Why Arsenal Need a Creative Midfielder This Summer More Than Anything

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Özil’s decline has been obvious | IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

Arsenal’s defensive frailties have been well documented for a number of years, dating back to the days of Arsene Wenger.

When the Frenchman eventually stood aside, successor Unai Emery wasn’t really able to address the problem – and soon enough, a lack of creativity in front of goal was added to the list of criticisms being flung Arsenal’s way.

Now, Mikel Arteta is steering the ship – and although the creativity issue remains, it’s fair comment to say that the Spaniard has started to address the club’s issues at the back.

There’s also an issue of restricted finances at the club, meaning the recruitment team will need to focus spending in one area, rather than reconstructing the entire team. So where should Arteta’s priorities lie? Well, the statistics would suggest that defence isn’t the main area of concern, contrary to public opinion.

Unai EmeryUnai Emery
Emery’s defensive record was dreadful at Arsenal. | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

In the 20 games Emery managed in the Premier League this season, Arsenal conceded 1.45 goals per game – yet in Arteta’s 15 games, his Arsenal side have averaged 0.8 goals per game – almost half. When compared to the best defensive side in the league this season – Liverpool – Arteta’s Arsenal are only 0.04 worse off than the champions.

While this isn’t something to write home about, Arteta’s Arsenal side are much harder to beat than Emery’s team were. It is evident that this Arsenal side have improved, but the difference between goals scored pales in comparison to that of the numbers now being conceded.

With Emery in charge, Arsenal averaged 1.38 goals per game. That figure has now risen to 1.63 under Arteta, but when you compare those numbers to Manchester City – for example – they are some way off the 2.53 goals per game mark set by Pep Guardiola’s side. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but almost a goal per game more on average? That’s a big difference.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Héctor BellerinPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Héctor Bellerin
Arsenal FC v Everton FC – Premier League | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

It’s a figure that’s not really good enough, considering Arsenal boast two of the most expensive forwards to have ever been purchased in the Premier League – in Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Pepe has struggled to find his feet in England so far, but has shown on occasion some of the ability that persuaded the Gunners to part with £72m (eventually). Aubameyang, meanwhile, continues to carry Arsenal’s goal threat on his shoulders, scoring 40% of the club’s goals (20 out of 50). Considering he’s been linked away from the club, that’s a real concern.

The main problem lies in Arsenal’s midfield, and their lack of contribution going forward. Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock, Mesut Özil and Bukayo Saka have all scored just once, while chances have hardly been created at a premium.

The most impressive performer in that regard has been Saka, who is continuing his rise to prominence with impressive displays each and every week. He’s also a teenager, so it’s perhaps unfair to level criticism at a player who is finding his feet and is visibly improving.

Dani CeballosDani Ceballos
Dani Ceballos is the only real advanced midfielder in Arsenal’s squad – that Arteta likes. | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Dani Ceballos, on loan from Real Madrid, appears to be the only central midfielder with any real desire to push forward and drive on with impetus. But even he goes missing on occasion, though things have improved since the Premier League’s resumption. So much so, in fact, that Arteta is thought to be keen on extending his loan deal, which looked highly unlikely with Emery at the helm.

But even if he does stay, Arsenal must be in the market for an attacking midfielder. Somebody in the mould of James Maddison – willing to get on the ball and dictate from deep, but also keen to push forward and take shots at goal.

To say the Gunners have underwhelmed this season would be an understatement, and the majority of those problems have come from their failure to outscore the opposition. Yes, David Luiz has looked rocky at the back and a number of goals have been conceded from errors – but sometimes you have to look forwards, rather than backwards.

A defender would be nice, but a midfielder is essential.

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Mikel Arteta Urges Arsenal to Offer Shkodran Mustafi New Deal

Shkodran Mustafi
Mustafim has enjoyed a renaissance in his Gunners career | Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images

Mikel Arteta has urged the Arsenal hierarchy to offer Shkodran Mustafi a new deal, with the defender’s current contract set to expire next year.

