How could Saka’s new position help Aubameyang?
In Arsenal’s recent behind-closed-doors friendly against Brentford, it looked like Bukayo Saka started the game playing on the left of a midfield three instead of his usual left-wing or left wing-back berth.
This raises an interesting conundrum as to whether Arteta is preparing to change his position yet again and what the reasons for that could be.
Modern football’s newest trend?
An emerging trend in modern football is what I’ll call the overlapping interior midfielder.
These are central midfielders, that usually play on either side of a midfield three, who overlap the winger to allow them to take up positions closer to goal.
We are in a time where many teams’ largest source of goals come from the flanks rather than the prototypical central striker.
Different managers have tried different ideas on how to maximise the potential of their wide forwards and over the last few years, this has proven to be effective.
Straight from the school of Pep
The first good example of this is Kevin De Bruyne – the mercurial Belgian is constantly making overlapping runs around either Riyad Mahrez or Bernardo Silva that allows him to put dangerous balls into the box.
De Bruyne’s assist position chart is a true testament to this and shows just how lethal his delivery is from this position.
Another good example is Jordan Henderson – Liverpool’s captain numerously makes the same runs around Mohammed Salah.
Henderson’s runs and the constantly onrushing Trent Alexander-Arnold means Salah isn’t tasked with the tactical shackles of holding as much width.
How could this help Aubameyang?
A good hypothesis for this could be to further accommodate Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang – who has been a mainstay as a left forward in Arteta’s short reign so far.
The logic of playing Aubameyang wide is polarising but it’s arguable that having him in a position that allows him to constantly face the game is actually beneficial to him.
Not playing as the focal point central striker means Aubameyang is spared from the dirty work that comes with it.
He won’t have to drop into pockets, play with his back to goal, link up play, chase dead-end balls into the channels, etc.
Instead, he’s able to play off of another striker and make runs from deeper positions into dangerous spaces between the wing-back and centre-back.
A passage of play that was perfectly shown by his goal against Everton.
Is Saka capable?
The real question is how can we give Aubameyang the freedom to find these spaces more often?
Saka has proven that his delivery is top class this season and his ability to play in tight spaces is also impressive. When looking at how De Bruyne and Henderson achieve this, it does seem that Saka ticks similar boxes.
This system could resemble something of a 4-3-3 that fluidly changes into a 4-2-2-2 as Saka makes wide runs. This is something that could help break teams down because the movement would be potentially harder to track.
If it is the case that Arteta is entertaining the idea of moving Saka into midfield, it could be exciting to see how that could affect the rest of the team and the system we play moving forward.
Switching things up to help Aubameyang get into more and better goalscoring positions should be one of the main aims of the team as Project Restart approaches and if we can achieve that goal, it would certainly give us a big advantage in the remaining games of the season.