2020/2021 Mid Season: Which Players Arsenal Should Retain, Sell and Recruit To Fit A 3-5-1-1 Formation

With Arsenal’s 2020/2021 Premier League campaign almost at the halfway point, and the January 2021 transfer window shortly to open, it’s an opportune time to examine the on-field production of each player in Arsenal’s senior squad, and the player market, in order to identify:

  • which players Arsenal should retain
  • which players Arsenal should sell
  • which players Arsenal should recruit.

Methodology

In assessing the on-field production and the comparative ranking of each player which comprise Arsenal’s senior squad, each player is allocated into six positional categories (with some players allocated to multiple positional categories due to their perceived versatility).

Those positional categories consist of:

  • Goalkeeper
  • Defenders
  • Central Midfielders
  • Right Wide Midfielder
  • Left Wide Midfielder
  • Centre Forward
  • Stiker

Once categorised, each player’s output in defined key performance indicators (KPIs) for their respective positional category has then been considered, using data sourced from Whoscored.com.

To provide a realistic picture of each individual player’s on-field production, only data from those seasons, throughout the player’s professional career, where the player has started at least 15 league games in at least two seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive) was considered. Where a player has not met that criteria, their productivity data was not assessed.

The KPI data considered for each positional group is based on the assumption that Arsenal adopt a 3-5-1-1 formation and the cornerstones of Arsenal’s tactical approach is as follows:

  • Defend in a medium block, with the two forwards also dropping back to ensure the side is vertically compact. This compactness is maintained by a position-focus pressing game, that sees the front two and midfield three prioritise retention of shape, and shifting from side to side to deny the opposition space and block passes into midfield, and only pressing the ball when it goes out to an opposition fullback or when a centre back brings the ball forward in possession.
  • Attack through their central and wide midfielders quickly transitioning the ball forward after recovering it, by dribbling it up the field and playing key passes into the centre forward and striker.
  • The goalkeeper’s primary aims are to stop shots and claim crosses.
  • The defenders’ primary aims are to tackle their opponent to recover the ball (2+ per game), and win aerial duels (3+ per game), and contribute to the team’s offensive play through multiple long passes (3+ per game).
  • The central and wide midfielders’ primary aims are to tackle their opponent to recover the ball (2+ per match), and contribute to the team’s offensive play by producing multiple dribbles (1+) and key passes (1+) per match.
  • The centre forward’s primary aims are to contribute to the team’s offensive play in the final third through multiple shots (3+) and successful aerial duels (3+) per match as well as goals (15+ per season).
  • The striker’s primary aims are to contribute to the team’s offensive play in the final third through multiple shots per game (3+) as well as goals (15+ per season).

Once the relative on field productivity of Arsenal’s current senior squad was assessed, the comparative KPI data (from Whoscored.com) of the players competing in the following leagues was then reviewed:

  • English Premier League
  • Championship
  • Serie A
  • Ligue 1
  • La Liga
  • Bundesliga

When considering players competing in the aforementioned leagues, those players in clubs who are competing in the 2020/21 Champions League were not considered. This included clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Borussia Monchenglabach, PSG, Marseille, Rennes, Juventus, Inter Milan, Atalanta, and Lazio. This was designed to realistically account for Arsenal’s attractiveness as a prospective employer, based on the club’s current standing in European football (as a Europa League competitor).

Also, only players from the aforementioned leagues who have, during their professional career, started at least 15 league games in at least two seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive) were considered. Where a player has not met that criteria, their productivity data was not assessed. Again, this was designed to provide a realistic picture of each individual player’s on-field production.

The KPI data of the reviewed players was then contrasted against the KPI data of the players who currently comprise Arsenal’s senior squad.

Player rankings

Goalkeepers

Starting with the goalkeeping position, and while it’s unfair to judge Macey’s or Runarsson’s suitability, as neither player has sufficient professional experience to appropriately assess their performances, it is fair to say that Bernd Leno, has delivered less impressive performances throughout his career to date, in contrast to the likes of Alessio Cragno of Cagliari.

In light of that, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Leno, and recruit Cragno, to serve as one of the club’s two senior goalkeepers.

In terms of the second of those two senior goalkeepers, with Macey and Runarsson unproven but Macey considered ‘homegrown’, and likely to see limited game time, it would be logical for the club to sell Runarsson and retain Macey as the club’s second senior goalkeeper.

Defenders

As for the club’s contracted defender options, Arsenal fortunately have two players in Mustafi and Sokratis, who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record to warrant selection as two of the club’s six senior defenders.

As for the club’s other defender options, while its unfair to judge Mavropanos, Holding, Saliba or Tierney, as all four players have insufficient professional experience in any of the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performances, the propensity of Luiz, Chambers, Mari and Kolasinac to win aerial duels are inferior to a number of the players reviewed, and Luiz’s and Mari’s tackles per game records are similarly inferior.

In light of the above and the critical nature of defence meaning that there is a strong argument that Arsenal should aim to recruit the most productive defenders available to fill those senior defender roles, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Chambers, Mari, Holding, Mavropanos and Saliba, and recruit the following players to serve, alongside Mustafi and Sokratis, as the club’s six senior defenders:

  • Michael Hector of Fulham
  • Salif Sane of Schalke
  • Jannik Vestergaard of Southampton
  • Benjamin Hubner of Hoffenheim.

Refer to the analysis of the wide midfielder options regarding Kolasinac and Tierney, and refer to the analysis of the central midfielder options regarding Luiz.

