Pre-season is a vital period for clubs and their managers to make the key decisions for their squads and starting XIs before the campaign begins.
Yet with mere hours left ahead of the opening game, Mikel Arteta appears none the wiser about who his best option in the right-back position will be.
Right-back is an area of the pitch which seemed to be one needing work. football.london understood that earlier in the window Arsenal were targeting both full-back positions as areas of investment. Nuno Tavares was signed from Benfica, but Hector Bellerin’s future has remained unresolved. Links with a move away to Inter Milan emerged but the Nerazzurri have since moved onto Denzel Dumfries.
This, combined with further options in the role having been experimented with throughout preseason, has left Arsenal supporters scratching their heads as to who will take up the position on Friday.
Bellerin, Cedric Soares, Calum Chambers, and the versatile Ainsley Maitland-Niles have all occupied the position in varying levels of frequency this summer. Yet, there remains an argument that any of the four could yet earn the call-up.
The Spain international, despite being the most likely to depart of the four this summer, was selected by Arteta to start the final game of pre-season in the 1-0 loss to Spurs.
It is worth noting that the score remained goalless during his time on the field, however, Bellerin was uninspiring in the final third. He looked sluggish in keeping up with attacks. A huge contrast to the Bellerin of old, prior to his serious knee injury, of whom the right-winger could almost pass blindly to their right knowing the former Barcelona youth product would have galloped up the field with the play.
When in the advanced positions, his deliveries were tame. A couple of lofted balls that only found a Tottenham head and a low cross that failed to beat the first man.
Comparatively, on the opposite flank, Kieran Tierney was as consistent as ever. Six crosses were attempted with three being successful. Notably, they drifted much deeper into the penalty area, bypassing the first man time after time.
Additionally, the crosses were far more driven, not lacking purpose like Bellerin’s. Arsenal need a right-back who can offer this same attacking verve on the right as their Scottish star, but the alternatives to Bellerin aren’t wildly better.
Arguably one of the more popular fan choices out of the four is Chambers. Having recovered from a knee injury towards the end of last season, the former Southampton man impressed as Arteta’s first-choice right-back. He improved the team defensively on the right-flank and surprised supporters with the quality of his deliveries.
Against Spurs, he played the last 30 minutes as a right-sided centre-back. A position that is certainly his strongest. Lacking the blistering pace to burst up the flank, Chambers too can leave his associated right-winger isolated.
Playing against Chelsea in the Mind Series, Chambers didn’t enjoy the most successful of games in the full-back role. Perhaps why Arteta chose not to use the 26-year-old in the final test of the season. His three crosses missed their mark and even defensively he won just one of the four defensive duels he was involved in.
Third lies the enigmatic Portuguese international Cedric. Yet another former Southampton full-back, having initially joined on a six-month loan which was made permanent last summer, Cedric fulfilled a backup role for both full-back positions. Yet, he could never impress enough to convince Arteta to put faith in him. In fact, Cedric disappeared entirely from the Spaniard’s plans at the end of the 2020/21 season.
Despite this, football.london understands that Cedric has impressed Arsenal’s coaches throughout pre-season, with suggestions he was being thought of as the starter for the Brentford match.
However, an unused substitute in the 2-1 loss to Chelsea followed by a 12-minute cameo against Spurs in the final two matches of preparation, indicates a possible start would not be in Arteta’s mind. There have been some links regarding a loan move to the Turkish side Fenerbahce, but reports indicate no offer has yet been made despite the genuine interest.
Finally is Maitland-Niles. Sent on loan to West Brom in January, the Hale End graduate was likely not in the minds of many prior to the weekend’s friend North London Derby. Coming on to replace Bellerin, he slotted in at right-back in an intriguing move by Arteta.
Playing in the role for 18 minutes prior to Cedric’s introduction, he then shifted into the midfield role which notably he appears to prefer. He failed to show any assertiveness to offer what Bellerin couldn’t and arguably offered even less, a likely reason for Cedric’s introduction, giving him little weight in the argument for Friday.
What is important to consider also is the opponent. Brentford’s left flank of Rico Henry and one of Sergi Canos or Tariqe Fosu – although the former is most likely. Henry’s strengths are more so in the defensive third, he is an excellent reader of the game, intercepting passes consistently to prevent quick turnovers. Henry can and does get forward although his two assists last season are representative of this being an area of development for the 24-year-old.
Canos though is not a player to underestimate. A tricky, versatile player, whoever Arteta chooses in the right-back role will need to be disciplined, sound defensively, and ideally have the recovery pace for when the counter is on.
Taking everything into account, a decision in favour of Chambers appears the most sensible. Although, this does not rule out any of the other three options from being selected, as is the unpredictability of this position for Arsenal.
Which right-back would start against Brentford? Follow our new Arsenal Fan Brands Writer Tom Canton to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
Source by Football London