Season 2021/2022: Which Players Arsenal Should Retain, Sell and Recruit To Fit A 5-3-2 / 3-5-2 Formation

With Arsenal’s 2020/2021 Premier League campaign over, the team again finishing a disappointing 8th in the Premier League, not qualifying for Europe next season and the 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
  • Right Wingback
  • Central Defenders
  • Left Wingback
  • Central Midfielders
  • Forwards

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) in Europe’s top 5 leagues or the Championship, 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 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation and the cornerstones of Arsenal’s tactical approach is as follows:

  • Defending in a low block 5-3-2 formation, 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.
  • Counter attacking in a 3-5-2 formation, with the three central midfielders and wingbacks dribbling the ball upfield and trying to release the forwards in behind the opposition defensive line or to get to the by-line in the opposition’s penalty box and cut the ball back to the forwards
  • The goalkeeper’s primary aims are to stop shots and claim crosses.
  • The wingbacks’ 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 and key passes (2+) per match.
  • The central defenders’ primary aims are to shield the goalkeeper by positioning themselves to intercept passes into the box (2+ per game), win aerial duels (3+ per game), and execute multiple long passes (3+) per game.
  • The central midfielders’ primary aims are to tackle their opponent to recover the ball (2+) per match, and contribute to the team’s offensive play in the final third through multiple dribbles (2+) and key passes (2+) per match.
  • The forwards’ primary aims are to contribute to the team’s offensive play in the final third through multiple dribbles (2+) per match, make runs in behind and in between the opposition’s defensive line, and significantly contribute to the team’s goal scoring (15+ goals 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 2021/22 Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League were not considered. This included Inter Milan, AC Milan, Atalanta, Juventus, Napoli, Roma, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham, Tottenham, Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen, Union Berlin, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Real Betis, Villarreal, Lille, PSG, Monaco, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes. 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 mid table Premier League club).

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 Runarsson’s suitability, as the player has insufficient professional experience in the reviewed leagues 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 Emiliano Martinez of Aston Villa.

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

In terms of the second of those two senior goalkeepers, with Runarsson unproven but not ‘homegrown’, and likely to see limited game time, it would be logical for the club to sell Runarsson and promote Okonkwo as the club’s second senior goalkeeper.

Right Wingback

As for the club’s contracted right wingback options:

  • Maitland-Niles is homegrown but comparatively underwhelming in terms of key passes per match, as well as tackles and dribbles per game
  • Bellerin is also homegrown but is comparatively poor in so far as tackles and key passes per game, and is underwhelming in terms of dribbles per match
  • Soares is solid in terms of tackles per match, but is comparatively poor in terms of dribbles per game and underwhelming in so far as key passes per game

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted right wingback options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Bellerin and Soares, and recruit Daniel Caliguri of FC Augsburg to serve as one of Arsenal’s two senior right wingbacks.

In terms of the club’s second senior right wingback, while somewhat underwhelming in a number of KPIs to date, it would be logical for Arsenal to retain Maitland Niles, to serve as the club’s second senior right wingback, given his homegrown status and the Premier League’s homegrown rule.

Central Defenders

As for the club’s contracted central defender options, Arsenal unfortunately do not have a player who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record to automatically warrant selection as one of the club’s six senior defenders.

While it’s unfair to judge, Mari, Mavropanos or Saliba, as all three players have insufficient professional experience in any of the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performances, the propensity of Gabriel, to intercept balls played into the box was comparatively poor.

As for Chambers and Holding, while both players were underwhelming in terms of successful aerial duels, and Chamber’s propensity to execute long passes was also underwhelming, both were solid in so far as interceptions per match. Noting that, and both players’ homegrown status, it would be logical to retain both players as two of Arsenal six central defenders.

As for the remaining 4 central defender spots, 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 Mari, Saliba, and recruit the following players to serve, alongside Chambers and Holding, as five of the the club’s six senior defenders:

  • Liam Cooper of Leeds Utd
  • Marc Oliver Kempf of Stuttgart
  • Shaun Hutchinson of Millwall.

As for Mavropanos, given his physical profile in contrast to Mari and Salina, he would seem more suitable than either of those players to the Premier League. As such, it would be logical to retain the Greek defender also.

Left Wingback

As for the club’s contracted left wingback options, it’s unfair to judge Tierney’s suitability, as he has yet to accumulate sufficient professional experience in the considered leagues, to appropriately assess his performances.

Regarding Arsenal’s other current left wingback options, Kolasinac is solid in terms of tackles per match, but is comparatively inferior in terms of dribbles and key passes per game.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted left wingback options, and the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Kolasinac and Tierney, and recruit Javier Galan of Huesca, to serve as one of Arsenal’s two senior left wingbacks.

In terms of the club’s second senior left wingback, given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to recruit Lewis O’Brien of Huddersfield to serve as the club’s second senior left wingback.

Central Midfielders

In terms of the club’s contracted central midfield options, it’s unfair to judge the suitability of Smith-Rowe, Elneny, Willock, 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:

  • Guendouzi and Maitland Niles 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
  • Partey is solid both in terms of tackles and dribbles per match, but is comparatively inferior in key passes per game

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

In terms of the club’s third, fourth and fifth central midfielders, given the Premier League’s homegrown rule and Maitland Niles having already been allocated as a right wingback option, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Elneny, retain Smith-Rowe and Willock to fill Arsenal’s fourth and fifth senior central midfielder roles and recruit Joe Williams of Bristol City to fill Arsenal’s sixth central midfielder role..

Forwards

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

Regarding Arsenal’s other current forward options:

  • Pepe and Lacazette are both comparably solid in terms of goals per season and dribbles per game.
  • Aubameyang is excellent in term of goals per season but is comparatively poor in terms of dribbles per match.
  • Willian and Saka are solid in terms of dribbles per game but comparatively poor in terms of goals per season.

In light of the comparative deficiencies of a number of Arsenal’s currently contracted forward options, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Aubameyang, Willian and Saka and retain Lacazette and Pepe, to serve as two of Arsenal’s senior forwards.

In terms of the club’s third and fourth senior forwards, given the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Martinelli, and retain Nketiah and Nelson to fill Arsenal’s third and fourth senior forward roles.

Summary of proposed activity

Freddie08

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