Injuries to Saliba and Tomiyasu have thinned Arsenal’s defensive options somewhat, but the real dliemma Arteta faces before our Sunday trip to Anfield exists at the other end of the pitch. While Gabriel Jesus is an electrifying presence, January signing Leandro Trossard has been a revelation, his seven assists in 545 minutes second only to Bukayo Saka’s 10 in 2,444. This suggests that Trossard, had he joined this past summer, would have upward of 30 assists to date.Continue reading
Tag Archives: Leandro Trossard
All Hail Leandro Trois-sard!
Well, that escalated quickly. Before the match, Leandro Trossard was a doubt, facing a late fitness test after also having missed the trip to Lisbon. Fast forward about 45 minutes from kickoff, and Trossard had notched tree assists and was unlucky not have more but for some wasteful finishing from his mates. He probably should have had a goal or two to his name, but let’s not be churlish. Thanks in large part to his false-nining his way about the pitch, Fulham were thoroughly discombobulated to the point that Martin Ødegaard had time to take four touches in the box on his way to scoring our third goal of the half. This made Trossard the first player in Prem history to get a hat trick of asissts in the first half of an away game.
He’s also the first to get a hat-trick of goals and assists in a single Prem campaign since our own Santi Cazorla did the same in 2012-13. He’s now gone for three goals and three assists since coming over from Brighton in January, eclipsing the production of Mudryk (£88m fee, one assist), Richarlison (£60m fee, nada), and Cody Gakpo (£40m, four goals) combined. His £20m fee looks better by the week, and if he were to keep this up, we might just asking ourselves whether we really need Jesus.
Kidding. For breathlessly as we’ve waited for Jesus’s return, we’d be remiss to overlook how vital Trossard has been. At first, we relied on Eddie Nketiah, who did his best after the post-World Cup restart, scoring four goals in his first five appearances. He was a bit of a square peg in a round hole, more of a poacher who preferred to stay central to finish than a false nine like Jesus. Enter Trossard. Since his signing, he’s become Arteta’s first choice “striker”. He plays a role more similar to Jesus, drifting wide (especially to the left, his “ancestral” position). Like Jesus, he floats about, challenging defenders to decide how to, well, defend against him. It’s no accident then that all three of his asissts came from the left wing (one being a corner, the other two as crosses from open play). Highlighting his fluidity, his best scoring chances came from shots he look to the right of the penalty spot.
What’s more, he seems to bring out the best from Martinelli, who frequently looked isolated as he waited for Nketiah to make space. Now that Trossard has given license to roam, Martinelli has sparked back to life. In the same five matches in which Trossard has started at centre-forward, Martinell has gone for five goals, two from Trossard’s assists. At a risk of slating Nketiah, Martinelli had gone the preceding five matches without a single goal. While that’s not Nketiah’s fault, it does highlight how much better Martinelli works when he plays alongside more of a false nine.
Let’s admit it: we were all underwhelmed and some of us bitterly disappointed when we “settled” for Trossard while our rivals went for sexier signings whom we had courted to varying degrees. In the long run, the likes of Mudryk and Gakpo will probably prove their current doubters wrong. Unlike Trossard, they’re both young, adjusting to a new squad and league, and feeling pressure to justify their fees. Trossard is experienced, Prem-proven, and feeling less pressure. Like the signing of Jorginho, we didn’t desperately need young, attacking players. We needed someone who could provide cover, depth, and competition while we waited for Jesus to return. The fact that we find ourselves still five points clear after Jesus missed 12 matches is a credit to Trossard (and to Nketiah before him).
We’re gathering strength and momentum. Trossard’s done more than hold down the fort. He’s raised the squad right as Jesus returns, allowing the Brazilian to come on late in a match we had already put to bed. It’s starting to feel like we could just get something out of this season…
Zinchenko, Trossard, and the abolition of "positions"
One of the more-fascinating features of watching this Arsenal side play is the degree to which traditional positions goes out with the bathwater on a regular basis. We might even suggest that the idea of a formation gets thrown out as well. No one seems to epitomise this quite to the degree that Oleksandr Zinchenko does, but we’re seeing more and more positional interplay as players get more familiar with their own ever-evolving roles as well as with their teammates’ ever-evoloving roles. Talk about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. If this sounds difficult for our own players to adapt to, imagine the nightmare it causes for teams that attempt to defend against it.
