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If Arsenal are to win the title, Mikel Arteta will have to use the whole squad

Arsenal faltered last season because of injuries and tiredness. That can’t happen again.

Arsenal Training Session Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Last season, Arsenal’s title challenge was altered significantly when William Saliba walked off the field in the second leg of a round of 16 Europa League tie. He never played again in the 2022-23 season, and Arsenal conceded 11 goals in 3 draws and a loss in April, putting the title out of reach. Saliba, of course, is perhaps a unique talent, and is a player that Arsenal can ill afford to lose in any circumstance.

But Arsenal’s starting eleven became predictable and the team became tired out. If Arsenal are to win the league this season, or have a long run in the Champions League, that cannot happen this season.

There is, though, greater depth this season—though that depth has to be used. One difference is that there are different players for different games. Jorginho was outstanding last weekend against Liverpool, and suited the game and the role, with Arsenal’s box midfield allowing Arsenal to dominate Liverpool.

Jorginho hadn’t started since Liverpool in the cup, indicating that there’s tactical specificity. In certain games, it’ll be better for Emile Smith Rowe or Kai Havertz or Fabio Vieira to play in midfield. Mikel Arteta has utilized Fabio Vieira, Leandro Trossard, and Emile Smith Rowe to start away against Everton, Brentford, and Nottingham Forest respectively. In all three games, Arsenal monopolized possession and controlled the game, before scoring in the second half. That is a difference from last season, where Granit Xhaka started all but one game in midfield.

In bigger games, Declan Rice has often partnered Jorginho. Rice was first operating as the left 8, but the recent switch has seen him play with Jorginho in a double pivot. This has given Arsenal a better platform to build from, while also having another benefit: if Jorginho is in the team, Arsenal’s need for Oleksandr Zinchenko is lessened, because Jorginho provides the control and metronomic passing, and can do so from similar spaces.

While Kai Havertz didn’t score in last weekend’s win over Liverpool, he was influential. Nominally Arsenal’s centre forward, he did a lot of work from his usual position, allowing Gabriel Martinelli and others to take up central spaces, with Havertz and Ødegaard essentially acting as dual 10s. It was those two that led the pressing from the front, a combination we haven’t always seen this season as Arteta has rejigged Arsenal’s pressing shape.

In the absence of Gabriel Jesus, it was important for Arsenal to find another possibility at centre forward. Nketiah offers the traditional striker skillset, with a penalty box presence, while Trossard, as a false 9, will do much of what Jesus does in linking play and moving wide, while perhaps being slightly less dynamic but perhaps more of a snap shooting forward. And then there is Havertz, who both offers the ability to drop off and create space and make late runs, especially with his height. Indeed, there is nothing to say that Arsenal can’t utilize a non-Jesus option upfront, and use Jesus out wide.

While Arsenal’s squad is not big on numbers, there are quite a few different combinations that Mikel Arteta can use. If Arsenal are to be successful this season, he’ll have to. In the 2021-22 and 2022-23 season, he was unable to move away from Plan A, to Arsenal’s detriment as the calendar changed to April. But Arsenal have not really had Plan A available this season, meaning Arteta has multiple plans, and has already had to show adaptability in personnel, style, and tactics. It might not be the boost that Arsenal need, but it does mean the calculation for the season could be different later in the season than years past.