Eddie in the middle

Following up on the last post about Arsenal’s declining defensive prowess I wanted to have a discussion about Nketiah and my impression of the role he plays for Arsenal. Since it’s this year’s theme to suggest Martinelli should play through the middle instead of Eddie I’ll also talk about that topic. And along the way, we’ll see just how incredibly good Gabriel Jesus is.

The data shows that Eddie doesn’t make as many tackles as Jesus, doesn’t have as many touches, doesn’t have as many key passes, and doesn’t have anywhere near the same number of overall passes. My initial reaction to this was that the least he could do is tackle more, harass more, and maybe he could give more effort there. But I think his touches and tackles are related because Jesus’ defense is triggered off him either losing the ball or helping to try to win the ball back when it’s mispassed to him. In other words, since we press from the top, because we trigger our first line of defense off losing the ball up top, and Jesus is far more integrated into the attack for Arsenal than Eddie, then Jesus’ defensive numbers are going to be higher than Eddie’s. This also explains why Arsenal’s defense and attack have dropped a bit in the last few weeks. It’s not just simply about effort.

So, what is the solution? Well, that’s a situation where it’s either nothing can be done or it’s on Arteta to find a solution. On the first thing, I think we just need to accept that Eddie is doing the best he can. He’s the guy we have and I don’t see lack of effort or commitment on his part. He gets a lot of good chances (especially the last two games) and is just a little bit off with his final shot, either rushing it or trying to hit it too hard.

Some folks like to say that THE skill for a striker is just getting the shot and while that’s important, it’s obviously simplistic reductionism and not the entire skill for a striker. Ian Wright talks about learning to finish and the hours and hours that he and guys like Bergkamp and Henry put in to learning how to control the spin of the ball, how to see the ball, the goal, the keeper, and learning different ways to put the ball into the back of the net from the same situation. That way when they got into that position to get that shot, they could finish. They practiced finishing because finishing is a skill.

With Eddie, you can see that he gets into the positions: 1.6 xG over the last two matches, 1.9 xG against Man U, 1.4 against Spurs. He only scored 2 goals in those 4 matches (both against United) and there have been quite a few chances which I think he’s wasted with poor shot selection. I assume he’s practicing, that the coaching staff are working on this with him, and that this will get better over time. Or maybe it won’t and he will turn out like many other strikers but for now, he’s the player we have and I’m choosing to support him.

The other thing, about his involvement in the buildup play is also an issue. Jesus is a ball to feet type of forward. He loves the ball, he wants to turn and take on defenders, force them into a bad challenge and either get buy them or draw the foul. When he collects deep, he’s adept at turning defenders if they get too close to him and that gives him a little extra space to receive and then to turn and find forward options (usually on the left).

With Eddie you don’t get hardly any of that. When he drops deep to offer an outlet it’s almost always for a back pass. When he does hold the ball up high he rarely turns and attacks. I have seen him take on defenders and I’m impressed when he does but it’s not nearly as effective and dangerous as Jesus.

I think there’s a little bit of hesitancy on his part at times. Arsenal play an ambitious type of football and maintaining high possession is super important to our game. And the stakes are incredibly high right now for Arsenal, we are in 1st place and trying to win our first League title since 2004. It’s natural for an inexperienced player to be wary of trying to do too much, of making mistakes which will put his teammates under pressure and potentially hurt his own chances of starting. Asking him to get more involved in the attack might blow up in our face, or he could just take the opportunity with both hands and run with it (literally!). It’s just going to have to be something that him, the team, and the manager all work out.

One thing to notice is how often he gets fouled. Since center backs aren’t as afraid of him turning them, they are getting touch tight with him whenever he drops to collect. For now (until the refs decide to stop calling it) this results in a lot of fouls from behind. He’s a tough player and he’s taking those kicks and getting up and going again, time and again. It’s no small feat. Imagine Tyrone Mings kneeing you in the anus 10 times a game*.

He’s also unpredictably good in the air (he’s not dominant, but he’s not terrible) both with his physical leap and his intelligence to know when to leap. Because of this and his ability to take punishment, when Arsenal need to go long, he provides an outlet. And because of his intelligence in the air, on corners and crosses he gets chances (he’s 3rd on the team behind Jesus and Gabriel in headed shots).

