Julian Brandt: The dynamic midfielder Arsenal need next year
On Wednesday when Arsenal were getting thoroughly hammered by Wolves, there was one glaring deficiency in Arsenal’s attacking play. For all the possession they had they barely mustered a threatening chance on goal.
Part of the was in parcel down to the lack dynamism in the midfield. Mesut Özil for all his talent is and forever will be, a creative play maker. Having him come onto the ball from deep and dribble forward is not playing into his strengths.
What Arsenal were and will be missing, is what Aaron Ramsey brings to game when he and Özil share the pitch. The opposition have to account for both of them – one of them with the ball at the feet the other finding space to act as an option and outlet for the runner coming from deep.
It was evident Wednesday and every match in which Ramsey has been missing from the Arsenal lineup.
With the Welshman set to leave for Italy once this season closes, Arsenal have no one on the roster who can bring that dynamism to the field. That’s where Julian Brandt comes in.
Brandt, sometimes called the “baby faced jewel, got his start at the youth ranks of SC Borgfeld, the club his father (and agent) Jurgen is a coach at. After nine successful years developing a love of the game, the Bremen native moved on FC Oberneuland.
It was during that time that he came to the attention of VFL Wolfsburg and at the end of the 2011 season, he moved to the Wolfsburg’s youth academy where he scored 27 goals over the course of 48 games.
In the 13/14 season, Brandt would leave Wolfsburg for Leverkusen and make 12 appearances netting two goals and three assists. Since then he has racked up over 100 Bundesliga appearances and has appeared in the Champions League 21 times – and he’s only 23.
Playing strengths and weaknesses
Brandt is a versatile midfielder and can play across the entirety of the midfield, either out wide or centrally. To start the 2018/2019 former Leverkusen coach deployed him primarily on the wing with limited success, however.
In the set up of the time, Leverkusen’s front there were often disconnected, and Brandt struggled. In 1v1 situations, he was often left out wide on his own, where defenders could make him predictable and take away his threat on the ball.
When Peter Bosz took over the team in the middle of the season, he realised how Brandt was being incorrectly used and moved him centrally to act as an 8, pairing him with Kai Havertz.
Playing alongside Havertz in the midfield, Brandt’s natural strengths have come to the forefront. He has freedom now to roam the midfield playing off of Havertz and combining to open up opposition players.
The move to the 8 role for Brandt has resulted in him going from creating 2.4 chances per game under Herrlich’s system to 4.0 chances per match under Bosz. He has also seen his output improve and now has seven goals and 12 assists in all competitions.
The way he plays the game when you watch him is effortless. He is blessed with an ungodly touch and speed of thought that makes him seemingly float through the midfield. To look at him, your initial impression would be not that of a naturally gifted footballer. In fact it would be quite the opposite.
When thinking about whom to compare Brandt to in the current Arsenal squad, the first thought is to do a like for like comparison with his German compatriot – Mesut Özil. However, given the versatility Brandt provides his manager, you could also look at Mkhitaryan or in the case of this article what we are losing in Aaron Ramsey.
While the stats tend to show the difference between the two players, it does show you Brandt is much more involved in the build-up and creative play than Ramsey is. And that is understandable given that Brandt plays a few different roles for Leverkusen. The point isn’t to say Brandt is better than Ramsey, its only to highlight that he can add another dynamic to our midfield – one that is sorely missing especially when Ramsey is injured or out for other reasons.
We admit there is a bit of a flaw in reading this data. Part of that is the fact that Brandt has played over 1000 more minutes more than Ramsey. Combine that with Brandt’s movement across the Leverkusen midfield and it possibly creates a more favourable picture.
What the stats do show, however, is that the kid from Bremen can be an in influence in a midfield that currently is struggling to influence games. Mesut Özil still remains an amazing player but too many times he has to come deep to get the ball that he is useless in this team.
In Ramsey’s best season with Arsenal, it was his runs and movement off of Özil that helped him the most. It also helped Özil rack up the assists. You could say that Brandt is more like Özil in his creative output and that wouldn’t be wrong. However, Brandt’s dribbling ability gives him something the German doesn’t have and that is the ability to beat someone 1v1 and then make the critical pass.
With that dribbling ability and Özil’s ability to find gaps between the opposition lines, Arsenal could reinvigorate an attack that is currently devoid of ideas (see Wolves away for proof.)
However, if you want to look beyond the confines of Arsenal, you can look to Manchester City and see what they have done with Bernardo Silva and it’s impact he has had. Like Brandt, he was played as a winger but wasn’t as effective as he could be. Pep turned him into an 8 and the output profile for Silva is similar to that of Brandt (or vice versa depending on your POV.)
The net result is that Bernardo has become almost a man for all seasons as he’s technically and tactically smart enough to play on either flank, #10, #8 and even at right wing back to help the team. With Brandt, we get a similar player and we could definitely use that level of consistency
A lot of hay has already been made about much Arsenal have to spend this summer. None of the stories are really consistent but the reality is with players going out and some sales, Arsenal will have some ability to bring in quality players. Brandt is one of those players.
Part of that value is up now because of his recently extended contract which would see him stay at Leverkusen through 2021. However, the release clause on the player sits at a paltry £25m. For a player of his ability that would be an outright steal.
He has in the past attracted interest from Liverpool. Juventus and Real Madrid. And he could very well again, though Liverpool are thought to have moved on. What Arsenal can offer him is immediate playing time. Without a doubt he could slot into this XI right away and be an instant impact player.
Of course, there might be the issue of not having a real feel of the German market any more with Sven gone but Brandt is too big a name for us to not have some idea of what it would take to get him.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Arsenal is that for the most part the players we have here wind up being class individuals. They are players that trough their actions, even off the pitch make you proud of the club and the fact they play for it.
Sure, we have had our fair share of Bad Boys but Brandt would be a wonderful addition to the many players who’ve graced our sidelines and shown a consistent level of class off the pitch.
Since turning pro he has bought a home for his family to treating everyone exactly the same, the growing star remains grounded and humble, something missing from today’s modern players.
“We used to live in a terraced house in Bremen,” Brandt told German publication Bild. “That was a little too small for us five, but we loved it. When I earned enough money as a young professional, I bought my family a bigger house five minutes away. That was a matter of the heart for me. It will never happen that my parents or brothers have to pay bills – I could never allow that.”
“In the end, money is just a number in an account that definitely doesn’t make you a better person,” Brandt told Bild. “Everyone, including a footballer, has the right to treat themselves to something: a car, a smart watch. You can treat yourself as long as you behave normally with other people. You should say ‘hello’, ‘good day’, and not be snobby.”
And even though he remains centred, he is as ambitious as the next player setting his sights as high as they come. While he put off previous moves to bigger clubs, he aims for the top of everything a player can achieve. And it is only a matter of time before he is moved away from Germany to ply his trades under the brightest of lights.
We are already witnessing what we are losing with Aaron Ramsey being out to injury. However, Julian Brandt offers an instant replacement who may offer us more than the even the Welshman provides us.
Obviously the step up to the PL would be a challenge for any player, but Brandt is one of those that looks capable of making a difference anywhere he goes. Whether it’s replacing the driving force of Ramsey, supplementing the creativity of Özil or replacing the likes of Mkhi or Iwobi on the wings, Brandt is a versatile option regardless of what our needs in attack are.
Given Arsenal’s struggle in progressing from back to front against organised sides, his pace through the lines and imagination could help unlock defensive shapes that have continued to give Arsenal problems in Unai Emery’s first season at the club. When one factors in his reasonable £20m release clause, his appeal to the club only becomes more obvious.