On Wednesday, we looked at the depth chart for the Arsenal defense. Up next, is the Gunners’ midfield riddled with questions. A mixture of players late in their career, academy products who’ve broken through, and a set of functional pieces, without a clear picture (just yet) of exactly how Mikel Arteta wants to shape this midfield.
Obviously you can make the case that a player maybe should be shifted to another role, but I wanted to draw some dotted lines somewhere. Willian played on the right-wing for Chelsea, but Arteta lacks a #10, unless Ozil surprisingly bounces back into the starting XI, or even the 18. With potentially limited activity (both in and out) this transfer window, here is a look at the likely starters, backups, and U23 prospects at defensive, central, and attacking midfield.
- None as of publishing. Unless you want to count the end of Dani Ceballos’ loan and due to the fact that we aren’t sure about his status for 20/21 at the moment. However, it’s widely expected that Matteo Guendouzi will be sold this transfer window.
- Willian - The former Chelsea player signed a three-year deal this summer to offer Arteta another option in the front three, or four, based on formation.
Starter: Granit Xhaka (27, 6/23)
Backup: Lucas Torreira (24, 6/23)
Academy/Future Prospect: Matt Smith (19, Unknown, on loan at Swindon Town) & Ben Sheaf (22, Unknown)
Transfer Window Need: Medium. Xhaka has turned his form around under Arteta’s leadership, but it’s unclear if Mikel believes Torreira is a future piece for his midfield. With endless links with Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey and a steep drop off to the U23s, the 20/21 season needs to confirm Lucas’ role & future or bring in the alternative/successor to Xhaka.
Starter: Joe Willock (20, 6/23) OR Dani Ceballos (23, status TBD)
Backup: Ainsley Maitland-Niles (22, 6/23), Mattéo Guendouzi (21, 6/22)
Academy/Future Prospect: James Olayinka (19, Unknown) & Tim Akinola (19, Unknown)
Transfer Window Need: Low. That is, if Arsenal are able to bring Ceballos back as Arteta wants. Whether that be another year-long loan or a full transfer, Dani paired well with Xhaka down the final stretch of the season. This would allow Arsenal to sell Guendouzi, and focus on the other positions with Willock and Maitland-Niles as alternatives to Ceballos. However, if Ceballos doesn’t return, and considering Matteo has likely played his last match for Arsenal, going into a full (and compressed) season with just Willock and AMN isn’t ideal.
Starter: Willian (32, 6/23)
Backup: Mesut Özil (31, 6/21) & Emile Smith Rowe (19, 6/23)
Academy/Future Prospect: Ben Cottrell (18, Unknown)
Transfer Window Need: Low. For this window only. The future of the #10 at Arsenal and in Arteta’s ideal starting XI is unknown, but for now the club can’t really bring in another player until Ozil exits. With Willian and Ozil available (in theory), and the fact that Smith Rowe looks set to stay with the first team this season, Arsenal are covered. Especially if Ozil actually stays fit and is an active participant in the season. Not to mention other players that can slide into that role, such as Bukayo Saka or Joe Willock. Next summer Mesut leaves on a free and we hopefully know more about ESR’s potential at the Premier League level.
Arsenal have plenty of macro and micro level questions for the midfield. Long term does Arteta have a preference for playing a midfield three, the #10 role, or how often he wants to utilize wing-backs in a 3-4-3 formation? Or will he be the type of manager that prefers to be fluid from match to match, as well as in-game, and build a squad of players who are versatile? How many of the current players would he want to keep if he was completely rebuilding the squad with far more resources at his disposal?