Like the way he gets chances and the kicking he takes, these are important factors when you think about whether or not Arsenal should just drop him and pick a different player to try in that position.

Suggesting Martinelli should start in the CF role over Eddie has a solid logical foundation: Martinelli is a good dribbler and is relied upon to collect and attack in the wide areas where he was effective earlier in the season. These are two of the important qualities that Jesus brings to the party and against the low block defenses it makes sense to pick a dribbler who can cause chaos. There have been several matches this season where Eddie was basically blanked because the opponents were able to double-team the players on the wings, deny him service, and he wasn’t aggressive enough collecting and dribbling at them (Bodo Glimt, Everton, Brentford).

Martinelli is also more creative than Eddie: Nelli has 39 key passes (none from corners yet), Nketiah 6. So, not only can he collect and dribble, he can also find a teammate. And Martinelli is an active presser and high-pitch defender. Because he’s higher-touch than Eddie, he could help start Arsenal’s counter-press more effectively. That could be super important going down the stretch.

But Nelli isn’t as strong as Nketiah in the air and on the ground, and doesn’t get himself into scoring positions as instinctually as Eddie does. It’s also true to say that Arteta tried Martinelli in the middle against Chelsea last year and it was a disaster (0 shots, 11 touches in 78 minutes), that doesn’t mean that you should never try it again, but rather that you can see why Arteta is hesitant.

That’s how crazy good Jesus is. He’s not only Arsenal’s best dribbler, taken the most shots, and created the most chances, but he also leads Arsenal in headed shots (and goals), takes the most fouls, and is an incredibly active forward defender. He can drop deep to collect, he can fight in the air, he can be an outlet higher up the pitch, he can turn and dribble, he can pass and move, he can get himself chances, and he can create for others. He would be the whole package if he was a better finisher. Replacing Jesus is impossible with just one of the guys we have. What we have are two guys who do parts of what he does but no complete single guy.

That said, things have grown stagnant these last few weeks. What I think might work well is to mix it up a little bit. Arsenal are fairly predictable in our attack and our defense is a bit lax over the last 5 games. If Arteta is hesitant to start Nelli at CF why not use Trossard? He has experience as a CF. You could start him there and have him swap with Martinelli in the middle to get some experience and throw the opponents some curve balls. And if that’s not working bring on Nketiah for his strength and poaching? Or even vice-versa.

Bottom line for me is that I see the value Nketiah and Martinelli bring to the team. Neither player, however, is the second coming of Jesus. But I do think we need to look at some different formations because I think we’ve become slightly predictable in our attack again.

Up next, Arsenal play Leicester in the League and it’s a must-win game if we want to stay on top. Brendan Rogers gets a lot of stick from us supporters but he’s an intelligent coach who will have seen what Brentford and Everton did and have a good game plan against us. I wonder if Arteta might try something slightly different in this match?


*I believe the full quote is “If you want an image of the future, imagine Tyrone Mings kneeing you in the coccyx over and over again, forever”.


  1. I think your analysis is spot on, Tim. The criticism of Nketiah since his goal drought is over the top and it’s not his fault that he doesn’t have Jesús’ full set of skills. To be fair, he has exceeded my expectations since he’s come in – albeit not too much recently. As you observe, our attack has become somewhat predictable and too easily blunted over the last few games.

    I am not convinced that Martinelli up the middle is the solution – his creative and dribbling numbers are indeed better than Eddie’s but that’s because he’s been playing on the wing and cutting inside. It’s a different ball game when you are stuck in the middle with a big centre back with his hand down the back of your shorts and an arm across your neck, and Martinelli was, as you note, underwhelming when played up the middle.

    However, I like your suggestion of giving Eddie a break (he does look knackered late in every game) and playing Trossard up the middle to interchange with Martinelli – this would freshen up our attack by at least giving a bit more variety than Rodgers is expecting. Trossard was disappointing and was himself clearly disappointed after his last start against Villa so should be highly motivated to make an impact tomorrow.