Mustafi had looked to be on his way out of the Emirates Stadium earlier this season, after falling out of favour with former Gunners boss Unai Emery. Prior to the Spaniard’s departure, he’d been named in just five matchday squads.

Shkodran MustafiShkodran Mustafi
Arteta is keen to keep hold of Mustafi with his deal set to expire in 2021 | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

Prior to the Spaniard’s departure, Mustafi had been named in just five matchday squads. However, the arrival of Arteta in December has seen a dramatic revival in the German’s Arsenal career.

The 28-year-old has become a central figure in the Spaniard’s plans, starting 11 of the club’s last 12 Premier League games, and Arteta has revealed he’s made the club aware of his desire to keep hold of the defender beyond next season.

“That’s something the club has to address but he knows my opinion,” Arteta said as reported by the Daily Mail. “I’m really happy with him as you can see. The way he’s playing, how committed he is with everything we’re trying to do, the level in his performance every three or four days, he’s been really consistent.”

Mustafi has spent the past four seasons in north London after signing from La Liga outfit Valencia for £35m, going on to make 140 appearances for the club.

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Arteta pinpointed Mustafi’s commitment to the club when explaining why he wanted to keep hold of him | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

After being the subject of significant criticism from large swathes of Arsenal’s fanbase, the German international admitted earlier this season that the scrutiny he was being placed under was having a negative impact on his performances.

Since then, however, Mustafi has re-established himself as a key part of Arteta’s preferred 3-4-3 formation and looks set to extend his stay at the Emirates. The news comes just weeks after Arsenal confirmed the permanent signing of Pablo Mari, as well as a new contract for David Luiz.

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Introducing: The New Signings Made by Arsenal Women This Summer

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Lydia Williams and Steph Catley have been teammates for Melbourne and the Australia national team | Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Chelsea have shown they mean business in the transfer market as they go about the defence of their WSL title, having already signed former Bayern Munich captain Melanie Leupolz and ex-Liverpool youngster Niamh Charles.

Last season’s runners up Manchester City have been hot on their heals, securing the signing of 2019/20 WSL breakout star Chloe Kelly.

But third place Arsenal have ensured they do not fall behind their title rivals, with a flurry of new arrivals over the course of the last week.

The Gunners have announced four signings in the space of eight days – Steph Catley, Noëlle Maritz, Malin Gut and Lydia Williams – and they can all be made available for Arsenal’s Champions League quarter final against PSG on 22 August.

The quartet are WSL newbies, so just who are they, how will they slot in at Arsenal and what can Gunners fans expect from them?

Arsenal signed Maritz from Wolfsburg, bringing an end to her seven-year stay with the German champions.

Despite being just 24, the Switzerland international brings a wealth of experience with her. Maritz has been capped 74 times for her country, won five Bundesliga titles and lifted the Champions League in 2014.

Maritz can operate at left back or right back and is a typical modern full back; she is strong defensively but thrives driving forward.

The former Wolfsburg player will help plug the defensive gaps left by Emma Mitchell and Katrine Veje, who have both departed Arsenal this summer, but with Lisa Evans, Leonie Maier, Katie McCabe and fellow new arrival Steph Catley, the Gunners will not be short of options at full-back during the 2020/21 campaign.

Arsenal recruited goalkeeper Lydia Williams from Melbourne City. The 32-year-old is teaming up with Joe Montemurro once more, having played under the Arsenal boss during his time in charge at Melbourne.

The Australian international has won 88 caps for her country, and was the Matildas number one at the 2015 and 2019 World Cup. She made her senior international debut just five years after she started playing football.

Williams has predominantly played her domestic football in her native Australia and the United States, but this is not her first stint in European football. The goalkeeper had a brief spell at Swedish side Piteå IF between 2012 and 2013.

Williams has been brought in following the departure of Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, and will challenge Manuela Zinsberger for the number one spot.

Arsenal brought in Malin Gut from Swiss outfit Grasshopper Zurich. Despite being just 19 years old, she has been playing senior football for four years, having broken into the FC Zurich first team as a 15-year-old.

Gut is a Switzerland international and has made five appearances for her country since making her debut in 2019.

