A back three in Brentford win could be repeated against Norwich
Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners against Brentford in a closed-door friendly at London Colney last Thursday, with social media kicking into overdrive poking fun at the club for failing to win in their prior “open doors” Premier League fixture.
But the result – which saw Mikel Arteta utilize a three at the back system – could hold the key for how Arsenal may look to finally get their campaign off the ground against Norwich this coming Saturday at the Emirates stadium.
Both Ben White and Gabriel started with Pablo Marí, while Cédric was deployed at left wing-back with Calum Chambers on the opposite flank. And it was Cédric that came away from the friendly looking like gold dust after he hit a late second-half brace to put the match beyond all doubt. Gabriel found the back of the net as well, putting Arsenal 1-0 ahead early in the second frame.
Though many will still expect Arsenal to run out winners against Daniel Farke’s Norwich despite the club’s poor start to the 2021-22 campaign, something has to give under Mikel Arteta if the Gunners are to finally get out of the garage. No goals scored with nine surrendered and propping up the Premier League is poor viewing, even after expected losses against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Utilizing a back three would allow Arsenal to continue to put their faith in creating chances from wide areas while also having added cover at the back given the lack of a true holding midfielder in the first-choice XI. But with Kieran Tierney almost certain to come back into the team despite being away on international duty with Scotland, the only spot up for grabs at the back in the right wing-back berth will have to be fought over by the aforementioned Cédric & Chambers, as well as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, potentially.
Maitland-Niles languishes without definition
One of the more awkward stories to come out of the summer window for Arsenal is the status of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The England international looked all set to leave the club this summer amidst interest from Everton, but at the final hour, opted to stay after having sit-down talks with Mikel Arteta.
On the surface, this would suggest that Maitland-Niles will have a more defined role in the team this season, after languishing on the outside looking in last term in the wake of Arsenal rejecting advances from Wolves after the club failed to meet the Gunners’ valuation for the Hale End graduate.
His track record for the club as it stands is one that has seen him deployed on the right side of the defense, and he has shone in a right wing-back role previously. Now that Héctor Bellerín has left for Real Betis, there is scope to suggest that Maitland-Niles will play a role there once again, but his desire to also be deployed through the middle in central midfield could offer valuable – and required – depth in a position where the club is incredibly light.
Both Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are set to depart for AFCON in the middle of the season. And with the former also struggling for fitness during his spell in north London thus far, and recent interest from Turkish clubs in securing Elneny’s signature before their transfer window closes, Maitland-Niles may still get his wish to be utilized in central midfield along with Partey, Granit Xhaka, and Sambi Lokonga as the club’s core options.
As with almost all things right now with Arsenal, there are far more questions than answers, and the situation is likely to remain a frustrating one until guidance is provided.
This article was edited by Conor Laird.
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