Arsenal FC

Assessing whether Julian Brandt is the spark Arsenal need in January

Ali Rampling
Jan 6, 2021, 6:15 PM GMT
Julian Brandt has been linked with Arsenal - but is he the player they need?
Julian Brandt has been linked with Arsenal - but is he the player they need? / Lukas Schulze/Getty Images
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Arsenal have enjoyed a mini-revival since Boxing Day, winning three on the bounce, keeping two clean sheets and scoring eight in victories over Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom.

The West Brom victory was of particular note as Mikel Arteta's side ran out 4-0 winners against, admittedly, one of the poorest sides in the Premier League, but a side who had nonetheless held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw just six days previously.

It was the manner in which Arsenal dispatched the Baggies that was most impressive - the Gunners' second goal was a wonderfully inventive, flowing team move, as Arteta's side played with the creative sparkle and adventure that they have largely been missing all season.

Prior to Saturday's win at The Hawthorns, Arsenal had had a negative goal difference. Were it not for Alexandre Lacazette's second-half brace in the Midlands, they still would.

Arsenal in the market

"It’s quite clear what we need," technical director Edu said in December. "We need a player with creativity in the middle, we don’t have that in the squad right now."

The Gunners failed to land Lyon's Houssem Aouar during the summer transfer window, and have subsequently been linked with a move for Borussia Dortmund's Julian Brandt in a bid to add some attacking zest to their midfield.

But is he the man they need?

Is Brandt what Arsenal need?
Is Brandt what Arsenal need? / TF-Images/Getty Images

Despite their recent upturn in fortunes, an attacking midfielder undoubtably remains a priority for Arsenal in January.

The Gunners have shored up defensively during Arteta's 12 months in charge, but this has largely been at the expense of goals and any attacking excitement. Even following their hat-trick of successive Premier League wins, Arsenal remain 12th in the Premier League for shots per 90 minutes and 14th for key passes per 90 minutes. Only three sides outside of the bottom three have scored fewer goals than the Gunners.

Emergence of Emile Smith Rowe

A switch in system, tactics and personnel has dramatically improved Arsenal's attacking impetus over the turn of the year, with Arteta's 3-5-2 formation ditched in favour of a 4-2-3-1. Bukayo Saka has moved from left back to right wing, and the newly created number ten role has been taken up by Emile Smith Rowe - to much acclaim.

The emergence of the academy graduate does not mean that Arsenal do not need another number ten. At 20, the youngster cannot be expected to play every game - particularly in this most congested of seasons. But the success of Smith Rowe has reinforced the importance of Arsenal playing with an attacking midfielder; someone who can move the ball quickly, is intelligent with his movement and is decisive and instinctive in the final third.

Smith Rowe has had a real impact on this Arsenal side
Smith Rowe has had a real impact on this Arsenal side / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

This is where Brandt comes in.

A number ten by trade, Arsenal's current 4-2-3-1 formation would suit the German international down to the ground. He could also be deployed on the left flank, or in a deeper midfield role, and has operated as a striker or false nine - but the advanced midfield role is where he is at his most effective.

The missing piece of the puzzle?

Brandt has the subtlety, intelligence and vision to pull the strings, break lines and make things happen. He's a risk taker - something Arsenal have been largely starved of this season.

He can slow things down and speed things up upon his choosing. His subtle, clever movement to drift out wide and his signature feints and shuffles in tight areas are irresistible.

Criticism of Brandt during the early stages of his career are not dissimilar to those directed at current Arsenal attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil - a tendency to go missing in the big games, a lack of physicality when needed, lapses in concentration. But since moving into a more central role - initially at Bayer Leverkusen - in 2018, he has shouldered the additional responsibility and thrived.

After earning a move to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2019, Brandt was superb once the Bundesliga returned after lockdown. He shone in Dortmund's 4-0 win over Schalke in May - playing a part in each of his side's four goals.

However, he has fallen out of favour this term as Dortmund endured a slow start to the campaign. The 24-year-old has started just six Bundesliga games this season, chipping in with just a singular assist.

Should Arteta inspire Brandt to return to the player he was six months ago, given the impact Smith Rowe has enjoyed in such a short space of time, he could be a very shrewd attacking addition.

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