Arsenal knew they had a job on their hands when it was evident Granit Xhaka was set to leave the club for Leverkusen earlier on in the summer.
Their answer to his departure was none other than Chelsea’s Kai Havertz. In an attempt to make the role more advanced and more forward thinking, Havertz was supposed to be a goalscoring midfielder who finds space in the box alongside winning his fair share of duels thanks to his size. That has not quite happened just yet and despite the sample size being small, the criticism is justified. The slow start to his Arsenal life brought up many dilemmas and others who are waiting in line are starting to knock on Arteta’s doors.
Fabio Vieira started off the season in superb fashion, proving himself as vital in victories against both United and Fulham. He managed to grab two assists in those games, alongside a won penalty – all in 47 minutes time.
But it’s not only his output that’s impressive. His demeanour on the ball and influence on everything around him when he comes on has been sensational and it hasn’t gone by Arteta either. Mikel was full of praise for the Portuguese international after the victory against United: “Something has changed with Fabio, you notice with the crowd when he steps in he is different to how he was last year. He’s more mature, he’s more senior in the squad and his confidence in the squad is high so I’m really happy to have those options.”
Its not a secret he’s got a wand of a left foot and he just might be coming of age now after taking a season to acclimatise to the league and Arsenal’s demands. Arteta will have to sacrifice some physicality as Havertz and him differ quite a lot in that department. Could we see Vieira/Rice/Odegaard as our own version of Bernardo/Rodri/KDB?
With Zinchenko also inverting in midfield, there’ll be an even bigger emphasis on Rice’s duel winning, and thats alongside Arsenals counter press being on point. Decisions, decisions…
If he does get a start soon, he must work hard to keep himself there as the competition for places is brutal. Smith-Rowe is another one who’s felt that on his skin, grabbing a total of 0 minutes in the 4 games this season. However, as the fixture list starts getting more condense I’m sure he’ll get plenty of chances to show his worth. He’s another fine talent who would profit immensely from the game time but it hasn’t gone to plan so far this season for him.
It’s not totally out of the question for Rice to take on the role himself, with Partey in his same old role. It would be a much more like for like replacement for Granit but the idea will have to wait for Partey to come back from injury. Jorginho is another one who could be trialed there though (in Partey’s absence).
Rice has so far proved to be an incredible all action midfielder and far from the usual sitting #6. It seems like he has the license to roam forward if the sequence draws him in but it’s still early days to really tell just how Arteta will use him. He can do it at both ends it seems and I feel like Arteta sees him as a box to box type of midfielder rather than just a defensive midfielder who sweeps in behind. However, this is very likely to change on game to game basis.
It could be anyone’s spot to grab, as Havertz form continues to stand still. Could he turn it around? Absolutely, but he’s the type of player who needs goal output to justify his selection fully. Without his goals, you’ll notice the things he’s not good at quite quickly.
All in all, the variety of selection Arteta has at his disposal can only count as a good thing for Arsenal as the wealth of attacking talent continues to wait for their chances and push the starters on. Once the Champions League games start kicking in is the first time we’ll get a glimpse of how wide our attacking range is as rotations are a must for the heavy fixture loaded season ahead.
I just hope those who earn their chances, get a shot to play rather than us just pursuing with the same ideas. Those deserving to start, should start.