The teenager is a defensive midfielder, and will offer the Gunners some much needed strength in depth in the number four role. Last season, Gut’s compatriot Lia Wälti was Arsenal’s only recognisable defensive midfielder, with defender Leah Williamson and the more attack-minded Jill Roord forced to fill in during Wälti’s absences.

Montemurro has continued his love for versatility with the signing of Gut, with the Switzerland international also capable of operating at centre half and in a more advanced number eight role.

Catley is Arsenal’s third Australian arrival in the space of six months, following the recent acquisition of Lydia Williams and the January signing of Caitlin Foord.

Like the former, Catley had played under Montemurro at Melbourne City, and has also enjoyed spells in the States with Portland Thorns, Reign FC and Orlando Pride.

The 26-year-old has been capped 82 times for her country and is regarded as one of the vest left backs in the world – reportedly turning down giants Lyon in order to sign for Arsenal and reunite with Montemurro.

Catley is an attack-minded full-back, and will be jostling for a starting berth with Katie McCabe and Noëlle Maritz.

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The Strangest Squad Numbers in Premier League History

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Wilfried Bony of Swansea City | Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Squad numbers on football kits are a big part of the game. Literally. They take up the entire back of the shirt, and if that isn’t enough, they print it again on players’ shorts.

While historically squad numbers correlated to positions on the pitch, the game has developed and as squad sizes increases along with competition for places, numbers are taken up a lot quicker. Not everyone can wear one to 11, so naturally conventions have changed.

While some players still take numbers by position seriously and are known for being the best in that bracket – think goalkeepers, strikers etc – others set out to make a number their own. And while that worked with Cristiano Ronaldo revolutionising the number seven and Ronaldinho getting by with number 80 on his back, it’s an anomaly.

Get ready to take a shot every time the word ‘number’ is used – here are the strangest squad numbers in Premier League history…

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint DempseyGylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey
Dempsey celebrates with Gylfi Sigurdsson | Clive Rose/Getty Images

To brand all Americans as ‘weird’ would be a lazy generalisation and stereotyping. Clint Dempsey’s obsession with wearing the number two as a striker is a little bit odd, though.

Arguably the greatest player of his generation to come from the States, it’s a shame he doesn’t understand the ‘numbers by position’ concept. He wore this monstrosity during his season with Spurs, and with the Seattle Sounders.

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Gallas wore number 10 at Arsenal | CARL DE SOUZA/Getty Images

From a striker wearing a defender’s number to a defender wearing a striker’s number…

William Gallas chose to don the number 10 shirt after the number 13 was already occupied. The same number 10 shirt that was last worn by the legendary Dennis Bergkamp.

Because number three wouldn’t suffice, obviously.

Renato Sanches’ move to Swansea was a disaster from start to finish.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have gone as badly if the Premier League didn’t physically ban him from wearing the number 85 shirt, which he had donned previously. Instead, he was forced to wear 35, which is far less entertaining.

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WIlfried Bony opted for an unusual number upon his return to Swansea | Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Staying with the Swans, Wilfried Bony decided to wear the number two shirt when he returned to the club in 2017, despite the number nine being available.

His reasoning was that it was his second spell with the club, thus he wanted to wear the number two. Rubbish. Perhaps him and Dempsey would make a decent strike partnership. Two up top?

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Boulahrouz played as a defender | ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2006, Khalid Boulahrouz strangely decided on wearing the number nine shirt, despite being a central defender.

Boulahrouz later claimed that the kit man had ‘set him up’ by not telling him that the number two was actually free.

Audacious from the kit man to mess around with somebody nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’…

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Patricio signed for Wolves in 2018 | Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

After 12 years with Sporting, Wolves was the destination for Rui Patricio’s fresh start in football.

Along with a new team came a new number. While the reason for not choosing the number one was admirable – out of respect for previous keeper Carl Ikeme, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia – choosing the number 11 shirt instead was unusual, to say the least.

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Glen Johnson moved to Stoke in 2015 | Warren Little/Getty Images

In 2015, Stoke were treated with a tricky new number eight among the ranks. No, not a midfielder – an ageing Glen Johnson.

