SEASON 2021/2022: WHICH PLAYERS ARSENAL SHOULD RETAIN, SELL AND RECRUIT TO FIT A 4-2-2-2 FORMATION

With Arsenal’s 2021/2022 Premier League campaign at the midway point, and the January 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 eight positional categories (with some players allocated to multiple positional categories due to their perceived versatility).

Those positional categories consist of:

  • Goalkeeper
  • Right Fullback
  • Central Defenders
  • Left Fullback
  • Central Midfielders
  • Right Attacking Midfielder
  • Left Attacking Midfielder
  • Centre 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 4-2-2-2 formation, and the cornerstones of Arsenal’s tactical approach is as follows:

  • Defending using a vertically and horizontally compact 4-4-2 low block, which aims to congest the central area, and only press, albeit aggressively, when an opposition player takes a poor touch or the opponent attacks down a flank.
  • Attacking primarily down the flanks through the fullbacks or attacking midfielders driving forward with the ball and looking to release the centre forwards. This system relies much more on individual attacking flair to create chances, as opposed to complex passing moves.
  • The goalkeeper’s primary aims are to stop shots and claim crosses.
  • The fullbacks’ primary aims are to tackle their opponent (2+ per match) to recover the ball, and contribute to the team’s attacking play through making multiple key passes (2+ per match) and dribbles (2+ per match).
  • The central defenders’ primary aims are to shield the goalkeeper by positioning themselves to intercept balls played into the penalty box (2+ per game), win aerial duels (3+ per game), and contribute to the team’s attacking play through long passes per match (3+ per game).
  • The central midfielders’ primary aims are to tackle their opponent (2+ per match) and make interceptions (2+ per match) to recover the ball, and contribute to the team’s attacking play through long passes per match (3+ per match).
  • The attacking midfielders’ primary aims are to contribute to the team’s offensive play through multiple dribbles (2+ per game) and key passes (2+ per game) and contribute to the team’s goal scoring (10+ goals per season).
  • The centre forwards’ primary aim is to contribute to the team’s offensive play through multiple dribbles (2+ per match) and key passes (2+ per match) and in the form of goal scoring (20+ goals per season).

Once the on field productivity of Arsenal’s current senior squad was assessed, the comparative KPI data (from Whoscored.com) of those 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) in those leagues, 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

Goalkeeper

Starting with the goalkeeping position, it’s unfair to judge Okonkwo, Runarsson or Hein’s suitability, as all three of those the players have insufficient professional experience in the reviewed leagues to appropriately assess their performances. That said, it is fair to say that Bernd Leno and Aaron Ramsdale, have delivered less impressive performances throughout their respective careers to date, in contrast to the likes of Emiliano Martinez of Aston Villa and Alessio Cragno of Cagliari.

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

Right Fullback

As for the club’s contracted right fullback options:

  • Maitland-Niles is homegrown, and while comparatively underwhelming in terms of tackles per match (in contrast to Soares and Chambers), dribbles per match (in contrast to Bellerin), and key passes per match (in contrast to Soares), overall his output in terms of the applicable KPIs is close to the required standard
  • Soares, while comparatively strong in terms of tackles per game and key passes per game, is comparatively poor in terms of dribbles per game
  • Chambers is also homegrown, and while comparatively strong in terms of tackles per match, he is comparatively underwhelming in terms of dribbles per match (in contrast to Bellerin and Maitland-Niles), and is poor in terms of key passes per match
  • Bellerin is homegrown as well, and is strong in terms of dribbles per game, but is poor in so far as tackles and key passes per game
  • Tomiyasu is comparatively underwhelming in terms of dribbles per match (in contrast to Soares and Chambers), and is poor in terms of tackles and key passes per match.

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

In terms of the club’s second senior right fullback, while somewhat underwhelming in a number of KPIs to date, overall Maitland-Niles’ metrics are close to the required standard. Given that, his homegrown status and the Premier League’s homegrown rules, and a lack of alternative right fullback options in the considered leagues with the required KPI levels, it would be logical for Arsenal to retain Maitland-Niles, to serve as the club’s second senior right fullback.

Central Defenders

As for the club’s contracted central 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, Arsenal otherwise 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 four senior central defenders.

Regarding the club’s other contracted central defenders:

  • Holding is strong in terms of interceptions and long pass per game, but is comparatively underwhelming (in contrast to Gabriel) in so far as successful aerial duels per game
  • Chambers and White are both strong in terms of interceptions per match, but are comparatively underwhelming in so far as successful aerial duels per match (in contrast to Gabriel) and long passes per match (in contrast to Gabriel and Holding)
  • Tomiyasu is strong in terms of successful aerial duels per game, but is comparative underwhelming in terms of interceptions per game (in contrast to Holding, White and Chambers) and long passes per game (in contrast to Gabriel)
  • Gabriel is poor in terms of interceptions per match, but is strong in terms of successful aerial duties per match and long pass per match.

In light of the deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted central defenders, it would be logical to sell Holding, Tomiyasu and Gabriel and recruit the following three players to serve as three of the club’s four senior central defenders:

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

As for the remaining central defender spot, given Mavropanos’ superior physical profile, in contrast to Mari and Saliba, 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 as one of the club’s four senior central defenders, and sell Mari and Saliba.

