Monday, May 20, 2024

Leandro Trossard: He bangs the drum

‘Trossard is coming in to take someone’s place in his head, he’s not coming to – it might look like he is coming to be part of the squad, deep down like I was with [Bernd] Leno. Like I’ve come to take Leno’s pace, he’s coming to take one of the front three player’s place.’

These were the words of Aaron Ramsdale on the Fellas podcast last year about the signing of Leandro Trossard from Brighton. Fast forward just over a year and those words carry even greater weight. Trossard has started the last four games ahead of Gabriel Martinelli, scoring three times in the process.

Prior to this, there was a lot of talk about Trossard’s prowess as a super sub, having scored six goals from the bench, more than any other player across the big five leagues in Europe. Personally, I don’t think he is more suited to being a substitute than a starter per se, I just think he was one of the best attackers in Europe regularly coming on as a substitute.

At 0.66 goals per 90, Trossard is Arsenal’s most prolific goal scorer, relatively speaking. Only Bukayo Saka has bettered his 15 strikes during this campaign. Given he comfortably lags Odegaard, Saka, Havertz and Martinelli for minutes played this season, it is no mean feat.

Trossard’s ability to play across the front line and play with both feet has made him an invaluable squad asset but he has made the left wing slot his own in recent weeks. Previously there had been misgivings about him playing in that position since he does not have Martinelli’s explosiveness in one-on-one situations.

However, I think the team has taken a step towards Trossard’s qualities in recent weeks. Wherever Trossard plays, his intention is to wander slightly. When he starts as a false 9, he drifts into wider areas. When Arsenal were 3-0 winners at Craven Cottage last season, Trossard started as a centre-forward but provided three assists, two of which were deliveries from the wide left (the other was a corner).

Occasionally, when starting games on the left wing, Trossard had a tendency to get lost because of his penchant for wandering inside. He is not really a wide player or a central player, he is a half space player. Just look at the positioning of his four most recent goals.

Most of them are shots taken from half spaces as opposed to central positions. They are all also first time strikes with him arriving onto the ball after good work from a colleague to set him up. The goals against Wolves and Bayern are similar because Gabriel Jesus nearly breaks himself in two creating the chances but when the time comes to finish, Trossard takes over and dispatches first time. That is probably how you would want that division of responsibility to look.

Similarly with his goal against Bournemouth, Declan Rice negotiates an assault course teeing up the situation and Trossard applies the bow and the whistle at the end of the move. While the Belgian is technically incredibly competent, really you want him on the end of moves, moving onto the ball for the final flourish, rather than in the build up.

It was much the same for Freddie Ljungberg, who was happy for Pires, Henry and Bergkamp to set the table before he applied the icing to the dessert. I think the team has taken a step towards Trossard for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Arteta has all but dispensed with Zinchenko at left-back. Tomiyasu and Kiwior are more ‘traditional’ in their approach to the left-back slot.

While neither is really in the Kieran Tierney mould of overlapping left-back, they do still play far wider than Zinchenko, which, I think, has given Trossard greater license to drift into those half spaces where he is most effective. His 16 goals this season have come from an XG of 8.9, making him the most efficient finisher in the team.

His ability to strike the ball with both feet is a big part of this and he has a very nice way of connecting with the ball, either by striking through the ball with his laces on his left foot, or else sweeping it in with his right foot. His finishes are usually low, hard and in the corner. Again, this is usually because his goals involve him arriving onto the ball without much need to take a touch or beat a man.

Trossard averages fewer touches per 90 than any Arsenal attacker other than Eddie Nketiah. I think he has found his niche a little as a finisher, especially while Arsenal are playing with this kind of midfield box shape, with Rice and Partey in the double pivot and Havertz and Odegaard playing as dual 10s.

Havertz’s stint at centre-forward is significant too in my view. While we have seen Jesus set up Trossard very nicely in recent weeks, Havertz’s is more inclined to run off the shoulder of the defender and in behind. While his physical presence occupies defenders when Arsenal have the ball out wide. I think Havertz’s presence also creates space for Trossard to be more of a finisher.

With Havertz dropping in next to Odegaard as a left 10, Trossard and Saka sit just wide of that magic square. With the quality in possession offered by Rice, Partey, Havertz and Odegaard, Trossard is freer to be an agent of chaos off the ball and to drift into goal scoring positions. Every attack needs a balance between strings and percussion. Right now, Trossard is banging the drum for regular inclusion.

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