Johnson, a right-back, opted for the number eight shirt instead of literally anything else. It doesn’t get more Stoke City than having a full-back as a number eight.

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Steve Sidwell playing for Chelsea in 2008. | Paul Gilham/Getty Images

After Khalid Boulahrouz left the club in 2008, it was time for Chelsea to knuckle down and properly occupy that number nine shirt.

Or not. Instead, free transfer Steve Sidwell – a midfielder by trade – was next to take the number. Horrendous decision.

Michael Owen of Liverpool celebrates another goal with team-mate Milan BarosMichael Owen of Liverpool celebrates another goal with team-mate Milan Baros
Milan Baros and Michael Owen | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Another striker with an absurdly strange number selection, Liverpool’s true Champions League hero Milan Baros donned the number five on the back of his shirt.

While he’s got the Champions League winners medal like Zinedine Zidane, he doesn’t quite have the same storied career or ability, despite the pair sharing the same number.

Andy CarrollAndy Carroll
Carroll wears the number seven at Newcastle | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

As nice as it is to see Andy Carroll back at the Toon, there’s something just a little bit jarring about him wearing the number seven shirt.

It’s by no means the biggest crime in this list. In fact, he’s not too far away from the position. It’s just a bit off, though, makes it feel so much worse.

Paulo Futre of West Ham in action during a pre-season friendlyPaulo Futre of West Ham in action during a pre-season friendly
Paulo Futre refused to play for West Ham due to his squad number | Getty Images/Getty Images

Paulo Futre joined West Ham on a one-year deal in 1996 to the surprise of many, but all hell broke loose on the opening day of the season when he learnt that he would be playing with number 16 on his back.

Futre kicked off in the dressing room over the fact that he wasn’t wearing the number 10 – assigned to Jon Moncur – and left before kick off. He eventually got the number 10 from Moncur that season, by offering him a big chunk of money and two weeks in his villa in the Algarve.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold is Liverpool’s latest local hero | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It’s fairly normal for youth academy players to debut with a high shirt number and earn a lower one as they progress, Trent Alexander-Arnold has scrapped that idea.

He debuted with the number 66 back in 2016, but is yet to ditch it for a more suitable number. You’re a Premier League winner now, Trent, it’s time to do a bit of growing up.

Nicklas BendtnerNicklas Bendtner
Nicklas Bendtner is a regular with absurd football antics | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

If boasting an outrageous topknot or wearing sponsored boxers on the pitch isn’t enough, then donning the number 52 by choice might do the trick.

After being allocated the number 26 for Arsenal ahead of the 2009/10 season, Nicklas Bendtner changed his number to 52. He said it was a number close to him, but it’s also worth noting that five plus two equals seven, a number he said was his favourite but was already occupied.

It’s still a mystery today, but…so is Bendtner.

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90min’s Definitive European Player Power Rankings: Week 28 – Russian Doll Special

Mason Greenwood
Mason Greenwood has starred for United | Pool/Getty Images

Manchester United are good and Tottenham are not good. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the last week.

Away from those two contrasting fortunes, there has been plenty of football to digest, and that means it’s Player Power Ranking time.

This week, it’s time for a helping hand from Russian Doll.

Mohamed SalahMohamed Salah
Salah tore Brighton apart | Robin Jones/Getty Images

“It’s my bad attitude that keeps me young.”

Is Salah selfish? Graeme Souness seems to think so.

If he keeps on scoring goal after goal after goal, Liverpool fans really won’t care.

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Havertz is wanted by Chelsea this summer | Pool/Getty Images

“You are serial-killer calm.”

If Havertz has played his final game for Bayer Leverkusen, bagging a penalty against Bayern Munich in the last minute of the cup final isn’t the worst way to go.

Just a shame they didn’t win, but y’know, it’s Bayern.

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Dybala has five goals in his last five games | Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

“Go with purpose. Triggers people’s curiosity.”

Dybala is playing with purpose these days.

He has found the back of the net in each of his last five appearances, but took a day off in the 4-2 loss to AC Milan because of a little suspension.