Left Fullback

As for the club’s contracted left fullbacks, it’s unfair to judge Tavares’ and Tierney’s suitability, as neither player has yet to accumulate sufficient professional experience in the considered leagues, to appropriately assess their performance.

Regarding Arsenal’s other current left fullback, Kolasinac is relatively strong in terms of tackles per match, but is underwhelming in terms of key passes per match and is poor in terms of dribbles per match.

In light of the deficiencies or unproven nature of Arsenal’s currently contracted left fullbacks, and the availability and career to date performances of Javier Galan of Celta Vigo and Lewis O’Brien of Huddersfield, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Kolasinac, Tierney, and Tavares, and recruit Galan and O’Brien, to serve as Arsenal’s two senior left fullbacks.

Central Midfielders

In terms of the club’s contracted central midfield options, it’s unfair to judge the suitability of Elneny and Lokonga, as neither player has had sufficient professional experience in any of the examined leagues, to appropriately assess their performance.

Regarding Arsenal’s other central midfield options:

  • Xhaka is excellent in terms of long passes per game, and is strong in terms of tackles per game, but is underwhelming in terms of interceptions per game (in contrast to Chambers and White)
  • Chambers is strong both in terms of tackles and interceptions per match, but is comparative underwhelming in terms of long passes per match (in contrast to Xhaka)
  • Partey and Torreira are both strong in terms of tackles per game, but are underwhelming in terms of interceptions per game (in contrast to Chambers and White) and long passes per game (in contrast to Xhaka)
  • White is strong in terms of interceptions per match, but is underwhelming in terms of tackles per game (in contrast to Xhaka, Chambers, Partey and Torreira) and long passes per game (in contrast to Xhaka)
  • Maitland Niles is comparatively underwhelming in terms of tackles per game (in contrast to Xhaka, Chambers, Partey and Torreira) and is poor in terms of interceptions and long passes per game
  • Guendouzi is comparatively underwhelming in terms of long passes per match (in contrast to Xhaka), and is poor in terms of tackes and interceptions per match.

In light of the deficiencies of Arsenal’s currently contracted central midfield options, Maitland-Niles’ allocation as one of Arsenal’s two senior right fullbacks, and the availability and career to date performances of Maxime Gonalons of Granada, Milan Badejl of Genoa, Ellyes Skhiri of FC Kohl and Alexandra Djiku of Strasbourg, it would be logical for Arsenal to sell Xhaka, Chambers, Partey, White, Torreira, Guendouzi, Elneny and Lokonga , and recruit Gonalons, Badejl, Skhiri, and Djiku to serve as Arsenal’s four senior central midfielders.

Right Attacking Midfielder

In terms of the club’s contracted right attacking midfield options, Arsenal fortunately have a player in Pepe who can legitimately lay claim to having a sufficiently productive performance record to automatically warrant selection as one of the club’s two senior right attacking midfielders.

Regarding Arsenal’s other contracted right attacking midfield options, while it’s unfair to judge the suitability of Odegaard as he has had insufficient professional experience in any of the examined leagues to appropriately assess his performance, Saka, while strong in terms of dribbles and key passes per game, has a poor goals per season record

In light of Saka’s deficiencies from a goal scoring perspective, and a lack of alternative right attacking midfielder options in the considered leagues with the required KPI levels, it would be logical for Arsenal to retain Pepe and Odegaard, as Arsenal’s two senior right attacking midfielders, and sell Saka.

Left Attacking Midfielder

In terms of the club’s contracted left attacking midfield options, while it’s unfair to judge the suitability of Martinelli, Smith-Rowe and Nelson, as all three players have had insufficient professional experience in any of the examined leagues to appropriately assess their performances, the lack of alternative left attacking midfielder options in the considered leagues with the required KPI levels, means that it would be logical for Arsenal to retain two of Martinelli, Smith-Rowe and Nelson, as Arsenal’s two senior left attacking midfielders.

As to which two to retain , given the homegrown status of Smith-Rowe and Nelson, and the Premier League’s homegrown rule, it is more logical for Arsenal to retain those two players as Arsenal’s two senior right attacking midfielders.

Centre Forwards

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

Regarding Arsenal’s other contracted centre forward options:

  • Pepe and Lacazette are both strong in terms of key passes and dribbles per game, but are underwhelming in terms of goals per season.
  • Aubameyang is strong in term of key passes per match, but is underwhelming in terms of goals per season and is poor in terms of dribbles per match.

That said, the lack of alternative centre forward options in the considered leagues with the required KPI levels, and Pepe’s allocation as one of Arsenal’s two senior right attacking midfielders, means that it would be logical for Arsenal to retain four of Lacazette, Aubameyang, Martinelli, Nketiah and Balogun, as Arsenal’s four senior centre forwards.

As to which four players to retain, given Aubameyang’s relative deficiencies in contrast to Lacazette, Nketiah and Balogun’s homegrown status and the Premier League’s homegrown rule, and the unknown potential of Martinelli, Nketiah and Balogun, in contrast to Aubameyang’s know deficiencies, it is more logical for Arsenal to sell Aubameyang and retain Lacazette, Nketiah, Balogun and Martinelli as the club four senior centre forward options.

Summary of proposed activity

Freddie08

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