For the first goal against Everton, we’ll have to forgive Sean Dyche for rubbing his eyes and exclaiming “I’m seein’ double here. Four Krusties!”. Look at that screen shot above. The only player close to his nominal position is Ben White, Martinelli, the left wing, is on the right flank. Zinchenko, the left back, is further to the right than Saka, the right wing. Ødegaard, who lined as a right midfielder, is to the left of our left back. Xhaka a defensive midfielder (okay, a box-to-box type) has popped up in as a centre-forward. Trossard, the centre-forward, is out toward the left touchline. Some of this might be chalked off as Sunday League football in which anyone goes anywhere they want. However, this lack of structure is the structure. These are not untrained professionals. Each of them seems to know what the others are doing. Everton’s defenders? That’s another story.
Only Xhaka is unavailable for a pass. Zinchenko could switch wide to Trossard, pass to Ødegaard’s feet in the middle, or thread a pass to one of Saka or Martinelli. All of them are calling for the ball, suggesting that this might amount to something of a set-piece, in as much as one could call something this fluid “set”. This is something Arteta has drilled them in. For as out-of-position as they each are, they’re all in position, and all positions are filled. There’s still a shape and a structure despite the interchanges.
Pity poor Vitalii Mykolenko. What’s he do, caught between Saka on his right and Martinelli curling in behind to his left? It should be Tarkowski, a 30 year-old CB well-versed in Dychean tactics, who closes Saka down so that Mykolenko, a 23 year-old still finding his way, can shut down the passing lane to Martinelli. Mykolenko even seems to assume that Tarkowski will do this; he’s turned his back to Saka and is shading toward Martinelli—all in all, not a bad position but somethign that amounts to the least-bad of bad options. Should he open up toward Saka, he gives Martinelli free reign to run in behind.
This is one of the numerous byproducts of this amorphous, mutating attack. In the face of a well-coordinated but ever-morphing attack, defenders find themselves isolated, figuratively and literally. Not only will they find themselves one-on-one against the type of player they don’t often face, they find themselves having to make split-second decisions on their own with little input or feedback from teammates. Foosball sides like Everton, which players occupy fairly rigid positions, don’t know what to do when there are overloads and players they’ve not been briefed on pop up unexpectedly. Aside from Martinelli’s reputation, did anyone give Mykolenko a primer on how to defend against Zinchenko or Martinelli? It’s unlikely. Aside from them both being Ukrainian, it would be hard to name two more-opposite outfield players than Mykolenko and Zinchenko. Left-backs are after all like two positively charged ions (okay, that was a stretch).
We talked yesterday about how Trossard’s willingness or tendency to drift left from his central position drags defenses out of shape and creates openings for Martinelli to sluice into. That was only part of the story. The story’s still being written. We may soon see Saka popping up on the left or White charging into the middle of the pitch, maybe even flirting with his own version of Zinchenko’s role (although this would take some tricky communication with Zinchenko as well as with Saliba and Magalhães, the two of whom are frequently charged with playing a high line as Zinchenko and White venture forward.
The potentially exciting element to all this is that it might be most-effective against the sides that do what Everton do: keep eight or nine players behind the ball, parking a bus that has no wheels, and daring anyone to unlock a door that has no key. Before we get ahead ourselves, salivating about what this means for an upcining match against, say, Newcastle, let’s admit that Everton are very static. One might call them Foosball-esque. Newcastle also sit in a low block, but they are much more aggressive in closing down players and shutting down passing lanes. Still, each passing week gives us a chance to refine these tactics more and more.
We are after all still very much a work in progress. This means that, for as good as we’ve been, there’s still no knowing how good we can still become.
Trossard: the key to unlocking Martinelli's explosive potential…
|No, no, Mikel. Don’t rotate them.|
In the aftermath of our demolition of Everton, it can get easy to miss the trees for the forest. After all, we ran away with the match, obliterating our opponents and avenging a loss of just under a month ago. Why scrutinise it? Why not enjoy it for what it is? There are few lessons to be taken from the thrasing of an inferior opponent other than to savour the relegation of the likes of Maupay, Pickford, or Dyche. However, to wallow in petty schadenfreude is surely beneath us. More to the point, it would gloss over an emergying and increasingly obvious truth: for as good as Martinelli already is, he gets a heck of a lot better playing alongside someone like Trossard or Jesus.
