Sunday, July 21, 2024

Fluidity

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on Gabriel Martinelli and how the absence of Gabriel Jesus had impacted his game. Eddie Nketiah is a very different type of striker to Gabriel Jesus and the rotations on the left hand side have not been as frequent or rapid. Without an overlapping left-back, it often meant that Martinelli was isolated on the left flank.

Part of that is deliberate, Arsenal like to build on the left and then switch to the left quickly, dragging an opposing defence out of position before isolating Martinelli against the right-back. With Jesus in the side, rotating over towards that left flank, the lack of an overlap from the full-back didn’t really matter at all.

It culminated in the away defeat at Everton at the beginning of February where Arsenal struggled to threaten Everton’s goal. Martinelli was substituted just before the hour mark on that occasion. Here is what his heatmap looked like from that afternoon. Whereas before, Martinelli had been able to isolate defenders, they had begun to isolate him.

A chemistry began to develop on the left where the substitute would cause more damage than the starter. Trossard came off the bench to score against Brentford after Martinelli had been frustrated. At Villa Park a week later, Trossard endured a pretty frustrating game before Martinelli came off the bench and produced a goal and an assist.

In recent weeks, there has been a move to get Martinelli into positions closer to the goal to help him to evade opposition radar. He now has four goals and an assist in his last three games. At Leicester on Saturday, Martinelli and Trossard played together with Trossard starting upfront. After the game, Arteta made a very interesting comment about the partnership between the two players.

We had the option to play Gabi [Martinelli] as a nine and Leo on the left, we had to see how the game developed and what Leicester wanted to do.” Trossard largely stayed upfront but we saw a lot more of Martinelli in more inside positions closer to goal, none more so than with the winning goal itself, where Trossard picks the ball up on the left flank and Martinelli runs inside of him.

HIGHLIGHTS | Leicester City vs Arsenal (0-1) | Martinelli scores winner! – YouTube

The goal was relatively similar to one that Arsenal scored against Brendan Rodgers’ side in the reverse fixture. Jesus picks the ball up right out on the touchline and Martinelli runs inside him. On that occasion, there is a little more meat left on the bone and possession changes hands a couple more times but the result is a goal from the inside left channel after Martinelli and Jesus swapped positions.

HIGHLIGHTS | Arsenal vs Leicester City (4-2) | Gabriel Jesus (2), Xhaka, Martinelli – YouTube

Earlier in the piece I displayed Martinelli’s heatmap from the match at Goodison Park in which he was basically trapped out by the touchline. Compare the difference to his heatmap against Leicester on Saturday. Trossard’s presence upfront enabled greater interchange between Martinelli and Trossard. Martinelli and Nketiah had not quite meshed in the same way.

However, that is not the only tweak Arteta has made on that left side. Granit Xhaka plays as the left central midfielder and often provides an underlap in that inside left lane of the attack. Look at his heatmap for the Everton game, below, where he is operating very deep and far closer to the central midfield than the left wing.

Now compare it with the positions he took up against Leicester. He is closer to the area you would have Martinelli on your line-up graphic. In his piece earlier this week, Lewis highlighted how Zinchenko and Xhaka had varied their movement around Martinelli.

During the victory over Leicester, as this move develops from the right, look at how central Martinelli (circled in red) is and Xhaka (circled in yellow) is way outside of him on the left-hand side.

The move culminates in Xhaka picking the ball up where you would expect the left winger to be, with Martinelli inside. On this occasion, Xhaka really ought to pull the ball back to the Brazilian but instead attempts a cross which is blocked.

In the move below, which ends in Saka blazing a shot over the crossbar, look at the positioning of Xhaka, Martinelli and Trossard. They have all completely swapped over with Martinelli in the centre-forward position, Xhaka on the left-wing and Trossard inside of him in the left eight (forgive the time bar at the bottom of the screen cap!)

The introduction of Trossard into the forward line at Leicester showed promise and we know by now that when a player performs, Arteta tends to keep faith with them. The Belgian started against Everton and the fluidity, to my eye in any case, simply increased. Below, is Martinelli’s heatmap (the first image) compared to Trossard’s.

You only need look at Martinelli’s brace on the night. For his first goal when Bukayo Saka burgles Idrissa Gueye of possession on the edge of the Toffees’ area, Martinelli is loitering in the centre-forward position. When Saka opens the scoring, look at where Martinelli is hovering- he has popped up on the right wing, with Trossard (in yellow) over on the left and Xhaka in the centre forward position.

The Brazilian’s second on the night shows promise too because it’s a poacher’s effort in the six-yard area teed up by Nketiah. That is exactly the type of interchange we were not seeing between Martinelli and Nketiah recently, with Gabi ending up inside an Eddie run into the channel. In many ways, that assist makes Nketiah’s case for reinstatement more than a goal from the bench would have.

We know Eddie can score close-range goals, that he was able to set one up for Martinelli during his cameo shows that he understands why he has lost his place to Trossard this week. However, the addition of Trossard to the forward line, allied to more varied movement from Xhaka and Zinchenko, has led Martinelli out of his rut and into a serious groove.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillmanator

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