer . That dominated Liverpool at home, Chelsea away and Tottenham at home. Whoever playes ahead of them should be the coach’s choice.

    On a different note, grandad, you make a good point concerning the physical attributes of the 6s our opponents have, but I’ll let you in on this. You might have a really big and strong 6 but as long as they are not partnerd with a hardworking 8 (a la Kante, Wijnaldum, Rakitick, Vidal) they’ll all look like they are incompetent. Gilberto had Viera. Butt had Kean and last season when Xhaka had torreira,(fresh and on form I might add) we went 22 games unbeaten.

    Just to put out a general fact, the roles of a number 6 and a number 8.
    6 is more like a sweeper. Pick the ball up and play the safest possible pass to maintain possession. Tactically, he’s referred to as a “regista” . The number 8 is supposed to be a hard tackling nuisance to the opponents. Chasing down whatever looks like the ball when not in possession and in possession he’s meant to be a ball progressor. Bringing the ball out of the the hole (6) either at feet or with give and goes. With those attributes in mind, I think we can determine who best to play.

    1. @Joe I can only think of one name and that’s Willock however young or inexperienced he maybe but he can comfortably chase every ball up there.

  9. U do agree that de have plenty of option in middle, but if they all must fill UP our holes all over defense, not simple to have team balance nor for midfield or attacking to play his game, has to defend constantly because we have no top lb rb nor 2 top cbs. Until Bellerin steps up as Tierny but no top CBs will have us play 5 in the back. Every team can beat us as long as they attack and block our 2 strickers, we couldnt often play both Auba & Laca for that. Nor more than one attacking midfield; how?

    Niles bellerin sokratis luiz Tierny gendouzi
    torreira xhaka Willock

    We need this in order in defense, can also replace on of last 3 by Chambers.

    Because we have no top CB, no back winger for now makes it a real headacke to make a balanced team, we are in attack but no defense obliges to sacrifice attacking players.

  10. Bellerin chambers ?? Tierny
    Niles – Willock Ceballos
    Auba – Laca -Pepe

    This will be our best team when young CB i forget name is back. He played for U23 recently. Rotate Nelson and toreira in middle.

    Xhaka and Ozil should not be in our 11, nor Luiz or sokratis over Chambers… Waist young talents for older expensive players is simply idiotic!

  11. If I’m to choose, I will go as far as return Chambers to CB and make Luiz play as DM, make Torreira support him and AMN when he overlap.
    Then put Ozil or Ceballos in front.
    Something like…


    AMN Chambers Sokratis Monreal

    Torreira Luiz



    Before you say, Luiz is out of position, I want you to watch Luiz closely when he’s playing, he was always in midfield even when playing at CB. he knows how to read a ball well and when he his bypass in midfield, the CB would have cover him up before any damage but when he’s bypass at CB, 85% of it turns to goal. You know why? Cos he reads danger that only WC CB can read and when he loses his marker, is already too late for his partner to cover cos his partner can’t even spot the danger Luiz spot before he went for the kill.

    Take the Liverpool game for example, if Sokratis has spot the same danger like Luiz did, he would have fall back to protect him and not just stand to believe his partner will win the ball.

    Luiz and Torreira can focus on Son and Erikson and let Ozil/Ceballos and Pepe do the creative job for L9 and P14.

    But with my coach, it won’t happen.
    Xhaka is a must

    1. Luiz is a clown and trying to blame Sokratis for Luiz’s mistakes is unacceptable. Additionally, playing 2 DMs in Torreira and Luiz will extinguish the few remaining ounces of creativity in our already mediocre midfield. Have you forgotten Arteta-Flamini patnership? Guendouzi-El Neny? That’s what happens when you play two DMs side by side!

      1. Are you saying Xhaka his more of and attacking player than Luiz?

        They are the same to me. I can even say Luiz can bulldoze himself in a tight angle which Xhaka can’t.

        Both has good forward pass.

        They can both score freekick in flashes.

        And watch Torreira closely now, he now play has a CM and not DM which has drop his game.

        So Torreira forward play leaving Xhaka to do the dirty job or Luiz doing the dirty job, which 1 will you prefer?

        1. I would prefer Torreira (DM) Willock (CM) and Ceballos (AM) or

          Torreira(DM) Ceballos (CM) and Ozil (AM). I personally don’t rate Xhaka and if it were up to me I’d rip up his contract and pay him off if only just to get rid of him!

        2. Xhaka is slow in body and mind. There is mindfulness and mindlessness. Xhaka is more often than not mindless. When I look at some of the fine midfielders we have had historically, Xhaka is simply not good enough. We will win nothing with Xhaka. Last season, he single handedly, against Brighton, threw away 4th place.

      2. Torreira and Luiz are both pretty good passers, though. In the 2 examples you mention Flamini and Elneny are both worse.

        But yeah, 2 dms would probably only work if ozil plays in front of them and that gives us more defensive security (it’s not that ozil doesn’t run enough, but his defensive runs are either half-hearted or clueless positionally).

