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How Mikel Arteta midfield can look with Emi Buendia

Norwich City central midfielder, Emi Buendia, could be at Arsenal next season. But how could the 23-year-old’s arrival change the midfield structure under Mikel Arteta?

Pep Guardiola, the man who now Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has learned the majority of his managerial smarts from, uses an inverted triangle in central midfield. It forms the 4-3-3 that many of the top clubs in the world use and features a holding midfielder with two flanking box-to-box midfielders, which Guardiola calls ‘half-eights’.

When Arteta arrived at Arsenal, however, he formed a different midfield triangle: instead of playing with one holding midfielder, Arteta used two, borrowing one of the half-eights and dropping deeper in midfield and to the side of the other defensive midfielder. He then pushed the other half-eight forward and centrally, forming a 2-1. For the collective team, it yields the famous 4-2-3-1 formation.

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While Arteta has never said why he changed Guardiola’s system, it would be surprising to think that it is because he feels it is a better general approach. City have been one of the best teams in the world. They are the greatest team in Premier League history, even more so than the Invincibles. Why would Arteta abandon a foundational element of that team?

Perhaps it is because of Mesut Ozil. In Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, and sometimes Bernardo Silva this season, Guardiola has two creative midfielders who possess the stamina and willingness to cover vast spaces. They are ideal for the half-eight role, bounding up and down the pitch, carrying the ball, dictating play, winning tackles and making interceptions, before then doing everything that a traditional number 10 would do in the final third. Even a young Ozil would struggle in this role. The 31-year-old who has clearly lost a yard would not cope well with the physical demands of the role.

However, with Ozil’s time at the club coming towards an end, it is not inconceivable that Arteta will ease his former teammate out of the starting XI and shift back to the inverted triangle shape in central midfield that Guardiola is a proponent of. This is where potential signing Emi Buendia would enter the equation, should Arsenal make the move to sign the Norwich City midfielder this summer.

Buendia brings the same dribbling ability and creativity as Ozil. Only Kevin de Bruyne has created more chances per 90 minutes than Buendia this season. He has provided assists on 28% of Norwich’s goals, a higher percentage than any other player in the Premier League. Only Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin have completed more dribbles per 90 minutes. But he is almost sharper, more athletic, a tremendous worker and presser.

Statsbomb ranked Buendia in the 92nd percentile for pressures in the Championship last season. He averages more than three tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season and is renowned for his work-rate without the ball. He is the ideal half-eight, even if he the majority of his time has spent at right midfield this season.

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But how might the midfield look with Buendia in tow? Well, with Buendia replacing Ozil, providing a more modern version of the classic attacking midfielder, Arteta would have the opportunity to revert back to Guardiola’s inverted triangle. That requires a more defensive-minded and active holding player who is not supported by another. Perhaps Lucas Torreira comes into the team in place of Granit Xhaka.

Similarly, alongside Buendia, Arteta would look for an all-action, creative, composed and productive partner. Dani Ceballos, should he return from his loan on a permanent deal, would be ideal, as would Matteo Guendouzi or even Joe Willock or Emile Smith Rowe, the latter of which has been likened to de Bruyne thanks to his driving running style and knack for creating and scoring goals.

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With Ozil then on the bench to provide late-game creativity and Xhaka either offloaded or offering depth, Arteta then has options to play with and a midfield that he can restructure in the manner that he wants. Buendia would open everything up, and Arteta and Arsenal might just flourish as a result.

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