One step away from glory last summer, Arsenal mean business now. They are close to sealing a deal for Kai Havertz of Chelsea, remain the frontrunners for Declan Rice, and are in a prime position to land Jurrien Timber now.
Timber is not a new name in footballing circles. Ever since he broke through at Ajax, his name has been at the top whenever wunderkind are mentioned, and rightly so.
He is an archetypal modern defender. If a progressive manager of a possession-oriented team had to create their perfect defender in a laboratory, the result would be close to what Jurrien Timber is.
Therefore, it is no surprise to see that Mikel Arteta, a protege of Pep Guardiola, has plumped for this signing.
So, what does Jurrien Timber bring to Arsenal, and how does he fit into a team that was so close to winning it all last year? We attempt to answer –
Jurrien Timber at Arsenal:
A reluctant right-back
Firstly, to see the change Timber would bring, it is worth looking at how Arsenal lined up before him. Timber prefers playing as a CB but is also comfortable as an RB.
Ben White was Mikel Arteta’s first-choice RB throughout the campaign. White is a converted RB, having made his breakthrough as a CB, and then playing as a defensive midfielder for some time.
Therefore, he provided Arsenal with solidity down their right while being a capable passer of the ball. He was in the 97th percentile of all players in Europe’s top five leagues in terms of progressive passes/90, playing 7.17/game.
Timber is as elite as White with the ball but is less defensively secure than him, particularly in terms of engaging the defender higher up the pitch and blocking the ball.
White’s position, therefore, should be secure even with Timber’s arrival. There are no alarm bells here, since Timber, in an ideal scenario, shouldn’t be playing as a RB anyways. This takes us to the CB conundrum.
A star centre-back
At his best, Timber is an elite ball-playing centre-back who can bypass the opposition press with a raking pass, while having the ability to beat the press by dribbling out of a tough situation.
His schooling in the “Cruyff Way” of Total Football is clear to see. So elite are his skills with the ball that he wouldn’t look out of place in midfield. However, playing as a CB opens up the pitch for him a lot more as the whole game happens in front of him.
Arsenal currently have four regular CBs on their payroll. Gabriel played the most minutes out of any outfielder for Arsenal in the Premier League last season so his place should be secure.
William Saliba was on his way to matching Gabriel’s record before an injury cut short his campaign. In Saliba and Gabriel, the Gunners have a duo that can go toe-to-toe with any defence in Europe. Problems arrive beyond them, and that is where Timber comes in.
Jakub Kiwior shows promise but he is still raw, and Rob Holding is a dependable utility player. Arsenal’s title challenge collapsed last year after Saliba’s injury and that is precisely the kind of scenario they want to avoid now by signing Timber.
Timber adds an interesting quirk to the lineup. His right-footedness separates him from Gabriel and Kiwior.
In a possession-oriented system, it is important for the defenders to play on their “strong” side, i.e., a right-footed defender plays on the right and vice versa. This allows them to open their body and access the wide areas of the pitch without feeling the need to shuffle or turn.
A partnership with Timber as the RCB (right-sided centre-back) and Gabriel as the LCB would be a manager’s dream. They complement each other’s skills perfectly.
Gabriel’s aerial dominance covers for Timber’s weakness in aerial duels, while the latter can carry the burden for playmaking, although Gabriel is no slouch in that regard either.
When Saliba returns, Arteta will have three world-class options for the two CB positions. It is a page right out of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team. A player like Laporte, who would start for every team in the league, was a backup last season.
That is how championship teams are built, and Mikel Arteta seems determined to build one at Emirates.
Inverted full-back wild card
A defensive player, who is capable with the ball at his feet, playing under a Pep Guardiola protege. Would it really be the whole picture if “Timber in midfield” wasn’t suggested?
Oleksandr Zinchenko showed last season with his mastery of the inverted full-back role how positions in the modern game don’t matter anymore. He would regularly come into the midfield when Arsenal were in possession to gain numerical superiority and sniff out counter-attacks.
One would presume Jurrien Timber, even if he started at RB, would be an even better player in that role than Zinchenko. It would use his best abilities- anticipation, passing, technique, and dribbling to their maximum potential.
Pep Guardiola once said he would play 11 midfielders if possible. With Timber at RB and two inverted full-backs, Arteta might realise that dream sooner than Pep.
Jurriën Timber carried the ball 5,038m upfield in 2022-23; more than any other Eredivisie player.
Across the top 5 Euro leagues, only Pau Torres, Facundo Medina, Arthur Theate, Kevin Danso & Axel Disasi covered more distance with progressive ball carries from central defence. pic.twitter.com/YHL6RqCxwj
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) June 26, 2023
In conclusion, Timber fits right in with the “New Arsenal” under Mikel Arteta. A youngster, with leadership skills, who can play multiple positions, and is elite with the ball, he should have no problems fitting in with the rest of the squad.
With the age profile of this Arsenal squad, it won’t be a surprise if last season was just an appetiser for future success, not a flash in the pan. This team will grow together, and last year’s experience has made them stronger.
Jurrien Timber is joining a special team at a special time. He is a special player too.