Central Midfielders

In terms of the club’s contracted central midfield options, it’s unfair to judge the suitability of Smith-Rowe, Elneny, Willock, Nelson, or Saka, as none of those players have had sufficient professional experience in any of the examined leagues, to appropriately assess their performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other central midfield options:

  • Luiz and Guendouzi are comparatively inferior in all KPIs
  • Xhaka and Torreira are solid in terms of tackles per match, but are comparatively inferior in dribbles and key passes per game
  • Maitland-Niles is solid in terms of key passes per match, but is comparatively inferior in tackles and dribbles per game
  • Partey is solid both in terms of tackles and dribbles per match, but is comparatively inferior in key passes per game
  • Ozil and Willian are both solid in terms of dribbles and key passes per match, but are comparatively inferior in tackles per game.

As for Ceballos, while he is solid in terms of tackles, dribbles and key passes per match, there are a sufficient number of players reviewed who have superior performance records to warrant replacing the Spaniard.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted central midfield options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Luiz, Torreira, Xhaka, Guendouzi and Partey, cancel Ceballos’ loan and, recruit Teji Savanier of Montpellier, Emi Buendia of Norwich and Massimo Luongo of Sheffield Wednesday, to serve as three of Arsenal’s six senior central midfielders.

In terms of the club’s fourth, fifth and sixth senior central midfielders, while having highly productive and proven players in the defence is critical, given their function as the last line of protection for Arsenal’s goalkeeper, there is a strong argument that Arsenal have more flexibility to utilise unproven players to fill the remaining central midfield spots. That being the case, and given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Elneny, and retain Smith-Rowe, Willock and Saka to fill Arsenal’s fourth, fifth and sixth senior central midfielder roles.

Refer to the analysis of the right wide midfielder options regarding Willian, Maitland-Niles and Nelson, and refer to the analysis of the left wide midfielder options regarding Ozil.

Right Wide Midfielders

As for the club’s contracted right wide midfield options, it’s unfair to judge Smith-Rowe, Saka, Nelson, and Martinelli’s suitability, as none of those players have had sufficient professional experience in the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other current right wide midfield options:

  • Aubameyang and Maitland-Niles are both solid in terms of key passes per match, but are comparatively inferior in tackles and dribbles per game
  • Bellerin is solid in terms of dribbles per match, but is comparatively inferior in both tackles and key passes per game
  • Soares are solid in terms of tackles per match, but are comparatively inferior in terms of dribbles and key passes per game
  • Lacazette and Willian are all solid in terms of dribbles and key passes per match, but are comparatively inferior in tackles per game.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted wide midfield options, and Smith-Rowe, Emi Buendia, and Teji Savanier, having already been identified as central midfield options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Willian, Maitland-Niles, Bellerin, and Soares, and recruit Felipe Anderson of West Ham to serve as one of Arsenal’s two senior right wide midfielders.

In terms of the club’s second senior right wide midfielders, as with Arsenal’s central midfielders, there is a strong argument that Arsenal have flexibility to utilise unproven players to fill a number of the wide midfield roles in the squad. That being the case, and given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to retain Nelson, to serve as the club’s second senior right wide midfielder.

Refer to the analysis of the striker options regarding Martinelli, Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang.

Left Wide Midfielders

As for the club’s contracted wide left midfield options, it’s unfair to judge Saka or Tierney’s suitability, as neither player has had sufficient professional experience in the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other current wide left midfield options:

  • Kolasinac is solid in terms of tackles per match, but is comparatively inferior in terms of dribbles and key passes per game
  • Ozil and Pepe are all solid in terms of dribbles and key passes per match, but are comparatively inferior in tackles per game.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted wide left midfield options, and Saka, having already been identified as a central midfield option, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Kolasinac and Ozil, and recruit Bastian Oczipka of Schalke, to serve as one of Arsenal’s two senior wide left midfielders.

In terms of the club’s second senior wide left midfielder, as with Arsenal’s central midfielders, there is a strong argument that Arsenal have flexibility to utilise unproven players to fill a number of the wide midfield roles in the squad. That being the case, and given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to retain Tierney to serve as the club’s second senior wide left midfielder.

Refer to the analysis of the striker options regarding Martinelli, Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang.

Centre Forward

As for the club’s contracted centre forward options, Arsenal fortunately have one player in Aubameyang, who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record to warrant selection as one of the club’s two senior centre forwards.

As for the club’s contracted centre forward options, it’s unfair to judge Nketiah as the player has insufficient professional experience in any of the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performances. In terms of Aubameyang and Lacazette, all are solid in terms of goals per season and shots per match, but are comparatively inferior in successful aerial duels per game.

In light of the comparative deficiency of Arsenal’s currently contracted centre forward options, and there being a need to have highly productive and proven players in the centre forward role given their primary function is to score the bulk of the side’s goals, it would be logical for Arsenal to recruit Aleksandar Mitrovic of Fulham and Chris Wood of Burnley to serve as Arsenal’s two senior centre forwards.

Refer to the analysis of the striker options regarding Nketiah, Martinelli, Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang.

Striker

In terms of the club’s contracted striker options, it’s unfair to judge Martinelli or Nketiah, as they have insufficient professional experience in any of the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other current second striker options, while Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe are all solid in terms of goals per season and shots per match, there are a sufficient number of players reviewed who have superior performance records to warrant replacing the trio.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted second striker options, and there being a need to have highly productive and proven players in the second striker role, given its primary function, along with the centre forward, is to score the bulk of the side’s goals, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe, and recruit Teemu Pukki of Norwich and Francesco Caputo of Sussuolo, to serve as Arsenal’s two senior second strikers.

Summary of proposed activity

Freddie08

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