This post contains affiliate links. “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
Arsenal have enjoyed a mini resurgence since Boxing Day, winning three on the rebound, keeping two clean sheets and scoring eight in wins over Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom.
West Brom’s victory was of particular significance as Mikel Arteta’s team won 4-0 against undoubtedly one of the poorer teams in the Premier League, but a team that had nonetheless kept Liverpool in a 1-1 draw just six days earlier. .
It was Arsenal’s way of dispatching the Baggies that was most impressive: The Gunners’ second goal was a wonderfully inventive and fluid team move, as Arteta’s team played with the creative brilliance and adventure they have missed during all season.
Before Saturday’s win at The Hawthorns, Arsenal had had a negative goal difference. If it weren’t for Alexandre Lacazette’s double in the second half in the Midlands, they still would.
Arsenal on the market
“It is quite clear what we need,” coach Edu said in December. “We need a player with creativity in the middle, we don’t have that in the squad right now.”
The Gunners failed to land Lyon’s Houssem Aouar during the summer transfer window, and have subsequently been linked to a move by Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Brandt in an attempt to add some offensive zest to their midfield.
But is he the man they need?
Despite his recent rebound in fortune, an attacking midfielder undoubtedly remains a priority for Arsenal in January.
The Gunners have been propping themselves up on defense during Arteta’s 12 months in command, but this has largely been at the expense of goals and any offensive thrills. Even after their hat-trick of successive Premier League victories, Arsenal remain 12th in the Premier League in shots every 90 minutes and 14th in key passes every 90 minutes. Only three teams out of the bottom three have scored fewer goals than the Gunners.
Appearance of Emile Smith Rowe
A change in system, tactics and personnel has dramatically improved Arsenal’s offensive momentum during the turn of the year, with Arteta’s 3-5-2 formation abandoned in favor of a 4-2-3-1. Bukayo Saka has moved from left to right, and Emile Smith Rowe has taken on the newly created role of number ten, with great success.
The appearance of the academy graduate does not mean that Arsenal do not need another number ten. At 20, the youngster cannot be expected to play every game, especially in this most congested season. But Smith Rowe’s success has reinforced the importance of Arsenal playing an offensive midfielder; someone who can move the ball quickly, is smart with his movement, and is decisive and instinctive in the final third.
This is where Brandt comes in.
A number ten per trade, Arsenal’s current 4-2-3-1 lineup would suit the German international down to the ground. He could also be deployed on the left flank, or in a deeper midfield role, and has operated as a forward or a false nine, but the advanced midfielder role is where he is most effective.
The missing piece of the puzzle?
Brandt has the subtlety, intelligence, and vision to pull the strings, break lines, and make things happen. He’s a risk taker, something Arsenal have been hungry for this season.
He can slow things down and speed things up at his choice. His subtle and clever move to break through and his signature feints and moves in tight areas are irresistible.
Criticisms of Brandt during the early stages of his career are not much different than those directed at current Arsenal attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil: a tendency to disappear in big games, a lack of physique when necessary, lapses in concentration. But since taking a more central role, initially at Bayer Leverkusen, in 2018, he has taken on the additional responsibility and prospered.
After earning a transfer to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2019, Brandt was excellent once he returned to the Bundesliga after the lockout. He shone in Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Schalke in May, participating in each of his team’s four goals.
However, this period has fallen out of favor as Dortmund had a slow start to the campaign. The 24-year-old has started just six Bundesliga games this season, contributing a singular assist.
If Arteta inspired Brandt to return to the player he was six months ago, given the impact Smith Rowe has enjoyed in such a short time, it could be a very canny attacking addition.