Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta must make Houssem Aouar plan with one ace to aid Man City change

In an ideal world, Arsenal would have been able to stump up the cash to sign both Houssem Aouar and Thomas Partey in the final days of the summer transfer window. It was repeatedly claimed that Mikel Arteta is said to be in love with the talents of Lyon creator Aouar, who he planned to give a Kevin De Bruyne-like role at the Emirates.

But the Gunners only had cash to sign one – although even signing just Partey from Atletico Madrid for £45million must be stressed was a significant coup – and so a renewed pursuit for France international Aouar will have to wait a year.

In the meantime, however, Arteta may have a solution to providing greater creativity from midfield already.

Partey’s arrival at Arsenal is expected to coincide with a switch to a 4-3-3, or the Ghanaian should at least allow Arteta adopt his favoured formation more consistently.

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After doing away with a 4-2-3-1, the Spanish coach has most commonly utilised a 3-4-3 with Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos in the middle since the Premier League’s restart.

Now, he is likely to move towards a system he knows so well, having coached Manchester City’s players to work in Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3.

And in the formation he has long been expected to deploy after giving up his job at City to return to Arsenal, Partey would command the No 6 role over Granit Xhaka.

The 27-year-old’s capability to burst forward through the lines with the ball, as well as offer greater protection for the back-line, makes him the best option for the job despite the Swiss’ long balls.

Ceballos would seemingly be used as the ball-winning No 8 with the final midfield role being the most attack-minded, a hybrid between a No 8 and a No 10.

And there is one player in Arsenal’s squad who could perform that role perfectly: Bukayo Saka.

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With Mesut Ozil in exile and expected to be left out of the club’s 25-man Premier League squad, Saka is Arsenal’s most creative player.

His tally of 11 assists was the most of any Arsenal player last season and of players from the Premier League, only Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and City talisman De Bruyne managed more across all competitions.

Saka has primarily been deployed as a left-sided wide player, mixing between left-back, left wing-back and left wing roles under Arteta.

But Arteta has also used him centrally on occasion, doing so in the north London outfit’s last outing, a 2-1 win over Sheffield United at the Emirates in which the hosts set up ina 4-3-3.

With Mohamed Elneny at the base of midfield, Ceballos and Saka were deployed either side and the 19-year-old went on to open the scoring with a second-half header.

It was the ideal way for the Arsenal academy graduate to sign off with the Gunners before heading to join up with the England national team for the first time.

While he was somewhat quiet in the first half, the more Saka got the ball in the second half, the better Arsenal were.

His movement off of it, dropping into spaces to pick up the ball, combined with his drives forward on it were a real problem for the Blades.

Saka regularly peeled off to the left-hand side he knows so well but he has the tactical nous to know when to come into central midfield and when to drift out wide.

He boasts incredible maturity for his age and often appears one of the calmest and most composed players on the pitch.

It’s no wonder he’s being tipped for such a huge future, having signed a new five-year deal in north London back in July.


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“Bukayo is a talented and intelligent young player. He has impressed me with his work ethic and attitude to learn and adapt, and it has paid off in his performances,” Arteta said then. 

“I am excited to continue working with him to develop him further, and for him to help us achieve our goals.”

Arteta admitted earlier this year that he is waiting to find out which position suits Saka the best.

And perhaps the soon-to-be full England international has found it. He may not be as natural an attacking central midfielder as Aouar, but he has the talents to make the role his own.

In a 4-3-3, the left-back and left-wing roles are already filled, by Kieran Tierney and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang respectively.

But other than Ceballos, who appears best used as a box-to-box midfielder whose main focus is pressing the opposition and linking the play between the defence, midfield and attack, there is no real competition for the advanced midfield role that offers more freedom to get into the final third.

Who better than Saka to fill it, with his creativity and goalscoring threat making him one of Arsenal’s most exciting players before he even leaves his teenage years.

With Partey providing greater cover for the back four, Arteta might be able to give Saka greater licence to roam in midfield and that can only spell danger for Arsenal’s opponents.

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