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Arteta closes in on dream team as Arsenal target Xhaka replacement who is ‘better than De Bruyne’

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With Arsenal looking for a striker this summer, Gabriel Jesus remains the main man linked. Now that Alexandre Lacazette has confirmed he will leave the club when his contract expires at the end of this month, the Gunners need someone else to compete with Eddie Nketiah who is expected to close in on a long-term contract extension.

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At just 25 and with the perfect tactical profile for what Mikel Arteta wants in a number nine, it would seem that Jesus is a perfect match for what is needed at the Emirates. football.london understands that Edu has been in talks with the Brazil international’s representatives over a move since November, and the player is now set to make a decision on his future this month.

The centre-forward, however, is not the only position Arsenal expect to recruit from this summer. The midfield should also be on the agenda. With the Gunners looking to find players who can help them bridge the gap to Champions League sides, one of Jesus’ Manchester City team-mates could be the right man for the job.

READ MORE: When Arsenal can sign Gabriel Jesus amid talks over a deal for the first summer transfer

Almost two years ago, Arteta was asked what his dream tactical setup would look like at Arsenal. “We want to switch to a 4-3-3,” said the Spaniard. “But for that you need a lot of specificity in each position, but now at five or six positions we don’t have that.”

The immediate need for results and the limitations of some of the players in his team at the time meant that Arteta had largely put that dream aside, until around December of this year. Since then, Arsenal have been a clearly identifiable 4-3-3 team. This is demonstrated in the screenshot below from the March win over Wolves, where Thomas Partey acts as the pivot in the visibly deeper midfield, with Martin Odegaard and Granit Xhaka either side of his as “number eight”.



Arsenal are set up in a 4-3-3 formation at the start of their Premier League clash with Wolves at Molineux (image by Wyscout)

For Xhaka, it represented a departure from the role he had previously filled under Arteta. During the 2020/21 campaign, the Switzerland international played some of his best football in an Arsenal shirt, but did so largely as part of a double pivot which he said suited the better at his game.”[Arteta] putting myself in a position where I have the freedom and the game in front of me,” the 29-year-old said. “That’s what I like.”

Xhaka largely did well in the most advanced role and even won the Gunners’ April Player of the Month award for his performances. However, the forward position ultimately revealed some of the flaws in his game.

If we go back to the game of Wolves, it is possible to see an example of this. In the screenshot below, Arsenal are in possession and in their 4-3-3 configuration, when Xhaka receives the ball from Kieran Tierney.



Granit Xhaka receives a pass from Kieran Tierney during Arsenal's Premier League clash with Wolves at Molineux (image by Wyscout).
Granit Xhaka receives a pass from Kieran Tierney during Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Wolves at Molineux (image by Wyscout).

In this situation, the Swiss midfielder wants time on the ball. Last season, when his role was largely birthing left centre-back and covering Tierney’s aggressive runs, he simply had it amply. Now that he’s higher up the pitch and no longer a direct threat to the opposing goal, time is something he simply doesn’t have.

He tries to touch down and look up, but is immediately overrun by Max Kilman and Francisco Trincao, before hastily trying to play the ball down the line towards Gabriel Martinelli, whom Nelson Semedo is able to intercept easily.



Granit Xhaka is quickly ousted by Max Kilman and Francisco Trincao before hastily throwing a ball to Gabriel Martinelli which is easily intercepted by Nelson Semedo (image by Wyscout).
Granit Xhaka is quickly ousted by Max Kilman and Francisco Trincao before hastily throwing a ball to Gabriel Martinelli which is easily intercepted by Nelson Semedo (image by Wyscout).

With these possession struggles in mind, it’s worth considering Arsenal linked with Oleksandr Zinchenko. While the 25-year-old has largely played at left-back for Manchester City, he is a regular in central midfield for Ukraine. On top of that, the reverse-back tactic that Pep Guardiola likes to use means he often ends up filling the wide left positions that Xhaka took in the latter part of this season. However, the big difference between Zinchenko and the Switzerland international is how assured he is of being on the ball in those parts of the pitch.

Speaking about the most technically gifted players in City’s squad, Kyle Walker admitted the Ukraine international is among the best. “Not in any order, because I wouldn’t want to put them in any order, my top three are Zinchenko, [Riyad] Mahrez, [Bernardo] Silva,” said the England international.

“He’s amazing, amazing. Two touches, heading tennis, he’s amazing. So good, so good. And then you leave out (Kevin) De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Cancelo. But they don’t come close to those three -the.”

This example of City’s 4-1 victory over Liverpool in the penultimate season serves as proof. Although slightly deeper, Zinchenko is in a relatively similar position to Xhaka’s starting point against Wolves when Ilkay Gundogan looks to play the ball to him in the build-up phase.



Ilkay Gundogan sends the ball to Oleksandr Zinchenko.  (picture by Wyscout)
Ilkay Gundogan sends the ball to Oleksandr Zinchenko. (picture by Wyscout)

He was then immediately attacked by Mohamed Salah and Curtis Jones.



Oleksandr Zinchenko is shut down by Mohamed Salah and Curtis Jones (image by Wyscout)
Oleksandr Zinchenko is shut down by Mohamed Salah and Curtis Jones (image by Wyscout)

Considering Liverpool are one of the hottest teams in the Premier League, if not the world, that could easily be a daunting prospect. Zinchenko, however, keeps his composure and feints away from the pressure before playing a ball down Phil Foden’s line.



Oleksandr Zinchenko beats the press and plays the ball over the line to Phil Foden (image by Wyscout)
Oleksandr Zinchenko beats the press and plays the ball over the line to Phil Foden (image by Wyscout)

City are able to keep possession and create a great scoring opportunity that Raheem Sterling is inches from the end. In contrast, in the previous example, Wolves regain possession and Arsenal are blocked. The difference is clear to see.

This, however, should not be taken as a criticism of what Xhaka is doing for the Gunners. When asked why he moved the Switzerland international into the more forward eight role, Arteta admitted it was to try to catch the opposition off guard rather than expose the flaws of one of them. its most influential midfielders.

“I wouldn’t say it would make him feel comfortable, but sometimes you have to take the players out of their comfort zone and open a different door to explore the reaction of the team, what the opponent will do when you do. certain things,” said the Spaniard. said. “Then it’s more unpredictable because otherwise it’s quite easy to prepare against the same opposition.”

Adding Zinchenko to the squad allows Arteta to get that unpredictability he craves. Having committed to the 4-3-3, it looks like the Spaniard is finally aiming for the specificity he’s been dreaming of for so long.

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