Mikel Arteta’s most used Arsenal players and the clues it offers over his first-team squad plan
The resumption of the Premier League fixtures later this month is set to be a fascinating test for Mikel Arteta’s side.
The former Arsenal midfielder took over as manager in December last year, but the suspension of fixtures in mid-March prevented Arteta from kicking on with the early development of his squad.
Defensive fragilities under Unai Emery in the first part of the season plagued the rate at which Arsenal could challenge for Champions League qualification and a lack of cohesion throughout the team proved to be a major point of concern.
However, Arteta began to change some of those issues between late December and March. By using a core group of players to undergo such progression in subtle areas of performance, the Arsenal boss started to show how consistency and building partnerships on the pitch could be highly effective.
Victories over Manchester United, Everton and Newcastle United proved that, with a more measured approach shown under Arteta as opposed to the often directionless tactics employed by his predecessor Emery.
A total of 24 players have been used in the Premier League this season by both Arteta and Emery, but the most used players by the new Arsenal boss may indicate how the Gunners will line-up away to Manchester City when the season restarts on June 17.
Between the sticks, it stands to reason why Bernd Leno has been the most frequently used goalkeeper under Arteta. He has been a reliable shot-stopper this season but the question remains to be answered over whether or not he can adapt to the distribution levels demanded by Arteta but he stands as a good option right now.
The full-back predicament for Arteta is best illustrated by the fact that Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have both played five matches since the Spaniard’s arrival. At left-back, there is reason to believe that Bukayo Saka’s 678 league minutes under Arteta will continue to grow with the youngster impressing on the left side.
How Arsenal line up in central defence is something that will be under close consideration given that many fragilities under Emery stemmed from a constantly changing centre back partnership. Arteta has so far used David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi most often – the latter having not featured under Emery in the first half of the season. The ability to develop partnerships on the pitch is an important aspect and some consistency in selection may allow Arsenal’s defence to improve.
In midfield, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira have been the most frequently used pair in a double pivot and their involvements have been to the detriment of Matteo Guendouzi who has registered just 275 minutes since the new man arrived.
The way in which the manager sets them up from a tactical point of view could influence the personnel used, but the manner in which Xhaka and Torreira have been consistently selected may suggest how the Gunners will line up later this month.
The most used attackers used under Arteta differs minimally from his Spanish predecessor with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe all registering considerable amounts of minutes.
What will be interesting to watch, though, is the use of Mesut Ozil, who has featured in 10 league games for Arteta as opposed to just four with Emery. If the World Cup winner continues to be used under Arteta, we will most likely see the Gunners more fluid in attack with Ozil as the creator and the aforementioned three as direct threats in the final third.
While Arteta may have been consistent in his player selection before the suspension of fixtures in March, 100 days would have passed between Premier League matches by the time we return. As a result, it should be marked as a good opportunity for the entire squad to impress the manager in training and eventually on the pitch too.