Monday, May 20, 2024

Leadership dynamics : Full-back redundancy

Good morning.

There is very little happening so far today. There’s a story about how Granit Xhaka’s move to Bayer Leverkusen won’t be finalised until such time as we have confirmed a replacement for him – which makes sense, I guess.

All roads point to Declan Rice, but with West Ham playing in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday evening, his focus is understandably on that. We had a question on the Arsecast Extra about whether we thought the result would have any bearing on this potential deal, and I don’t think it will. It would probably be nice for the player to leave the club he’s spent so long at on something of a high, and a European trophy – even if it’s this one – isn’t to be sniffed at.

If Rice is the direct Xhaka replacement, there are questions about what kind of role he’s going to play. There are some similarities between them, but I don’t think it’s a case that he’ll just be slotted in as a left 8 and asked to run into the box a bit more. When you see how some players have been used by Mikel Arteta, I do wonder what he might have in mind for him. Where is deployed will obviously be key, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as him simply replacing Xhaka or Thomas Partey directly.

The other thing to consider is Xhaka’s presence. His leadership qualities, which some might scoff at a bit, are very much part and parcel of who he is and how he operates. I don’t know Declan Rice as well, but he’s captain of West Ham, and I think part of our interest in him is an ability to replace some of the qualities that will leave with Xhaka. The dynamic of a dressing room changes when a player of his stature goes, and we’re also going to see Kieran Tierney depart. While I don’t think he was ever as dominant a personality as some might have thought – remember that was a time when he was being tipped as a potential captain –  he’s been a mainstay since the Summer of Raul all the way through to this point.

I think Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko will be key figures now, but adding someone like Rice to the mix is a good idea – especially with the other English players we have in the squad. I also think that despite being just 21, Bukayo Saka has firmly established himself as one of the most important players at the club, and moving big personalities on allows space for others to develop. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he became a bit more influential in that regard.

Beyond that, not much else going on. There’s talk from Spain that the release clause for right-back Ivan Fresneda is now at €20m due to the fact that Vallodolid were relegated on the final day of the La Liga season. There’s reported interest from Borussia Dortmund too, and no official bid from Arsenal yet, but he was heavily linked in January and last summer so let’s see what happens there.

What we do at full-back will be another interesting aspect of this summer. I don’t think it’s fair to say that teams cottoned on to what we were doing with Zinchenko, but you can be quite sure that next season it’s something they’ll expect and set up to try and negate. It can still be effective, of course, and the fact we’re apparently letting Tierney go suggests that we’re happy enough to eschew the qualities of a ‘traditional’ left-back.

Some kind of variety might be part of the plan for this window though. Whether it’s the use of a player like Jakub Kiwior, or even Takehiro Tomiyasu remains to be seen. I do think the use of the Polish international there in the last two games of the season was something of a trial run. The lesson, however, is to ensure you have redundancy. The double-whammy injury of Saliba and Tomiyasu was really costly, and if you’re playing Gabriel and Kiwior together, you face a similar scenario from the left centre-half position if something similar occurs. I’m sure that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. There’s a brand new Arsecast Extra below, recorded last night, so get your ears around that. While over on Patreon we have our final Poorly Drawn Month of the season.

For now, have a good one.

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