White tipped for midfield role amidst growing concerns

Darren Bent has tipped Ben White to take on responsibilities in midfield following a raft of absences for Arsenal.

The defender joined the club this summer from Brighton, and has already appeared at right-back, despite forming a formidable partnership at centre-back alongside Gabriel Magalhaes this term.

Our side was forced to name an inexperienced duo in Lokonga and Charlie Patino in the FA Cup clash with Nottingham Forest at the weekend, a performance which underwhelmed on a number of levels, but after the departure of Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Roma, on top of Mo Elneny and Thomas Partey’s international responsibilities, we have left ourselves short, and Granit Xhaka’s recent positive test for Coronavirus severely highlighted our lack of strength.

With little noise around a new arrival, we currently have a sweat on our options ahead of our clash with Liverpool on Thursday, and Darren Bent certainly wasn’t impressed by what he saw in the FA Cup, and is tipping Ben White to be used in yet another position.

Live on air, Bent was asked if he was worried about our current options in midfield, and he told the TalkSPORT listeners (as quoted by TBR): “A little bit [worried]. I never thought I’d miss Elneny but we did on Sunday. Ben White has played a holding midfield role so he might have to play there. When you look at the midfield right now, it’s worrying.”

I don’t quite understand why we have allowed Maitland-Niles to leave before a replacement has been brought in, or at least before Charlie Patino or another youngster has proven themselves ready to make the step-up, but that doesn’t mean that Patino didn’t just have a one-off either.

Against Liverpool we simply can’t take that risk however, and I expect Martin Odegaard to drop into a deeper role in midfield, possibly with Emile Smith Rowe also playing a little deeper in a 4-3-3 formation, but I can’t disagree that the current situation is a huge worry.

Do you think the duo of Lokonga and Patino could be tried again if no other options return to availability?


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  1. Arsenal’s problem is that the personnel is suited to a 4-2-3-1, while the manager wants to play a 4-3-3. These are very different formations, tactically, with radically different responsibilities for the players on the field.

    In the 4-2-3-1, which is an attacking formation designed to retain possession, the center backs and 1 of the 2 central midfielders form the defensive core of the team, with one fullback pushing high and the second, trailing fullback tucking inside when the team loses possession, giving the team an extra body in midfield to cover for the central midfielder that pushed forward to join the attack.

    The center forward plays up the middle, providing an outlet for clearances and a target, as well as a playmaker who can lay off to the attacking midfielders. Lacazette excels in this role, as did Olivier Giroud.

    In the 4-3-3, which an even more attacking formation than the 4-2-3-1, there are six or seven players in the attack; because both fullbacks push high to provide width, while the three forwards are interchangeable, moving left, right, and center to create imbalances. The central midfielder usually sits a little deeper, just in front of the two center backs.; while the two wider midfielders actually tuck in a bit, leaving the widest areas to the fullbacks.

    Tactically, the goal is to push the other team back deep into their own end, usiing superior numbers to pin the other side deep and keep constant pressure on the defending side. The downside is; this is a formation vulnerable to the long ball and good counter attacking sides; especially if the defending team is well diciplined.

    Arsenal are trying to purge the team of the more specialized players used in the 4-2-3-1 and chase players who can interchange; like Manchester City and Liverpool.

    Mane, Salah, Firmonio, and Jota can all play any of the forward roles, while the wide midfielders, like Henderson Thiago, Jones, and Chamberlain roam and retain possession, closing down the ball if Liveprool lose possession. Both Fullbacks, Alexander Arnold and Robertson push high and act as attackers more than defenders; which Liverpool get away with because Fabinho in the midfield and Matip and Van Dijk are such excellent defenders.

    City play even more aggressively, eschewing a center forward entirely, with a front three comprised of any three of Grealish, Mahrez, Sterling, Palmer Foden, or Jesus and two attacking midfielders from Gundogan, Silva, Debruyne. Fernandinho or Rodri sit in front of two of four excellent one-on-one defenders; Stones, LaPorte Dias and Ake. Cancelo and Walker provide width from fullback.

    Arsenal are trying to copy this model, but their midfielders just cannot play the same way. Martinelli, Smith-Rowe, and Odegaard can, to some degree, but Partey is a holding midfielder, as is Lokonga and Xhaka, who is listed as a holding midfielder, is more of a deep lying playmaker than a holding player. Of them, only Partey has both the skills and the athletecism to play the Fabinho/Fernandinho role.

