A tactical breakdown of Red Bull Salzburg midfielder Enock Mwepu and why Arsenal should move for the Zambian international.
Arsenal’s central midfield need
Arsenal and recruitment are two words which have not gone together with much synergy over the last decade, however, a change in the last couple of years has seen an improvement in the Gunners’ transfer business. The signings of Gabriel Martinelli, Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey speak of a change and improvement in targeting players.
It has not been all perfect and the signings of David Luiz and Willian are certainly evidence of that, however, with these signings made under the tutelage of Raul Sanhelli, the former head of football who has now left the club, there is hope that the positives in the market have been retained in technical director Edu and Mikel Arteta.
There are a number of positions that Arsenal need to upgrade on and Arteta himself has spoken of his desire to progress the squad and improve certain areas to achieve his style and system.
One such position is central midfield. Whilst Arsenal, as mentioned, brought in Partey in the previous summer the likes of Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Joe Willock have proven insufficient options and in need of serious levelling up. Dani Ceballos has performed well infrequently and will likely return to Real Madrid with little fight from Arsenal to keep him.
Therefore, the question lies in who Arsenal need to target in the upcoming or current transfer window? At 101 we recently suggested Brighton’s Yves Bissouma which you can read here. However, Arsenal have recently been tipped to be monitoring another central midfielder that deserves further analysis, Enock Mwepu.
Enock Mwepu is a 23-year old central midfielder playing for Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and for the Zambian national team. At just over 6 foot in height, he is a commanding presence, but this towering stature does little to impact his technical ability on the ball.
Positionally, you can see from the below heat map that Mwepu covers a large area of the pitch but tends to skew towards the right-hand side. He is versatile and can play defensive midfield, box-to-box and occasionally in the right midfield slot.
101 spoke to the Other Bundesliga host and Austrian football reporter Tom Middler to get some insight on Mwepu.
“His main role is the holding midfield position. He is occasionally deployed as a box-to-box midfielder and he’s definitely got the skills in his game to do that,” he said.
“However, in his role as a holding midfielder what’s really good about Mwepu and the way that he fits in at Salzburg is that he is a leader of the counter pressing. Winning the ball back, he closes opponents down, gives them no space and smothers them.”
As Tom mentions, one of his greatest attribute is closing down opponents and winning the ball. Looking at the below graphic, it displays the duels won and lost in four Champions League matches against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid. Using these examples gives a good idea as to how he performs against top level sides in comparison to playing in the Austrian Bundesliga.
What is clear is that Mwepu does an excellent job at winning the ball, typically more towards the right-hand touchline. What this is good for is covering the right full-back when they progress up the pitch leaving more space in behind for opposition counter-attacks.
This is something that Arsenal would certainly benefit from with the attacking mindset of Hector Bellerin, who plays in the right back position for Arsenal. Occasionally this season, the Gunners have been left exposed by the Spaniard’s aggressiveness to get forward leaving the right centre back, typically Rob Holding, to deal with an overload from the opposition left winger and left full-back – this was shown when Heung-Min Son scored against Arsenal in the North London Derby.
OH MY! WHAT A PEACH! ⚽️🍑
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min combine once again, and the finish is absolutely stunning from the South Korean.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 6, 2020
But looking at Arsenal’s current crop of right-sided centre midfielders, there is a huge difference in the amount of duels being won or even attempted in the same areas which may also contribute to Arsenal’s vulnerability on their right-hand side.
The most obvious difference is the huge decline in the number of duels being attempted by both Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos. Secondly, there is more of a spread showing a lack of positional discipline at times and pushing out to chase the ball and leaving areas of the pitch exposed.
Below shows some of the examples of how Mwepu wins the ball and closes down opponents.
What is noticeable about his determination to press players by the touchline from a tactical standpoint is that this prevents players from getting composed crosses into the box. Players will anticipate Mwepu closing them down quickly and will look to move the ball faster but this increases the chance that a mistake can be made and the ball can be won back by fellow teammates.
The thought of both Mwepu and Partey working in combination alongside the defensive back four is certainly something which would be a sight to behold.
However, it would be a mistake to think that Mwepu is purely a one-dimensional player focused on defensive play and winning the ball back. His work in the opposite direction, specifically his passing, is an asset to his side and something which enables creative opportunities where possible.
“His nickname is ‘the computer.’ His vision is great, his awareness is great, his awareness of his teammate’s movement is brilliant and although he goes for some high risk passes, and therefore gives the ball away a lot, what he tends to do is win it back and then look for a distribution route forwards,” says Tom Middler.
“But when he does get them right, he can put teammates into excellent goalscoring positions.”
Below are some of the examples of where he does get these passes correct and finds an attacking teammate running in behind.
At 23 years-of-age and likely a fee which would not be excessive coming from the Austrian Bundesliga, it almost seems like a matter of time until the Zambian midfielder makes a move to a big team in Europe. If that team could be Arsenal, it would be a very astute signing made by the Gunners and one which Arsenal fans should get behind as a promising sign of change in the market.
Tactical Insight: William Saliba – The evidence as to why Mikel Arteta is not yet ready to throw the Frenchman into the Arsenal first team
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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