I’ve defended Nketiah. He’s put in some solid shifts and scored enough goals to help us stay where we were when Jesus went down. However, he’s a poacher, someone who wants to stay on the shoulder of the last defender, moving back and forth across the front of goal. If he were a more-lethal finisher in the mold of, say, Aubameyang, that role would work quite well. Howver, given that our most-lethal finishers are our wide players in Saka and Martinelli, we seem to thrive with a kind of false nine or at least a striker who isn’t a central forward. Enter Trossard.
|The blur in the corner? Martinelli.|
In the last few matches, Trossard has earned the starting spot, and it’s perhaps no accident that this has coincided with Matinelli scoring goals. Against Leicester, Trossard retrieved a pass from Big Gabi with his own heels on the touchline, took a few touches, and nutmegged a pass to the onrushing Martinelli, who, at speed, beat his man and the keeper to score the winner. By coming out wide, Trossard drags Harry Souttar, a CB, out of position, distorting Leicester’s shape, such as it was. Martinelli, having started his run some 20 yards back, has nothing but space to run into and the keeper to beat, which he did.
Arteta attested afterward that he had considered starting Martinelli central and Trossard wide (given that this has been Trossard’s natural position). Here’s the gaffer speaking after the Leicester match:
We had the option to play Gabi as a nine and Leo on the left, we had to see how the game developed and what Leicester wanted to do. I wanted to have that option from midfield to make that change if necessary, and it was great because I think his contribution was really good.
The story was much the same against Everton, a much tougher side to break down given Dyche’s 4-5-1. When Martinelli broke through in the stoppage-time that Pickford created by taking 30 seconds every time he had the ball, it’s perhaps no accident that Trossard is found off on the left wing. That might be more of an incidental, but it does hint at the positional flexibility that Arteta wants. His nominal forward drifts left, his left wing pops up alongside his right winger, the left back shows up in support of that right wing, and so on. It’s a lot for a defense to track.
When it’s not Martinelli, it’s Ødegaard for whom Trossard is creating. He ran that wide channel on a quick counter-attack, again challenging defenders to make on-the-fly, slotted a pass back through to the spot, and Ødegaard side-footed it home. It’s that kind of fluidity and interchange that will discombobulate even the most well-drilled defenses.
|Nketiah points for the pass as Martinelli waits…|
In what might be a sign of evolution for a man on the margins, Nketiah did seem to be taking notes from the bench. With Zinchenko holding the ball on the corner of the 18, we might expect Nketiah to dirft away toward the far post. Instead, he gestured for a pass wide of the near post and made his run, dragging defenders behind him and creating space for who else but Martinelli, who had by that point moved to the right wing. As Nketiah gathered the ball just wide of the six-yard boss, he picked out Martinelli with a pass that the Brazilian tapped home. It’s entirely possible that Arteta had been giving Nketiah instructions on how to expand on his fox-in-the-box role based on Trossard’s example.
Whether it as on Arteta’s instruction or on Nketiah’s intuition, we’re learning a lot about how to make the most of the preternatural talent that is Martinelli. As Trossard (and, maybe Nketiah) continue to drift wide to create space for Martinelli to slice into, we should continue to see the goals flow. With Jesus waiting in the wings (aha- see what I did there?), our attack should only increas its fluidity, posing countless challenges for defenders. We’re gathetering strength for the run-in, what with Trossard’s role evolving, Nketiah learning, Martinelli expanding, and Jesus returning. This could all add up to something special on one or more fronts.
Before you go, I’d like to offer you a chance to win a £25 gift card to Arsenal Direct. I’m calling it March Merch. All you have to do is start commenting. Top commenters on March’s posts will be entered in a drawing with the winner getting that sweet, sweet gift card. Have at it, Gooners. Don’t be shy.
Arsenal 1-1 Brentford: Player Ratings & MOTM Poll Results
It really is a pity that I can’t offer you negative numbers to choose in situations like this one when VAR got a decision so horribly wrong that you start to wonder about Lee Mason’s IQ. Still, when you only score one goal while playing at less than your best, you really are rolling the dice. The result pegs us back to a mere three-point lead over Man City with a massive six-pointer to play on Wednesday. Do our recent struggles reflect a deeper problem, or have we been so eager to go toe-to-toe with them that we’ve looked past Everton and Brentford? Let’s hope it’s the latter. Well, 514 Gooners weighed in and denied No One a second consecutive MOTM award. 38.1% of us gave it to Trossard, suggesting that it might be nice to see a bit more than a half-hour from him sooner rather than later, especially how out of form Martinelli has been lately. Thomas Frank did say that the stability of our lineup does it make a bit easier to prepare for us… Well, enough pondering. Let’s look at the results below the fold.