Morning folks. Another Monday in lockdown. It’s a countdown to the Palace game on Thursday and as you’d probably expect given the game is four days away, which means most people arse still worrying themselves with transfer noises, which I too am not immune to. We’ve seen the Buendia stuff come and go, there’s been plenty on the potential arrival of Julian Brandt, as well as some re-hashed stuff around Julian Draxler. Hey, it wouldn’t be a transfer window without him being linked, eh? I often hear how human beings take comfort in consistency, of routine, etc. But Draxler linked to Arsenal is one annual routine I’d be happy to live without.
There’s also been plenty of rumour around Marcel Sabitzer from RB Leipzig given he is entering the last year of his contract in the summer I believe. He sounds like he fits the mould. High-energy central midfielder, 26 years old, probably wouldn’t mind a big pay day in the Premier League and Leipzig will be mindful that they don’t want him going in to next season just running down his contract. He can play in central midfield or attacking midfield and is their captain too, so he clearly has a positive voice in the dressing room.
I can’t remember us having too many Austrian players either, so that’d be a nice change. I remember Manniger but that’s where my memory starts and ends. But back to Sabitzer for a second and I’ll admit I know little of him in terms of playing style. So I Googled him and found words like ‘versatile’ and phrases like ‘roaming central midfield playmaker who operates in the half spaces’. Sounds pretty bang on for what we need, eh?
Emile Smith-Rowe is a player who plays in between the lines, finds half spaces and is connecting the team, but he’s deployed further up the pitch. It doesn’t sound like Sabitzer plays in exactly the same way, but in terms of those two midfield slots behind someone like Smith-Rowe that sounds ideal. I feel like that is what Arteta and Arsenal want Ceballos to be and he has shown only flashes of it so far. With that in mind, whilst I personally thought Sabitzer would be coming in to play with Smith-Rowe and alternate minutes (assuming he’s the one Arsenal want now), my mind started to wander back to a conversation I had on Twitter after the game on Saturday evening, which is that Arsenal do indeed need a creative connector who can operate in the same position as Smith-Rowe, but actually we probably also need another midfielder to potentially play alongside Thomas Partey. Perhaps Sabitzer is it? Then perhaps the club will wait until the summer for him?
That would make sense. After all, we can’t really be planning to give Elneny any more minutes than we have to, can we? Not in the long term I mean. On Saturday he was poor and I saw one quick clip yesterday of Xhaka on the left hand side playing the ball in to the Egyptian. Xhaka played the pass and skipped beyond the man who was close him down. It was the clearest one-two you’ve ever seen and all Elneny needed to do was play the pass. It is not as if he couldn’t see him either as his body was opened up to Xhaka making the pass all the more simple. Yet Elneny’s first thought – probably a decision he had made before he even received the ball – was to play it backwards towards one of his centre backs. In that same video you see Xhaka visibly frustrated not to receieve the ball back as he had clearly called for it.
I’m highlighting this example to show you just how much players like Elneny are hampering our style and in every game that he plays I believe there are at least six times in which he does that. That instance I saw from Saturday could have resulted in an attack for us but instead turned into a bit of defensive possession across our back four.
We need players to be able to find space on the field and look to progress the ball. That is especially true with the style that Arteta is trying to develop where we play from the back, try to draw teams out and then need to move the ball quickly from back to front to catch them out. That simply doesn’t happen when you have players who slow the ball down with too many touches, or who will always look at the backwards pass like Elneny did in the example I’m thinking of.
We need more risk takers. We need players to try that difficult pass because the rewards are so much more than if you just drop a simple ten0yarder back to our centre halves. We need midfielders with vision and who make decisions in a split second. Elneny just doesn’t have that vision. He makes his decision on what he is going to do and then executes that no matter what variables are in place. It is not his fault, he just doesn’t have the radar or ability. But that just means we need to move on from him. We need players who will change their decision making for a pass based on what is going on around them. Could somebody like Sabitzer, for example, have seen the movement Xhaka made to evade the oncoming man and find space a few years forward, then play the pass and move in to another half space to be an option? It sounds like he could. so I am keen.
But the important point to note here is just how much work is needed. Having gone through all of this thought process yesterday on needing another central midfielder as well as an attacking midfielder in the creative spot, it really highlights to me just how much work is needed on this team, also why offloading so many players this January is important. The club needs to keep going in that regard because we are going to have players like Elneny that we should also be moving on in the summer. We all know about those running down their contract but if we’re going to get to where we want to be there are a few in the team on longer contracts that we may need to shift in the summer too.
I thought this summer would be the big purge at the club but it is becoming increasingly clearer to me that Arsenal and Arteta need two windows: this one in January to start the cull, then the next one to offload even more.
Back tomorrow with some thoughts.