Arsenal’s lack of squad depth is a myth. With multiple players now returning from injury, Arsene Wenger has an unprecedented array of options at his disposal.
In the weekend’s victory over Cardiff, Wenger was able to leave out experienced internationals such as Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott.
Increasingly, Wenger has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, particularly in the attacking midfield area. The likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey have regularly found themselves playing wide merely to accommodate as much talent as possible.
In order to facilitate all the attacking talent, the defensive midfield role has become increasingly integral to Arsenal’s style. At present, there are two men competing for that position: Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.
At Cardiff, Arteta was selected for the holding role. He was one of Arsenal’s best performers on the day, winning six of his seven attempted tackles. This Tackle graph demonstrates that particularly effective at providing cover for the attacking full-back Kieran Gibbs:
Arteta getting the nod to start alongside Aaron Ramsey meant that Flamini was forced to wait his turn on the bench. However, the Frenchman managed to make a significant impact on the game, scoring just nine minutes after being introduced as a substitute.
With crunch Premier League matches against Hull and Everton coming up, Arsene Wenger faces a difficult choice between Arteta and Flamini.
In the race for a starting spot, the two players are neck-for-neck and their records are almost identical.
Arteta is conventionally thought of as the more technically accomplished player. However, both men share a pass completion rate of 92 % over an average distance of 18 metres.
Surprisingly, Flamini has created more chances than the Spaniard. In his nine matches, he’s manufactured four goalscoring opportunities. In the same number of appearances, Arteta has only managed three.
Conversely, you would expect Flamini to dominate in the defensive department. Arteta is a converted playmaker, whereas the ex-Milan midfielder is widely perceived as a rugged grafter.
However, Arteta has actually won a marginally higher percentage of his duels.
The Spaniard has emerged victorious in 51% of his one-on-one battles, with Flamini on 44%.
The players’ indistinguishable records suggest that Wenger is in a privileged position: he can afford to rotate while still preserving his team’s defensive security. Both players are equally able at winning and distributing possession.
In some fixtures, Wenger has the option of fielding Flamini alongside Arteta, providing even more protection for his back four.
As Arsenal’s fixture list becomes increasingly intense, the ability to rotate in such an important part of the pitch could prove invaluable to the Gunners.
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