Gunner Thoughts

ARS-FUL Standouts and Worries: Worries

Arsenal beat Fulham at The Emirates for their fourth win in four games. Taking a look at their standout players and a few worries.

Good teams overcome, and Arsenal made a statement by doing so against Fulham after going down 1-0 on a self-inflicted error by Gabriel. Arteta made the bold move of bringing on Eddie and changing the system; Ødegaard rewarded the move in the 64th minute, just three minutes later, to level things; and Gabriel found sweet redemption as he put away the winner in the 85th after a goalmouth scramble to beat Leno.

The atmosphere was electric, the crowd were in full-voice, and wanker pundits can go clutch their pearls and cry their ‘celebration police’ tears by themselves. Arsenal go four for four to start the season and will remain on top of the league for at least a few more days.

I took a look at Standouts as a part of this series, but now let’s look at a few worries:

Arsenal Worries:

Thomas Partey and Oleksander Zinchenko compete for a ball in ARsenal's training.

Partey and Zinchenko

Lumping these two together only seems right since their influence on Arsenal’s play was missed in unison. It’s difficult to separate them out and identify which is missed more, when the worry here is Arsenal looking at a few fixtures without two key ball progression players and technical engines.

After the match, it was commented on that Arteta did not seem confident either of these two would be back from their recent injuries in time for Aston Villa midweek. This means, in all likelihood, this same side — or one very close — will need to get the job done again to keep this outstanding start going.

On the bright side, Arsenal’s ability to possess the ball at a high level and dominate possession percentages wasn’t harmed with these two missing. But it was clear how much more fluid and versatile the attack can be with these two in the lineup. Yesterday, while the possession was good, and Arenal still managed to create 22 shots, the team felt a little less fluid through the middle. But mostly it felt like the speed at which the ball zipped around was slowed down.

Without these two, Xhaka’s role changes, Kieran Tierney plays a little bit like Zinchenko, a lot of bit like an overlapping full back which is an adjustment, and the ever-present threat of Partey breaking the lines with a pass or off the dribble was missing.

It’s inevitable that when rotation happens and teams have to turn to their depth, the level of play is likely to come down with it. After all, Arsenal aren’t yet at the point where they have hundreds of millions of pounds invested in individual backups like Manchester City, and they likely never will. But after falling a part at the end of last year with key injuries to players like Thomas Partey, Arsenal are trying to bring more consistency to their play and results. The idea of an extended run of games with Partey or Zinchenko missing is a worry, and one Arsenal are unfortunately familiar with in Partey’s case. The window is still open, but it seems unlikely Arsenal will splash out to try and reduce this problem’s potential damage.

In the meantime, every Arsenal fan will be hoping that this, seemingly, small injury to Partey’s thigh does not become an ongoing issue the team navigates the entire season.

Mohammed Elneny and “the Window”

After yesterday’s match, I imagine Elneny will be a good point of discourse and debate. I think many people would agree that Elneny played a clean game. He avoided major mistakes, for the most part, and played his usual role in maintaining possession of ball. He completed his passes — 50/51 for 98% accuracy — and he won his one tackle, but his presence on the game felt unnoticeable.

However, there is an image going around the internet from @StatZone that shows Elneny’s pass map. The obvious observation that it shows is Elneny’s proclivity for sideways and backwards passing.

Source: @StatZone

While his 98% accuracy is far superior to Partey’s 68.9% accuracy against Leicester City, and better than his 88.4% against Bournemouth, it’s almost inarguable that there is some distance between was Partey can offer the side on and off the ball versus Mohammed Elneny.

The concern here is not Elneny’s play per say, it has been known for a long time what he can offer Arsenal as a rotation-man and as relief off the bench. It’s not even a surprise that Elneny is an inferior midfielder to Partey, believing elsewise would simply be… well, idiotic. No, the concern here is the distance in levels between the two players, the changes to formation and tactics that are required from Arsenal when Elneny plays, combined with the worry that Arsenal will only fully realize the extent of this concern when it is too late.

I think it’s unrealistic to believe that Arsenal could find and entice a defensive midfielder as good as Thomas Partey to come to north London in the remaining time for this window. Even more difficult, convincing them they aren’t going to be an obvious starter but should still come. But it is more plausible to believe that Arsenal could find a midfielder that offers them a skill level that falls in between Partey and Elneny’s, and one that would allow Arsenal’s left center midfielder — Xhaka in most cases — to play more advanced, for more of the game.

This whole summer has been filled with transfers aimed at improving Arsenal’s attack. Even in the dying days of the window, Arteta is calling for “more firepower”, and yet, if the Gunners are forced to play a system that strays from their very attacking 4-3-3, and that doesn’t allow a second central midfielder to be a constant presence in the attacking third, it feels as though it undoes some of the great improvements these attacking signings are bringing.

The window ends next week, and it does feel unlikely that Arsenal will sign a true lone defensive midfield, number six, but I can’t help feel a little worried about the problems that could cause against opposition that will get tougher. No one wants another season where we get to the end and are inundated with tweets saying: Arsenal with Partey: 2+ points per game. Arsenal without Partey: 1.3.

As consistent as Elneny was today, some fear was sparked at the ceiling of potential this team would settle for if he is forced to play more minutes than intended — as harsh on him as that may be.

It’s a quick turnaround for the first time this season as Arsenal will see Aston Villa on Wednesday at The Emirates. It will be our first time seeing how this season’s side handles short rest.

Also a part of this series: ARS-FUL Standouts and Worries: Standouts

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