    2. I won’t moan if he use Xhaka cos Xhaka was tidy more than his midfield partners against Liverpool and it can also happen against Spurs.

      Yes I’m not a fans of his but I won’t be bias just because I don’t like him.

      His forward pass are good against Liverpool and no error. You can argue that he clear the ball for the corner that leads to goal but do you think he intentionally kicks it to the corner?

      He was under pressure and inside his box, he only wants to clear the ball and it went over to a corner.
      Do you know so many players who intend to clear the ball and it eventually scores in is own net?

      My problem with Xhaka is that he’s too slow and not a workaholic for a DM or CM required for EPL.

      He just has to go and revive his career back. He will excel in Laliga and even French Ligue

      But what baffles me is Emery claiming to play a good pattern of football but yet he’s among the coaches that has the worst pattern have seen in football.

      Man City, Liverpool, Spurs, Wolves, Bournemouth etc plays a better football than we do.

      Emery his just riding his luck.

      All Emery sweet goals are not his pattern, his just the players channelling the Wenger’s pattern inside them.

      Watch the Ramsey goal, Auba’s 2nd goal against Spurs, Auba’s goal against Leceister etc and tell me it wasn’t Wenger’s pattern of play.

      What exactly is Emery’s pattern and how does it looks like?

      Sarri came and everybody can see his pattern, Klopp 1st season, you can, Pep 1st season same.

      But Emery 1st season is just alot of running around with Wenger’s ball with pass from the back and that only happens for 15games out of about 50+ games.

      I will still wait for Emery lovers to tell me how his pattern looks like since he took over our club.

      Yes I support Emery when he came and I even boast about him. But I remember I support Mustafi when he came and even boast about him when he was unbeatable before his injury. And I remember people claiming Xhaka is better than Pogba in Xhaka 1st few matches with us.

      So I don’t support mediocrity.
      He has this season to show us that lovely pattern he claims he has in his locker or leave.

  12. What Emery needs is an identity. Arsenal have been proactive in the recently concluded window, but what about Emery’s style of play, he’s got no identity, he doesn’t have a preferred first eleven, always reactive with his video analysing opponents and trying to come with some form of counter. It’s high time he starts being proactive and field his own prefered formation and let opponents react.

  13. Ozil cannot compete against modern pressing game
    Xhaka not athletic enough and defensively lacking
    JW DC LT MG perm 3 from 4
    With defensive personnel to come into the reckoning over the net month or so Arsenal do not have to achieve European ambitions by October and our true ability to challenge with what will be an impressive squad can then be assessed
    Another option now or later is Chambers or Luiz deployed as a holding midfielder ( CC excelled at Fulham and DL has the nous and passing range to expose a high press opposition with a very quick offensive line
    Pre transfer window the consensus was survival not success but now we have been provided with cause for optimism
    Emery has achieved advances since his appointment and the Krankes ?would appear have realised their responsibilities towards the business (No it’s the greatest football club in the world) and allowed recruitment accross the club to progress the quest for parity with them up North not to mention a home victory on Sunday

  14. It seems the general opinion here, is that Emery is changing a lot, and that he isn’t looking for a primary 11. I am not sure the facts support that view so far this season.
    If I am correct, we have 7 players, who have started all 3 games:
    Leno, AMN, Sokratis, Monreal, Guendouzi, Willock & Auba.
    In the defense, we had Chambers in the first match, but in the second and third match, we started Luiz instead. I think, Emery would have started Luiz in all 3 games, if he had been available for the first match.
    Xhaka has started 2 games, and didn’t he have an injury problem against Burnley? Otherwise he probably also had been selected in all 3 games.
    That makes 9 “regular” starters.
    My guess is, Pepe hasn’t been ready to start before the Liverpool game, so he is also a natural change/addition. That makes 10.
    Ceballos has started the last 2 games. Why he didn’t start in the first game also, I am not sure, but it can also be, he wasn’t ready. And after his performance against Burnley, he sure looked like first choice for Liverpool.
    So basically, I see a coach, who has been trying to find his best starting 11 in all 3 games.
    Yes, it can be discussed, whether those 11 are indeed our best formation. But that is not my point. My point is, given the circumstances with new players, that have come in, some quite late, we could be seeing a team taking shape, and I find it natural, if we in the coming weeks see a few more changes.

  15. Arsenal coach need to be consistent with his first eleven the players need to be like a “gang” on the field when playing. However, he can twist his formation once in a while when playing physical or difficult team like wholves or Leceister City. Against Tottenham I think Xaka,toreira and Ozil has the Xperience playing a derby. Guendoizi can also be used. Cebalos dow skillful, but not sure he understands the physicality, pressure and the bragging right involve in North London derby. He could come up in 2nd half if Oil is not performing to expectations.

    I will go with:

    4-2-3-1 formation


    Chambers Socratis Liuz Monreal

    Xaka Toreira

    Pep Ozil/Cebalos urbameyang


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