Gunner Thoughts

Trossard Brings Arsenal Closer to Jesus

As the whistle blew, ending Arsenal’s win over Leicester City, it was Arsenal’s central, defensive duo that would deservedly take much of the plaudits. They were outstanding on the day and when a team holds their opposition to a 1 shot, 0 shot on target stat line, it’s understandable that the center backs take a lot of the credit.

But as many have pointed out, a result like that takes a complete team performance, front to back.

The front six did a phenomenal job in their man-to-man marking and Arsenal’s spine were resolute in their play. Two players that made up that spine — Jorginho and Trossard — were new signings in January and have given Arsenal performances and injections of quality that start to make the January window look like a stroke of brilliance — borne out of desperation or not.

The match on the whole wasn’t a sparkling day for an attacking front that has given us some high-octane performances of brilliance this season but they took a Leicester side and mandated they be willing to stick nine men their own box to keep shots out, almost from the first whistle. There are always things to improve, as Arteta would be first to remind us, but an aspect of real success was the inclusion of Leandro Trossard in a central, false nine role.

Since his arrival at Arsenal, fans have been incredibly pleased with Trossard’s contributions to this title-challenge season and it’s easy to see why.

  • 2 starts, 221 minutes
  • 1 goal 1 assist
  • 6 shots (2 on goal)
  • 2.44 shots per 90
  • 10 shot creating actions, 4.07 per 90
  • 54.8 touches per 90
  • 4.4 takes on per 90 (63.6% success)
  • 40 carries per 90 (150yds progressive distance per 90)

For the per 90 stats where do these rank on Arsenal?

  • 2.44 shots per 90 – Lowest of the forwards, 8th on team, but no one will be upset by that number.
  • 4.07 SCA per 90 – 8th but we can remove Rob Holding and contextualize the small sample sizes of Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson who rank ahead of him
  • 54.8 touches per 90 – more touches than Saka and Martinelli, shedding light on how good he is at getting himself on the ball
  • 4.4 takes on per 90 (63.6% success) – 3rd on the team, a little higher than Saka and Martinelli
  • 40 carries per 90 (150yds progressive distance per 90) – Drastically higher than other Arsenal forwards with the fourth highest progressive distance per 90 on the team

The Spectrum of Arsenal Forward Options

Arsenal have been playing without Gabriel Jesus since the league’s resumption post-World Cup and in his stead have naturally slotted Eddie Nketiah.

The perceptions of him as Arsenal’s center-man have moved like the tide. Incredibly low opinions of his ability to provide for the team were voiced immediately after Jesus was ruled out for months. Approvals skyrocketed as he hit the ground running and was scoring goals and contributing to wins in his own fashion. Some were even sporting some classic recency bias as they looked to debate if Arsenal should even return Jesus to the starting lineup when he’s healthy. The problem with this was that judgement of Nketiah always needed to be more about how he contributed across a large stretch of matches more than his ability to make a difference on any single day.

True to many people’s fears, his goal contributions dried up, and I would argue he found himself stuck between trying to play like Jesus to supply those around him and trying to play his central striking role, a job that demands you score to make up for less effectiveness in other areas. As a lot of minutes in a short span took their toll on his legs, and deflating performances likely hampered confidence, the cracks in his fit with the team were there to pick on. Many called for Trossard to get the start.

Trossard had played in the a central role for Brighton but with limited minutes — and certainly not in Arteta’s system. A concern I carried when the lineup for Arsenal-Leicester came out was whether Trossard had embedded himself into this Arsenal system enough to be effective in this role. It’s one thing to learn to play in your preferred position. An entirely different challenge to learn a second position, one thats less comfortable and carries big demands. Had Leandro had enough time to pull this off? Arsenal could hardly risk dropping points.

The question was asked and Trossard answered the call in style.

Earlier this season I wrote an article about the left back spectrums within the team as I plotted Zinchenko, Tierney, and Tomiyasu. What Arsenal seem to have within their striking options is another spectrum.

Gabriel Jesus

Whether Jesus is the ideal striker for Arsenal across the lifespan this project carries could be debated, but few would argue he is the best fit for Arsenal’s current season. They have a formula for success with him, and how he plays creates opportunities for this team to be at their best.

I often describe him as “all-action” and anyone that watches him understands why. He offers the ability to come deep and help Arsenal break the press and get out of trouble. He drifts wide left and offers the skills of someone that has spent a lot of time on the wings, which allows Martinelli into dangerous central areas and demands a lot of opposition defenses to handle any overloads and exchanges. Off the ball he works tirelessly to help steer the press, initiate the counter press, and mentally he switches like a light to transition for attack to defense.

Eddie Nketiah

Nketiah offers Arsenal some of that play, but very much in his own way. And he’s much more aligned with that “English center forward” profile. He’s got good movement across short spaces, can be a fox in the box, but mostly wants to stay high and central. If every chance could fall onto his foot or head twelve yards out, he’d call it perfect.

During this stint without Jesus he has looked to add to his repertoire of skills and come deep or move wide, but at times it’s irregular and perhaps lacks the dynamic bite needed to elude defensive tracking. When the goals dried up, his value started to plummet.

I believe he has proved to many that his ceiling of play is on the level of a Premier League striker, but his floor sits lower than fans want in someone they are putting their faith in, and the gap between floor and ceiling is remains too spacious. He sits in a no man’s land of too good to find contentedness with cups and group stage play only but not ready to take the reins of a top team. But it’s worth remembering he’s a back up for a reason.

Leandro Trossard

Trossard stepped into the role for the Leicester match and it was immediately noticeable what he could offer. Yes, he’s a bit more false nine than Jesus, but he’s comfortable in those deeper, central areas. He’s tidy on the ball, mobile, and very capable of exchanging with Martinelli on the left wing. They didn’t have a flawless chemistry on the day, but the intent was there and at times it looked a lot more like the Arsenal we grew used to before the World Cup.

Off the ball he works hard, but no one can quite equal Jesus’ levels. Having said that, he helped Arsenal’s front six squelch anything Leicester attempted.

If his goal hadn’t been chalked off, this article would have already mentioned that incredible missile of a finish. Even with it cancelled, we all saw what he is capable of producing. However, what impressed me most was his ability to help create and produce for other. He gets a wonderful assist to Gabi and had 3 shot creating actions, but his movement puts him closer to a Jesus-like player on this spectrum of forwards.

Where should Arteta go with this?

Fortunately another option for Arteta to explore has been found. Unfortunately it comes on the precipice of Gabriel Jesus’ return. In an ideal world, Trossard is never asked to play serious minutes as a striker for Arsenal this season. Jesus remains healthy and he leads us to the title. But there are 14 matches in the Premier League to go and a Europa League competition to navigate. A deep run in the Europa League would mean a lot of minutes to spread around. Arteta not only needs to keep legs fresh, he needs to ensure Arsenal find their greatest formula for success.

In the short term, I think Arteta has to continue to turn to Trossard up front. There was speculation that this selection came from Nketiah needing a break, but Trossard brings Arsenal a player much more aligned with how they play when Jesus is in the lineup and that continuity matters.

Martinelli has to regain form, the left side needs unclogging, and Trossard can help that process while Jesus gets back to full fitness.

As someone who had some doubts about Trossard’s effectiveness in that role, and Arteta’s ability to scheme for a truer false nine, my biggest doubt lay with how quickly Trossard would have been able to effectively pick up this role. He was a bright spot versus Leicester and when it comes to unlocking Everton’s low block, Arsenal need to offer unpredictability in their attack. They need variety, versatility, movement, and different angles of attack; Trossard helps supply that. Must start for me.

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