Thursday, July 18, 2024

Jorginho: Arsenal’s scaffolding

When Arsenal signed Jorginho in January, I think Arsenal made the determination that Thomas Partey’s brittleness was such that a different calibre of alternative was required. Albert Sambi Lokonga had not developed as hoped and Mohamed Elneny was injured.

Jorginho was signed to an 18 month contract with the option for an extra year and Chelsea, who were in the middle of a tear it down style rebuild, were happy to take the money and use it for Enzo Fernandez and, later, Moises Caicedo. Jorginho was and is a short-term signing for Arsenal.

Since the disastrous procurement of Willian, Arsenal have tended to avoid short-term signings but that doesn’t mean they can never be valuable. I will admit that I have always liked Jorginho, much as I always thought Arteta and Michael Carrick were undervalued during their playing careers.

I have always been a sucker for a deep lying playmaker type. I also think Jorginho is proving to be an incredibly shrewd sticking plaster for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. For a start, the policy of signing lots of players under 25 has been incredibly sensible and well executed but every team still needs some adults in the room.

With Granit Xhaka having departed and Thomas Partey in a seemingly permanent state of injury, Jorginho’s experience has been very valuable in an area of the field where older heads tend to be required. In recent weeks, his prominence has grown in an Arsenal team still searching for its ideal balance.

Therein lies his current value, he is not the long-term solution in midfield but he is allowing Arsenal leeway while they tamper around the edges. For a start, his qualities are really needed during a time when Oleksandr Zinchenko is struggling to match last season’s standards (and I wrote about the disruption in Arsenal’s spine as a partial explanation for that a few weeks ago).

Tomiyasu at left-back makes Arsenal more defensively solid than Zinchenko does and Jorginho is able to replicate the Ukrainian’s more metronomic qualities at the base of the team. Jorginho’s presence has also bought Arteta time as he finds out exactly who and what Declan Rice and Kai Havertz are going to be.

Of course, those two players initiate questions for very different reasons. Rice is excellent as a left eight and excellent as a number six and can be trusted in either role. For my money, I am not sure he yet has that ability to receive the ball from the centre-backs, turn and punch the ball through the lines like Jorginho and Partey do.

However, I am very confident he can acquire those skills quickly. Among Rice’s most valuable qualities is his capacity for learning. He is able to add things to his game all the time. At the moment, Kai Havertz is just not buttering any parsnips in the left eight role, so Rice is being deployed there because Jorginho can be trusted to play the deeper role.

Arsenal don’t yet have a trusted alternative in the left eight role, with none of Havertz, Vieira or Smith Rowe giving Arteta the impression that they are ready to adopt the role on a permanent basis. Jorginho is an incredibly useful bridging tool while Arsenal work through some of these teething problems.

Arteta’s squad has also suffered injuries to keep players, particularly through the spine of the team, which has caused disruption all season long. For the last few games, Arsenal have been without Martin Odegaard who has been their on-pitch coach and their technical leader ever since he arrived.

In his absence, Jorginho is also incredibly useful to give the team that technical intent and personality they miss without their captain (and it’s no coincidence, in my view, that Jorginho has been handed the armband in Odegaard’s absence). Against Sevilla, when Jorginho was substituted with a few minutes to go, he took the long way off the field.

He circled the pitch, consistently stopping on the sidelines whenever the ball came near, issuing instructions and thumping his hands together, cajoling his teammates from the side of the pitch as he slowly made his way to the dugout. With Zinchenko and Odegaard contributing fitfully in a playing sense in recent weeks, Jorginho has fulfilled some of those more tangible leadership skills, as well as given the team its technical personality.

Jorginho’s renewed prominence actually reminds me a little of when Mohamed Elneny came into the team at the tail end of the 2021-22 season. Thomas Partey was, naturally, injured and Arteta tried Lokonga as a like for like swap, before trying Granit Xhaka at left-back to redress the balance of the team.

Neither experiment worked and Arteta opted for Elneny at the base of the team, he needed an adult to provide continuity. In a sense, Elneny’s simplicity was, if not exactly what Arsenal needed, it was certainly the best they could do at the time. I think Jorginho is several levels above Mohamed Elneny even if their playing styles are broadly similar.

I think Jorginho struggles for credit in the Arsenal fan base because, he was signed from Chelsea, which grates on supporters given the club’s record of shopping in West London. He is 31 and he is also guilty of the cardinal sin for the football fan- not being very fast. Pace and strength are, of course, incredibly valuable but we also have a tendency to over-index the value of both because they are the easiest attributes to notice.

Not every game is a Jorginho game, at Stamford Bridge we saw a transitional contest where Chelsea countered and pressed Arsenal in wet conditions with the sprightly legs of Conor Gallagher, Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling. However, I think there are a lot of games that suit his qualities and when I consider some of the best deep lying playmakers I have ever seen, I wouldn’t list pace as a key attribute in most of them.

What Jorginho has become is an incredibly important glue player, someone who has a lot of the qualities Arsenal need while other key players are either absent or still finding themselves in this team. He may not be the man for the future- as the summer transfer speculation around the player foretold- but he is absolutely the man for the moment.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillmanator

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