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Arsenal, Ajax “verbally agree” on Jurrien Timber transfer

It’s going down. I’m yelling...

FC Twente v AFC Ajax - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Nesimages/Michael Bulder/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Arsenal and Ajax have verbally agreed to a £36.5M transfer fee with approximately £4M in add-ons for defender Jurrien Timber, reports Mike Verweij out of Holland. It’s an excellent piece of business for the Gunners. Edu and Mikel Arteta are getting things done quickly this summer with Kai Havertz already announced and a move for Declan Rice agreed.

Timber, 22, adds depth and flexibility on the right side of the Arsenal defense. He played mostly right centerback last season for Ajax but featured on the right of a back three for Holland at the World Cup. His progressive passing and progressive carries stand out. He’s ranked in the 99th percentile for both stats among defenders in “Next 8 Leagues” on fbref. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he ranks similarly as high in pass attempts, pass completion, successful take-ons, and overall touches, all of which contribute to his 97% percentile ranking in shot-creating actions.

His defensive action numbers are nothing to write home about, but that’s to be expected playing for a team that dominates possession like Ajax do. The club finished a respectable 5th in goals against in the Eredivisie. And you don’t start four matches as a 21-year old at the World Cup if you’re a defensive liability.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about adding Timber to the roster is the creative ways in which Mikel Arteta might deploy him. It’s been suggested that he may play as an inverted fullback on the right side, similar to what Oleksandr Zinchenko does on the left. He can also play in a back three next to William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes with Declan Rice in front of them, which would push Ben White and Zinchenko further up the field.

When you boil it down, Timber gives Arteta more options, both in his initial setup at the start of matches and to change formations in-game. But where that flexibility may be most important is for match-flow. player-driven interchanges. We saw some of that with Gabriel Jesus last season — he had the freedom to drift into wider areas to support Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, knowing that one of the other attackers would fill the central space he vacated.

We’re going to see even more of that fluidity this coming season with the additions of Timber, Declan Rice, and Kai Havertz. They’re all players who can fill multiple roles, have the football IQ to recognize opportunities and space on the pitch, and the skills to exploit them.

It’s part of Mikel Arteta’s evolution of Pep Guardiola’s concept of juego de posicion, which has roots in Dutch Total Football. The overall aim is to use zonal discipline and spacing to create mismatches — isolating a talented player against a less talented one, quickly overloading a zone to create a numerical advantage, pulling a defense wider and out of shape to open up gaps, etc.

Add all of that to Timber’s value as a straight backup for Saliba and White. He can slot in for either defender without Arsenal losing much of the essential on-ball prowess the starters from last season brought, which is critical to how Mikel Arteta wants Arsenal to play. We saw the negative ripple effects all over the pitch when Saliba was out of the lineup. Timber will help avoid that drop-off should the French centerback miss any time next season.

Last summer, the rumors were that Ajax wanted somewhere in the neighborhood of £36M when Manchester United were linked with a move. That transfer never materialized in part because Louis van Gaal told Timber moving to United might jeopardize his WC roster spot. So Arsenal securing his signature for a substantially similar amount after another year of development and four starts at the World Cup is a coup.

And not for nothing, Timber just turned 22. He fits in perfectly with the remade age profile of the Arsenal squad. Alongside the additions of Rice and Havertz, the Arsenal squad, almost improbably, is getting younger. The Gunners had the youngest average age starting lineup in 2021-22 and the second youngest in 2022-23. Since then, the squad has jettisoned Alexandre Lacazette (30 at the time), looks to be swapping out Granit Xhaka (30), and may sell Thomas Partey (30) as well. Mikel Arteta’s squad may once again deploy the youngest starting lineup in the Premier League.

This has been an incredible week for Arsenal. The summer is off to a great start.