Edu get last Moises Caicedo transfer chance to solve key Arsenal problem Declan Rice highlighted

When Arsenal fans saw Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz all lined up to start against Manchester United, it was probably seen as a dream to see their new midfield trio in action for the first time, but it very quickly turned into something of a nightmare.

The pre-season friendly between the two Premier League rivals was a fierce clash to say the least, with a crunching challenge from Lisandro Martinez on Bukayo Saka setting the tone early on. Coming off the game, perhaps the biggest injury concern was on the other side of the coin after Amad Diallo was seen leaving MetLife Stadium on crutches.

Much of the post-match talk has therefore been arguments about the (unnecessary for some) physical and aggressive display which seemed to overshadow a clear tactical problem that Mikel Arteta might not have foreseen. In principle, the plan looked simple: Rice would mop up loose balls, cut passing lines and win back possession before feeding passes into the advanced duo of Odegaard and Havertz, with Jurrien Timber turning to help in possession.

However, the clear disadvantages came when the Gunners did not have the ball or were caught in transition. Last season, Odegaard was often furthest forward ahead of Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey, but in this system it was Havertz who led the press in a 4-4-2 layout, although often easily bypassed by United.

Even with all his controversies, the protection Xhaka provided Arsenal was crucial and on first viewing, Havertz doesn’t appear to offer the same level of security just yet. This resulted in Rice being left isolated on several occasions and ultimately unable to prevent fluid Man United attacks or fight possession back with Erik ten Hag’s men controlling the tempo of the game.

Rice is an elite level holding midfielder, but in West Ham’s 2022/23 season he grew and developed to be more of a threat in the final third. His intense pressure on Thomas Partey against Arsenal, which won the Hammers a penalty in the London Stadium encounter, highlighted how useful he can be further forward. What was shown on Saturday night in his first start for Arsenal was that perhaps, in the system Arteta wants to deploy, he would be better in a more advanced role.

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Of course, that would leave Havertz in a difficult position with no clear route back into the team, and it would also leave Arteta and Edu with two important decisions. The first would be the future of Thomas Partey and that may never seem more important than now as he stays with Arteta who seems to agree.

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