The one position Man Utd, Arsenal & the Premier League’s top six can improve in
Posted On March 22, 2019
With the January transfer window now open, Goal looks at where Liverpool, Tottenham, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United need to strengthen
The January transfer window is now open, and although not all of the Premier League’s top six will be willing to accept the inflated mid-season prices, now is a good time to assess the first half of the campaign – and highlight which position each of the six clubs should look to improve.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s arrival from Stoke City has injected much-needed creativity into the Liverpool attack, helping Jurgen Klopp’s side to bridge the gap between combative central midfielders and their three forwards.
However, Shaqiri generally plays on the right wing and isn’t quite good enough to start week in, week out; Liverpool could do with a proper No.10 to make Klopp’s new 4-2-3-1 work even better.
Roberto Firmino is currently deployed as a No.10 when Liverpool go 4-2-3-1, but the Brazilian doesn’t quite have an Ozil-like ability to turn in possession, slink away from danger, and slip a pass through the eye of a needle.
On occasion, Firmino has successfully linked the midfield and attack, most notably in the 3-0 win at Watford, when he dropped deep to work through Watford’s narrow shell and set up the second-half opener.
But Firmino doesn’t perform this function often enough, while his hat-trick against Arsenal reaffirms the Brazilian is best utilised as a No.9.
Suggested signing: Nabil Fekir
Three of Tottenham’s five Premier League defeats have come against fellow top-six sides – namely Man City, Liverpool, and Arsenal – and on each occasion Mauricio Pochettino’s side were outbattled in the centre of the park.
Fernandinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Lucas Torreira dominated those matches, suggesting all Spurs need is a combative midfielder capable of winning the 50-50s and weaving away from danger in congested central areas.
That man used to be Moussa Dembele, but age (and injuries) have caught up with Belgian. Eric Dier is too flat-footed for high-octane top-six clashes and Moussa Sissoko is too all-action – and clumsy on the ball – to adapt to this role.
All three of the players mentioned above performed poorly in those three big defeats.
Suggested signing: Frenkie de Jong
The emerging defensive issues resulting from Fernandinho’s absence aren’t likely to be solved in January and for the time being Man City should be able to cope without signing a new defensive midfielder.
However, their problem in the middle does help illuminate an even bigger issue for Pep Guardiola: neither Benjamin Mendy nor Fabian Delph are good enough defensively to prevent City from being hit on the counter.
Mendy’s crossing has added a new dimension to City’s attack, but he is too sloppy defensively. The Frenchman is an erratic presence who seems unable to follow the rigid structures Guardiola demands of him, while Delph just doesn’t have the positional awareness etched into the muscle memory of a natural left-back.
The result isn’t just a vulnerability down City’s left; often Aymeric Laporte is forced to come out wide to help out, which in turn creates a gap in the middle that only Fernandinho can fill.
City’s current sticky patch began with a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge when N’Golo Kante repeatedly broke forward into space beyond Delph, forcing his fellow defenders to charge out of position and thus destabilising their shape.
Unlike Kyle Walker, who doesn’t get enough credit for the way he juggles a dual role of wing-back and inverted right-back, Delph and Mendy cannot adhere to Guardiola’s complex demands.
Suggested signing: David Alaba
While new signing Christian Pulisic won’t be arriving at Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund until the end of the season, Alvaro Morata seems unlikely to remain past January, let alone until the end of the season, and despite Olivier Giroud’s excellent relationship with Eden Hazard, Maurizio Sarri does not appear to fully trust the Frenchman.
Simply put, Chelsea need more goals in the team: they’ve scored 38 so far, which is 0.5 and 0.8 goals per match fewer than Liverpool and Man City, respectively.
Aside from a greater goalscoring threat, what Sarri really needs is to combine his two current strikers into one player: where Morata is too lightweight, Giroud is too slow; where Morata struggles to link with Hazard and Willian, Giroud cannot run off the shoulder of the last defender.
Sarri’s low-tempo, short-passing aesthetic requires the striker to drop deep and play a key role in the one-touch passing, but he must also be able to run the channels effectively, relieving some of the burden on Hazard down Chelsea’s left.
Tellingly, Chelsea rank second in the league for total shots (320) this season and just ninth for shots from inside the six-yard box (18). They seriously lack a striker with a poacher’s instinct… and the ability to drop off and help sculpt flowing attacking moves that end with the creation of a tap-in.
Suggested signing: Dries Mertens
Only seven Premier League clubs have conceded more goals so far this season than Arsenal’s 30, and while a litany of injuries are partially to blame, Unai Emery lacks a real leader to organise the defence.
Laurent Koscielny is too often on the treatment table, Shkodran Mustafi is too often caught out of position, and Rob Holding lacks composure. Arsenal won’t fully get over their late-Wenger flakiness until they purchase a commanding centre-back.
Arsenal struggle to control transitions, often making it easy for opponents to counter-attack by failing to effectively screen the ball. The likes of Man City and Liverpool create a defensive shield around the edge of the zone in which they currently hold possession, but Arsenal’s 3-4-3 shape makes this difficult – unless a defensive leader steps out from the back three to meet the ball.
That requires fearlessness and consistency, emboldening his colleagues to maintain their high line and trust in the press. Arsenal could do with one of those.
Suggested signing: Daniele Rugani
Jose Mourinho spent the entire first half of the season moaning about his centre-back options, and although the club are finally willing to reinforce at the back they will – hopefully – rethink the type of player they need in defence.
Victor Lindelof has dramatically improved since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival, marauding out of defence with the ball to instigate Man Utd counter-attacks, while Eric Bailly is a top quality defender who just needs some confidence. Their defensive situation is nowhere near as dire as Mourinho made out.
However, it does lack two things that are essential to a high-line, attack-first manager like Solskjaer: pace and an eye for a forward pass.
Old Mourinho targets like Kalidou Koulibaly and Toby Alderweireld don’t quite fit this description; United need an agile technician at the back to provide the sharpness and quick, incisive passing that Nemanja Matic cannot.
Suggested signing: Matthijs de Ligt