    Arsenal now have the fullbacks they need, with Tierney and Tomiyasu, but at the forward posiitons, none of the current center forwards are suited to the three man front line except, perhaps Nketiah, who is fed up and wants to leave. Lacazette is a terrific center forward who can play with his back to goal and hold up the ball, pass, and score; but he is not a wide player, nor can he effectively drop into midfield as a playmaker. Aubameyang cvan play wide, and while he can be a playmaker, that is a waste of his pace and guile on the ball.

    Arsenal have spent a lot of money on their defense and Arteta looks happy with White and Gabriel, but to date, they have not produced the kind of stalwart one-on-one defending you think of with City or Liverpool. Holding and Luis were better last year, though the pundits seem to have forgotten that inconvenient truth, while Chambers and Mari have struggled to fill the role of rock in a sea of chaos.

    Ben White in a midfield role against a good team will be… ugly. Arsenal would be better off with Chambers there, alongside Xhaka, though neither is exactly quick, leaving White to play his normal role alongside either Holding or Gabriel.

    1. as you’re well-aware, I’ve been bullish on some of your previous posts, but I do take issue with several of your above points

      first and foremost, your rather bold claim that MA ultimately desires to deploy a 4-3-3, like his “mentor” Pep, might be a tad presumptuous, especially considering several of his purchases and his propensity to employ exceedingly negative tactics far too often

      the fact remains, Xhaka, Ode, Tomi and Lokonga make no sense whatsoever, if his intentions are to pursue a 4-3-3 formation, as you’ve suggested…in fact, these players make infinitely more sense in a 4-2-3-1 formation, especially one that relies on a deeper-lying pivot, who can rotate into wider positions when our backs release higher up the pitch, with no real playmaking threats occupying more central positions

      of course, this could be a somewhat effective philosophical approach if it weren’t for the fact that MA appears unenthused by the notion of countering more directly with pace…now we’ve seen glimpses of what could be possible when we’ve played against some lesser lights, but whenever we face someone of consequence or are experiencing some sort of adversity he tends to revert back to a scheme that relies too heavily on possession-based football, which allows the opposition to regain their defensive shape far too easily

      this too wouldn’t be so problematic if it weren’t for the fact that he doesn’t like to commit enough players in the final third…as such, our wide side players face far too many double-teams in and around the box, which oft-times leads to either a bevy of low percentage crosses into areas of the pitch where we’re typically outnumbered or, even worse, a series of non-penetrative passes, both sideways and backwards, that rarely produce high percentage goal-scoring opportunities

      overall, I would suggest that our two biggest stumbling blocks are our manager’s indecisiveness when it comes to our tactical objectives moving forward and his somewhat paralyzing fear of failure, which has made him so risk-averse that the football appears too mechanical and instinctually neutered at times…I get that in more recent times we’ve witnessed some moments of more fluid ball movement and even some fast-break opportunities, but they’re still more the exception than the rule…the fact is, it’s difficult to get the best out of players, especially less experienced ones, if the manager’s is too preoccupied with his overriding belief that he simply can’t afford to fail

    2. Very thoughtful and interesting comments.Like TRVL, I doubt if Arteta is contemplating a switch to 4-3-3 as he simply does not have a quality, dedicated DM which to me is an essential cog in the success enjoyed by City and Liverpool.Partey is not an out and out DM and has more strings to his bow than Fabinho and Roddri .As it has been for a number of seasons, we are limited in switching to 4-3-3 by the inclusion of Xhaka who is neither one thing nor another and no longer an asset imo.Until he is moved on, I cannot see us making real progress I’m afraid.

  2. No Leno, even if its a cup game.
    He slows the team. We went back to the old days of no shots on goal because of slow start from behind then the team progress is quickly marked and stopped. Rambo has a huge effect on the teams overall play and response situations.
    Lokonga is not ready to play in the first team. Too weak to be in midfield.

  3. Excellent analysis Paul. The point is, Arsenal must first acquire the services of the right players in the right positions to play the 4-3-3 system. The concept of White playing in midfield is not very promising, I think Chambers would do a better job, White is better off in central defence partnering either Gabriel or Holding.

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