  2. As one could conclude from this excellent post, Jesus is far better than Eddie who is an excellent player. There is however a serious gap between those two players. A logical conclusion could be: let’s hire a better replacement for our star forward. I think that is quite difficult: the market for forwards is quite narrow and any forward better than Eddie would expect to play every weekend. I guess City cannot replace Haaland, man to man, without a drop in quality. Same for PSG and Mbappé, Barca and Lewandowski, United and Rashford, Madrid and Benzema… As you wrote Tim, the coach will have to be creative.

  3. My argument, made repeatedly here, is that Eddie and Nelli arent either/or. It’s the supplemental.

    We seemingly havent been able to sub Eddie out of games he’s not impacting. Switch it up tactically up front. And i humbly suggest that that is the real problem. Jesus is a long way away from returning to the grind of a title run in. We cant run Eddie into the ground for 90 minutes every game. Weve got to find an alternative, and the alternative may be Gabi 11. No one is arguing that he would play the role perfectly, but he has attributes, like an insane engine that can burn defences late in games. Let the CBs try geting touch tight on Martinelli. You assess Martinelli’s attributes fairly and well here, but the Chelsea game is a sample size of one.

    What some of us are suggesting is not the reductive Gabi or Eddie… it’s letting Eddie remain the main man till Jesus can be properly competitive, and letting him job share with G11. Move the latter inside late in games, or bring him on for Eddie if he’s not starting.

    Eddie doesn’t seem like the type of player who dusts off misses and buries one in the 94th. In fact, if he’s not with it, he looks more ineffectual as the games goes on. Which is his cue i guess to make me look stupid and bury a 95th minute header next game. I can wouldn’t mind if he did.

    Jesus? We are safest assuming that we don’t have him for the run in at all, and adjusting accordingly. We need to be able to switch things up up front.

  4. Very good analysis Tim. However after both the city n villa game, knowing the results, I re watched both. In these 2 games there was ample opportunity for Eddie to press their keeper’s at pace( at least 3 times in both matches he had the opportunity to do so) I saw Eddie literally ambling towards the oppos goalies rather than busting a gut to close them down. Maybe he’s feeling the pace. I don’t know?

    1. Didn’t he make the chance for odegaard by closing down though. From memory he’s created more chances doing that than most players I’ve seen ..

  5. Feng he did indeed but if you get the chance to watch both games again (I know too much time on my hands) you’ll see v city esp 1st half 3 times he ambled up to the city goalie allowing him to pass out or clear with ease. Saying that I’m predicting he’ll be on the score sheet today

  6. While all the things said above are valid, it’s also worth remembering this is a young man shouldering the burden of being first choice striker for the first time in his career, and in a high pressure situation no less. I think we can all see that the talent is there, the physicality is there. We are blessed to have Eddie. But it’s a ruthless old game and results are everything.

    One of the other things Gabby J brings is his experience playing for a title chasing side season after season. Having the skills and tools is just one aspect. Having the mental calm to apply them in high leverage situations is another. The latter is where young players often falter.

  7. Well I thought this would be a difficult game against a resurgent Leicester, but having seen the team news I’m relieved. No James Maddison! They are a different side without him. They still have enough skill to cause problems at times but they have been in relegation form when playing without their talisman.

    I also think we have key advantages because of their style of play. They like to pass it out from the back, which means we won’t be seeing the hoof it long strategy encountered at Everton and Brentford. Even if they tried it, Ihenacho would be swallowed up physically by any one of Saliba, Gabriel or White. Essentially, they want to play the same type of game we do but we are just miles better at it.

    Predicting 3-0 to the Arsenal.

    1. It really does. And I liked his solution – Trossard is more like Jesus than Eddie, and the improvement in movement in the final third was visible. Eddie still has a role, but I agree with your last few posts that if he wants to live as a fox-in-the-box (which is a good role for his skillset), the finishing has to go up a level.

  8. Rough on Nketiah, but he hasn’t been producing and that’s what it’s about in that role. OToH, Martinelli isn’t looking great this match either.
    If something doesn’t happen pretty soon, I’d be subbing Eddie in and moving Trossard wide.
    And I’m 100% fine with the that VAR reversal. Didn’t see it at all initially, but White was clearly holding the keeper’s arm. We maybe could have/should have had that one given for a foul on Saka, but that was much less clear.

