Arsenal’s first two signings of the summer got more attention, especially as Declan Rice and Kai Havertz joined for large sums of money. Beyond that, Rice and Havertz are exciting: Havertz brings the potential for more attacking play out of central midfield, while Rice, who was also wanted by Manchester City, signifies Arsenal’s return to the top table. Yet as the season begins, the player who may be the most important new signing is Jurrien Timber.
Certainly, Timber is the new signing who is most likely to start, at least at the beginning of the season. Some of that is circumstantial, because of Oleksandr Zinchenko having not played at all during pre-season, and, with injury to Gabriel Jesus, it is certainly possible that Havertz and Rice both start on Saturday against Nottingham Forest, as both did in the Community Shield last weekend.
Yet Timber’s performances have almost demanded his inclusion in the team. From both right back and left back, Timber has utilized the ball well, showing an ability to invert but also be a more traditional full back, while also being defensively and physically strong. He has shown himself to be a valuable alternative to Zinchenko, while also having attributes that would enable Timber to play when Zinchenko returns to full fitness.
Yet Timber brings his own style to the full back role, which doesn’t always involve inverting. While he did invert from right back against Barcelona and Manchester United, and from the left against Monaco, against Manchester City he was far more of an orthodox full back—but one playing with their “wrong” foot. In that sense, he was often underlapping Gabriel Martinelli, who was often the furthest left forward player. As Arsenal kicked off, Timber went high up the pitch in the inside left channel, looking to counter-press Arsenal’s long kick.
Both of Arsenal’s full backs don’t normally act as more traditional full backs, but with Declan Rice in midfield, Arsenal had more of double pivot than the Gunners did at time last season. Rice would press ahead of Thomas Partey but would often be slightly ahead of him in possession, rather than pulling into the spaces that Granit Xhaka would attack last season. Thus, Timber pushed further forward to occupy the inside-left channel.
Yet with his passing ability, and ability to go past players in midfield, which he’s shown in preseason, Timber can invert either from right back or left back. In that sense, he gives Arsenal more options: an inverted full back, with a more attacking midfielder at the left 8, or supporting the wide player from full back. Indeed, Timber had the widest average position of touches on Sunday, and while he was often in the inside left channel, he did push on the outside too, meaning that Arsenal could play Emile Smith Rowe or Leo Trossard on the left.
The trick for Arsenal this upcoming season will not only be to have some players for certain games, but to have players who can play in multiple roles or in different parts of the pitch. In that sense, it’s the next evolution of Arteta’s positional play, and reminiscent of some aspects of total football. But that can only happen if players can fulfill those demands; Timber is one who can, and thus looks to be someone who will be one of the usual eleven names on the teamsheet.