Pierre-Emerick AubameyangPierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang was on the score sheet again against Leicester | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

“The universe is trying to f**k with me. And I refuse to engage.”

Aubameyang was definitely leaving Arsenal a few months ago. They were rubbish.

Aubameyang might not be leaving Arsenal now. They’re much less rubbish.

And while that’s all going on, he continues to score goals.

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne is on the verge of history | Visionhaus/Getty Images

“Routine is an incredible thing. We become what we repeatedly do.”

18 assists. Two more to tie Thierry Henry’s single-season record. Just keep on going.

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Fernandes has been the catalyst for United’s revival | Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images

“Sometimes Hail Marys are the best Marys we’ve got.”

Manchester United went into January looking for literally anything positive.

They didn’t care that Sporting CP had mugged them off all summer. They stood firm and did all they could to sign Fernandes, and just look at United now.

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Inter have made a tough time of things this week | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

“Nothing in this world is easy, except pissing in the shower.”

He might have made scoring look easy this season, but Lukaku came back down to earth this week.

His goal against Bologna wasn’t enough to help Inter avoid defeat, and then he drew a blank against Verona.

Ciro ImmobileCiro Immobile
Immobile is still on to be named Serie A top scorer | Chris Ricco/Getty Images

“Look, I got bigger fish to fry, okay? I got to figure out how to get down the stairs.”

Having spent all season looking like one of the scariest strikers in the entire world, Immobile decided to give himself a little break.

A suspension in a 3-0 loss to Milan was followed by a goalless outing in a surprise 2-1 loss to Lecce.

It’s like Atalanta are the only side who actually want to stop Juventus.

Mason Greenwood, John McGinnMason Greenwood, John McGinn
Greenwood has enjoyed a record-breaking breakthrough season | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

“Thank you for changing my life. Lives are hard to change.”

Unless you have a bazillion posters of Greenwood in your bedroom now, you’re not a real United fan.

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Crystal Palace could do with someone like Sorloth this season | DANIEL MIHAILESCU/Getty Images

“Life is like a box of timelines, you feel me?”

We’re currently living in a timeline in which Sørloth is actually good. Mad ting.

He took his tally for the season to 29 in all competitions with a goal against Galatasaray. Parent club Crystal Palace have managed 30 in the league – if only Chelsea could have stopped them from scoring twice, this would have been so much funnier.

Christian PulisicChristian Pulisic
Pulisic impressed against Crystal Palace | Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

“You’re supposed to ask people about their kids. Okay? It’s polite. It gives everybody a moment to pretend there’s gonna be a future.”

The post-Eden Hazard future looked like it could be pretty gloomy for Chelsea, but Pulisic has made all those fears go away.

Anthony MartialAnthony Martial
Martial now has 20 goals in all competitions | Pool/Getty Images

“I feel like f**king Rocky right now.”

This is the Martial United fans want to see.

He has really got going since Fernandes’ arrival, and he doesn’t look like he can be stopped.

Lionel MessiLionel Messi
Messi has been vital to Barcelona’s title push | Alex Caparros/Getty Images

“Fun is for suckers. Staring down the barrel of my own mortality always beats fun.”

Remember when Messi used to have fun playing football? Nowadays, he spends all his time sparing Barcelona’s blushes.

He’s now contributed to 23 of Barça’s last 28 La Liga goals, and even that hasn’t been enough to stop Real Madrid from pulling away.

Cristiano RonaldoCristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo finally scored a free kick this week | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

“You can eat anything, take anything, do anything. It’s impossible to destroy you. You will never die.”

The freak of nature that is Ronaldo managed two more goals and another assist over this past week.

He even scored his first free kick since before the dawn of time! Huzzah!

Robert LewandowskiRobert Lewandowski
Lewandowski has been unstoppable all year | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

“Hey, bartendress! Hello. Uh, more drunk please.”

It’s job done for Lewandowski. Two goals in the cup final was the perfect end to a perfect year. Time to party.

He ended the season with 51 goals in just 43 games. Thems is Ballon d’Or numbers, if you ask me.

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