Eight minutes that showed Arsenal mean business in title race
It took only eight minutes in an Arsenal shirt for Leandro Trossard to demonstrate the importance of squad depth in Premier League football. The former Brighton forward made his debut in the 82nd minute of Arsenal’s dramatic victory over Manchester United last month, and in the subsequent few moments he quickly showed why Mikel Arteta was so keen to add variety to his team in the January transfer window.
It would be fair to say that Arsenal’s winning goal, scored by Eddie Nketiah in the final minute, would not have happened without Trossard. Not only because the Belgian played a crucial pass in the build-up, but also because his introduction had dramatically altered the shape and feel of the Arsenal attack.
Trossard plays in the same position as Gabriel Martinelli, the man he replaced that day, but he does so in an entirely different way. Martinelli is a winger who usually stays wide, attacking the full-back whenever he can. Trossard prefers to drift into midfield, pulling defenders out of position and creating new spaces for his team-mates to attack.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, playing at left-back, had not overlapped once in the first 82 minutes of the match. Only when Trossard came on did the Ukrainian have space to run into on the outside, and it was ultimately his cross that led to Nketiah’s winning goal. It was proof that different players create different angles, and the switch in shape proved fatal for United.
“Leo knows the league,” said Arteta. “He has the versatility that we needed and he adds quality, and a goal threat, to the squad.”
For Arsenal, the expectation now is that Trossard’s subtle but significant impact against United was a sign of things to come in the second half of this season. In the first half of the campaign, and especially in the past weeks since Gabriel Jesus was ruled out through injury, Arteta did not have the capacity to change the dynamic of his team. Now, with Trossard in the building and Jorginho joining him following his move from Chelsea, he does.
As a measure of the lack of attacking options at Arteta’s disposal before Trossard’s arrival, it it worth noting that Bukayo Saka, Nketiah and Martinelli had played a combined 1,426 minutes of a possible 1,440 minutes in the first four matches since the league’s restart. Arteta had three trusted forwards, and only three.
In midfield, too, Arsenal can now mix it up. Jorginho plays in the same position as Thomas Partey, at the base of the midfield three, but he does so in his own way. With less defensive power and snarl, perhaps, but with more patience and precision in possession. As a substitute, Jorginho will help Arsenal to keep the ball and draw the sting from opponents.
Crucially, Jorginho also provides an alternative if Partey suffers another injury. Especially with European football returning soon, and with Mohamed Elneny out injured, Partey cannot be asked to play every minute of every match – as was the case in recent weeks.
“We knew that in this market, you have to adapt and you have to be flexible,” said Arteta. “You have to be ready for inconvenience. We had one with the latest news on Mo’s injury and we needed a player in that position. Jorginho is a player I’ve always admired. He’s a great character and he’s someone who is going to bring leadership and quality in that position. He’s going to help the team a lot.”
Arsenal’s other signing last month was centre-back Jakub Kiwior, who also provides depth and security in case of an injury for Gabriel Magalhaes. In short, Arsenal have plugged three gaping gaps in their squad, for a combined cost of around £50 million. “I think we had three main key areas of positions that we wanted to improve and fulfil, and we’ve done it,” said Arteta.
The big question, then, is whether it will be enough to propel them towards the title. There can be no answering that now, with so much football left to play, but it is certainly the case that they are now in a stronger position than they were in the first half of the campaign. Manchester City, meanwhile, appear to be weaker after Joao Cancelo left for Bayern Munich.
With 50 points from 19 games ahead of Saturday’s trip to Everton, Arsenal’s starting line-up has shown it is capable of dominating the Premier League. As the days and weeks go by, though, those players will need support. The club knew this, and they acted by targeting more short-term acquisitions. The signings provide instant quality, and Arsenal hope they will provide the variety and experience that gets them over the line in May.