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Arsenal Season Review: Attacking Midfield
This is the second in the series looking at Arsenal's season, position by position. Last week I looked at the strikers:
Today as you can probably guess from the title, I will look at the team's most promising and exciting position: attacking midfield.
Overall, Arsenal got very good production from this group of players, especially considering the ages for the players in this group. The group is a bit behind the "top 6" average, but I think this is an area that is pretty heavily skewed by Manchester City and Liverpool, that being said there is certainly growth potential in this area.
21.7 - That is the minute's weighted average age for Arsenal's attacking midfield this season.
This number gives lots of room for natural progression, development, and optimism.
All four of Arsenal's primary starters were 'pre-peak', with only Nicolas Pepe in the prime age for an attacking midfielder.
Arsenal got good (but not quite great) shot production from their attacking midfielders. They ended up with 22 total non-penalty goals from this position group but that did just enough to cover from the lack of goals from center forward rather than act as a compliment.
Where this group did look elite was at creating shooting chances. Arsenal had Martin Odegaard rank 6th in shot-creating actions, Bukayo Saka rank 7th, and Gabrial Martinelli rank 31st in the Premier League. Overall this group created 161 shots for teammates while playing in an attacking midfield role.
Bukayo Saka ended up with the third-most minutes for Arsenal this season and every minute played without him on the field felt like it was bordering on hopeless for something good to happen.
He has quickly progressed from an exciting young prospect that it is cool to see on the field doing well, to a player that is doing really well for his age, to a genuinely very good player. The next step for him and one that I really hope he has in him is to move into superstar territory.
There are probably three major things that will determine how high of a ceiling Arsenal have next year, first is the health of Thomas Partey, the second is how much extra production can Arsenal get from striker, and lastly is how much of a step forward can Saka take next year.
At the end of April I wrote about how the Arsenal attack is very tied to the performances of Odegaard. The final month of the season really seemed to hammer that point home.
When Odegaard struggled, Arsenal struggled.
Overall though, I think that this was a very good season for Odeggard. His transfer fee looks like a bargain with him just entering the start of his peak seasons.
Some of Martinelli's production wasn't quite at the level I would have hoped but this was also his first season that he played more than 700 league minutes for Arsenal so a bit of growing pains can be expected.
There is still a lot of positives from this season. Martinelli continued to put up good shot production numbers, with very good average shot quality. It was a bit down from his sub boosted appearances where he looked like an absolute shot monster but perhaps he can find an extra shot every other game next year to get back to that level.
The area that I was most happy to see him develop this season was his ability to be an outlet on the wing, he became an important target for Ramsdale and others from the Arsenal defensive third. He also looked to be much more dangerous on the ball, looking to beat players while also improving his delivery to set others up.
While Saka is further along on his development and I think is a surer bet to "make it" I do wonder if Martinelli has the higher ceiling between the two.
This was a weird season for Smith Rowe and one that really seems like the tale of two halves.
In the first half of the season, Smith Rowe was a key attacking player for Arsenal. His ability to drive forward with the ball, find space for shots, or to create for teammates was pivotal to the team.
After Arsenal switched to the more 433 type system Smith Rowe became more of a rotation option, and that became more clear as he looked to not be near 100 percent fit at the end of the year.
With more matches to play next season, Smith Rowe is going to be an important part of this Arsenal team and I hope that he can get back to (and improve on) his first-half form.
Pepe is probably done with Arsenal.
He has been a weird player and a transfer that has not worked out.
At times he looks amazing and exactly like the player that was so hyped coming out of Ligue 1. Other times he looks like he has never met any of his teammates and that he has no idea what to do in the Arsenal system.
It is a real bummer that this move never worked out because I was very excited about this signing and while he showed flashes of doing things no one else on this Arsenal team can do he will end up being one of the more frustrating players in recent memory.
Outlook for next season
I am excited for this group next season.
I think that there is a lot of room for growth here and I think that the team could be even better if a player that fits the system better than Nicolas Pepe is brought in.
I do think that there could be the need for a couple players brought in here with the addition of the Europa League and five subs there is room for at least one more player in this group and probably room to bring in a few youth players for additional minutes.