Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Champions League + Arteta seeking transfer market versatility


I didn’t see the first half of Villarreal v Liverpool, but I had to turn on to watch the second because when Francis Coquelin scores a goal, surely something extraordinary is about to happen.

Unfortunately for the Yellow Submarine, the extraordinary thing was their goalkeeper going full Manuel Almunia, shipping two between his legs then getting caught out miles from his area for the goal that won the tie on the night for Liverpool. Frankly, they’d have been better off playing Coquelin in nets.

It was a very Emery second half too. I mean, fair play – to get Villarreal to this point of the Champions League is quite something, but so too is going two goals up against Liverpool and then having 0 shots in the second half while allowing the opposition 13. Sometimes some stuff is just so hardwired into the DNA of a coach that his team simply cannot do anything else.

I think you have to acknowledge the quality of Liverpool and their ability to deal with an in-game situation which was not good for them, but if there is frustration among the Villarreal fanbase this morning that their team got themselves into a position where it looked really promising then completely fell apart, I can identify with that.

Liverpool can now concentrate on their most important game of the week knowing they’ve secured a place in the Champions League final for the third time in five seasons, and all eyes will be on the second leg between Man City and Real Madrid. I’d love to see the Spanish side go through, not because I have any great love for them but an all Premier League Champions League final just lacks something … European … for want of a better word. We’ve seen Liverpool and Man City duke it out so often. We’ve been there, done that, worn that t-shirt, so for the sake of spectacle, I’d like to see Karim Benzema do his stuff again tonight, but I suspect very strongly City will have too much for them.

Let’s see.

Elsewhere, there’s an interesting transfer link to a young Scottish left-back named Aaron Hickey. He currently plays for Bologna, making 33 appearances in Serie A for them this season, and is reportedly on our radar for a summer move. You’ll recall that Takehiro Tomiyasu was signed from the Italian side last summer, so there are decent lines of communication with Bologna.

That we might be looking for another left-back isn’t really a surprise. Kieran Tierney, as much as I love him, has spent time on the sidelines in every one of his seasons here, and back-up has often been unconvincing. Last season we deemed Sead Kolasinac so surplus to requirements we went into the second half of the campaign without a natural deputy for that position, and while the Nuno Tavares signing last summer made sense in the context of what we were doing, it’s fair to say the 22 year old has had very up and down year in terms of his own performances. He is what we have right now, and I hope he can make a solid contribution in these last four games, but I can understand if the manager has some reservations about the defensive side of his game.

Last week Mikel Arteta spoke about Tomiyasu and his ability on the ball with both feet, saying it was part of why he was identified as a transfer target:

When we follow the player and we identify him as one of the candidates, obviously it one of the things that I came across and it gives you a lot of solutions. Not only because he can use both feet, but he can play right centre-back, left centre-back, he can play left-back so that gives you enormous variability and it’s the way they’ve been raised and coached since a really young age, that’s what he says so for him, left and right is the same.

And this Guardian piece, Hickey is reportedly similar in profile. It reads:

Hickey’s versatility is yet another key attribute. His coaches at Hearts used to debate whether he was naturally left- or right-footed. He has played right-back, centre-back and centre-midfield alongside left-sided defensive roles.

I’m always a little dubious about the idea of a player being able to fill multiple positions, because in reality it rarely works like that. However, Tomiyasu regularly plays centre-half for Japan, and with European football of some description next season, we are going to need a bigger pool of players to choose from. However, it’s clear that Mikel Arteta does not want a bloated squad, he’s looking for efficiency in numbers and that may require this kind of versatility.

We’ve already seen in Ben White we have a centre-half who can play at full-back; Kieran Tierney is comfortable in a back three if needed; and while I don’t know how strong our interest is in Aaron Hickey, we may end up with two full-backs who can play either side as well as centre-half. The interest in Gabriel Jesus is well reported, and there’s another example of a player who can fill positions right across the forward line.

We’ll have to see what the summer brings, but a squad building project that goes beyond the ‘first choice, then deputy’ remit – which is as old as time – is certainly an interesting way of doing things.

Finally for today, good luck to the Arsenal Women in the North London derby which takes place at the Emirates this evening. There are tickets still available from under £8, so if you can get along to support them, make it so! Tim will have the usual in-depth coverage over on Arseblog News if you can’t.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Till tomorrow.

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