Gunner Thoughts

Four Options, Only Three Can Play: Arteta’s Decision for Anfield

Four attackers with excellent cases for starting, but only three can start. Who should Arteta play?

Gabriel Jesus was back in the starting lineup against Leeds; back dictating the action; and back scoring goals in the red and white.

“I’m delighted for him,” said Arteta. “They were all clapping for him and he’s been working so hard the last four or five months with a lot of support obviously from the team and the staff. Today he deserved the chance to start and he grabbed the opportunity with a lot of conviction and scoring two very important goals.”

It’s funny how fast things change during the course of a season. Emotions fluctuate as the teams faces tougher games and injury difficulties. Just a few weeks ago, it felt like Arsenal didn’t have enough attacking bodies to fulfill their basic needs. Now, with Jesus back and Trossard firing, Arteta has more attacking players than he can fit in the side.  

“The most important thing is always the three points. It doesn’t matter how [we do it], but three points are always the most important thing,” said Jesus.

“Obviously, I want to score, I want to help the team with the goals. I missed a big part of the season and now I just want to play and help the team.”

Jesus says the points — any way any how, are most important — but you better believe he will expect to be in the mix when his team attempt to do something Arsenal haven’t done since 2012 when Robin van Persie scored a brace: win at Anfield.

Another man, fresh into the side in January, has risen up like the hero Arsenal fans needed — even if some mistakenly didn’t want — and stamped his mark on this season.

Trossard now has 1 goal and 7 assists since joining Arsenal in January. James Benge flashed the stat that these seven assists, isolated, still give Trossard the 3rd most assists in the league. It’s an incredible contribution, beyond most people’s dreams.

Maybe not Arteta’s…

I have very wild dreams! No, seriously, we knew about his quality and what he could bring to the team. We are really pleased with him, he can play on the right, he can play on the left, he can play as an attacking midfielder, as a nine, a false nine. He’s really contributing to the team and he really takes a lot of responsibility in games to make things happen and we love that.

Arteta on Trossard

But Arteta now has four attacking players, all with a serious argument for why they belong in Arsenal’s attack when the team walks out at Anfield, and it’s a decision he can hardly fail to get wrong.

It’s tough to say which player is even the outsider stepping in at this point. Arsenal have collected 72 points in 29 matches, Saka, Martinelli, Jesus, Trossard — all have contributed in major ways. To make Arteta’s task even more difficult, the versatility of this front allows him to flex these players in so many different ways:

  • Martinelli – Jesus – Saka
  • Martinelli – Trossard – Saka
  • Martinelli – Jesus – Trossard
  • Martinelli – Trossard – Jesus
  • Trossard – Jesus – Saka
  • Trossard – Martinelli – Saka

But, in reality, the three options that seem most likely are:

  • Martinelli – Jesus – Saka
  • Trossard – Jesus – Saka
  • Martinelli – Trossard – Saka

But which does Arteta pick? Does Trossard crack into a front 3 that has been near-flawless this season for the Gunners now that it’s healthy? He has a great track record at Anfield with Brighton, but is that enough to displace Arsenal’s star man or two players with double digit goal contributions?

The Contenders:

Gabriel Jesus

The youngsters of this team deserve every syllable of praise they receive, and then a little more on top, but Gabriel Jesus walked into this team and put it over the top. In matches that he has played, Arsenal are 15-1-1. A record that would give Arsenal 46 points, 2.70 points per game, and would see Arsenal placed 6th in the league table on its own. He’s a spark plug, an all-action attacker, he helps lead our press, and he’s tallied 5 goals and 7 assists. He’s back from injury and his return to the starting lineup saw him score 2 goals, including a penalty he won and an incredibly timed run and finish in traffic.

I think before the injury, as good as Saka or Ødegaard have been, Jesus would have been leading the running for Player of the Season. A hard person to drop.

Bukayo Saka

Rested last match, you have to imagine that was an opportunistic gamble from Arteta more than anything. Saka is “the franchise”. He’s the budding face of this team, and was first in the league to have double-digit goals and assists. He’s been phenomenal and even this last match, it took Arsenal a while to adjust to not having his dynamic presence on the right side. If he’s fit, it’s hard to imagine he’s not playing.

Gabriel Martinelli

Martinelli seemed to be on the end of some criticism during the Leeds game. I found it odd, but people felt his contributions in the attack have been lacking. That, coming in the face of him scoring 6 goals and 1 assist in Arsenal’s last 7 Premier League matches. He also leads the team in goals this season with 13, adds 3 assists, has 4.04 shot-creating-actions per 90, and leads the team in successful take-ons.

When Liverpool came to The Emirates, Martinelli tormented Alexander-Arnold and notched a goal and assist in Arsenal’s win. He’s had himself a breakout season of his own and presents a compelling outlet to run at Alexander-Arnold once more.

Leandro Trossard

The newest member of Arsenal’s attack, his case is built on firing form and history at Anfield. His seven assists are remarkable and probably make him Arsenal’s most in form attacker. Before moving to Arsenal, he scored all three of Brighton’s goals versus Liverpool in a 3-3 draw.

His ability to play as a winger, a nine, a false nine, in the half spaces or stretching a defense has been remarkable. He’s incredibly clean and tidy on the ball, and his consistent ability to contribute in the form goals or assists support it. He is as worth as any of these candidates of getting the ball.

Gunner Thoughts

I believe that Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka are a lock. At this point, if there are fully fit, they start. I know there are a few people who contend that Jesus should earn his spot back or that Trossard is just as good as him, but I find that almost laughable. He elevates this team and if Arsenal want to play their best football, they need him supplying his dynamic play on and off the ball to reach that ceiling. Likewise, Saka will probably end the year as Arsenal’s Player of the Year and for good reason.

It leaves the question of the left wing. Do I want the explosive Martinelli to try and torment TAA? Do I want Trossard’s maturity and tidy play to try and systematically break down Liverpool’s defense at home?

Arguably, both players are “the hot hand” given their recent forms.

For me, the move is Martinelli – Jesus – Saka to start. Test that Trent defense, provide that outlet ball and pace to counter or make Liverpool adjust, and try to tap back into Martinelli’s best play which has happened with Jesus on the pitch. This front three has won a lot of games together and are at the foundation of Arsenal’s attacking identity.

There is a chance that Jesus surprises us and proves himself capable of playing a complete 90 minutes, but there is a reality that that may not be possible for him. Bring on Trossard later in the game, a situation we have already seen him contribute from, and bring home Arsenal’s first win at Anfield since 2012.

This match with not only be a test for Arsenal’s quality, but of how much they have matured and grown as professional footballers over the year.

Martinelli – Jesus – Saka
Trossard Sub between 65-70 minutes for either Jesus or Martinelli.

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