  9. Leicester created ONE shot in this game, at home. Not one shot on target. One shot, period. 0.01xG, the lowest total from a single match since the stat started to be recorded. Clearly the focus has been tightening up at the back this week, and did we ever.

    Offensively I thought we looked strangely discombobulated. Too many bad touches, unsure passes, wrong decisions by everybody, none more so than Xhaka who could and perhaps should have set up two goals in the first few minutes. There were too few runs from the inside channels again and players taking a fraction too long to decide to pass or shoot causing potential goals to turn into blocks. Need more decisiveness and quicker passing. This Leicester side were there to be taken today. We made hard work of it, but the 3 points are in the bag and that is what matters.

    Huge credit to Martinelli for that perfect run and far post finish. That’s world class stuff. That’s why he has to start. I enjoyed the return of the LW-CF positional exchange between him and Trossard as well, and that is exactly how he got his goal.

    1. Thierryesque run and finish in the inside left channel.

      Play the kid centrally more, man! 🙂

      Gabi is one of our better finishers. He’ll get goals playing central. Dunno if the positional swap was tactical or just in-game movement by the players, but what about the nutmeg assist into the run. Whew!

      We were terrific in defence today. Another brick in the wall.

  10. I think it was more trossard playing false 9, with him & martinelli switching.
    I think 10 is trossard’s best position (behind a mobile 9) with the false 9 a close 2nd.

    He can do feints & pass to create space & I think he is quite aggressive (like how laca used to fight in the position).

    I also think he is our best shooter now. Wish we had a ball carrying 8 like anguissa (Odegaard seems averse to doing it).

    Our Leicester dominance reminded me of the Brentford away match (won 3 nil). Our shooting was quite poor yesterday.
    On to Everton.

  11. as for the thread, i think eddie has done okay but he’s knackered and has been for the past few weeks. it’s the reason why i was clamoring for arsenal to sign another center forward, preferably on loan, during the january window. tony, i don’t expect him to chase every ball; he knows he has to run the full 90 every game.

    the trossard move to center forward was a good idea. trossard is a flat-out baller. he played center forward when we played brighton earlier this season but i don’t recall him being remarkable…..but arsenal were dominant.

    one difference between eddie and jesus is that, while both are center forwards, jesus played for the manager who made the false 9 en vogue again after it lie dormant for 20 or so years. jesus can do both.

    where i disagree with tim, is when he says eddie’s turns aren’t as good as jesus’. that’s just untrue. eddie, arguably, has the coldest turn in the league. defenders know this and give him an extra couple of yards. they know if they get too close, eddie will roll them up and smoke them, cheech and chong style.

  12. as for martinelli playing center forward, it’s simply a bad idea, primarily because it doesn’t allow the kid to do what he’s good at. a good center forward, according to the book of joshuad, is able to win and keep the ball high up the pitch, bringing others into the play. if you can’t do that, you can’t play center forward.

    martinelli is a head-down dribbler. i’ve never seen an effective head-down center forward. if you remember in the game yesterday, there was an entry ball played into trossard who did a clever back-heel to martinelli. in typical martinelli fashion, he took like 5 touches on the ball to settle the ball and figure out what to do next before attempting a chip to saka that he overhit and it went out for a goal kick. that was a snap shot of what martinelli could do with his back to goal as a center forward.

    more significantly, despite scoring the game-winner in the last two matches, martinelli has not been playing well. the last thing one should do is burden a young player who’s not playing well with having to learn the nuances of playing an incredibly demanding and unfamiliar position, especially when they’re not playing well. this could completely bury his confidence of such a young player. let him figure out how to be good at what he’s been good at all year….and let him grow up a little bit more. then, maybe, try something new.

  13. @joshuad
    I agree on martinelli. His head down dribbling slows the game down when he could see an early pass.

    This brings me to something else.
    I thought we were more like Liverpool in the way we attacked with intensity (before the world cup), hitting teams early. Now we are slower.
    When was the last time we created a tap in chance (like City) or hit teams fast (like Liverpool) to get one on one with the goalkeeper?

    We seem to overcomplicate chance creation like @Doc alluded to earlier.

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