Eduardo’s instincts in the final third should ensure he endures a seamless transition to centre forward in the absence of Robin van Persie.
No sooner did Robin van Persie get the hang of this goalscoring lark, he became the latest player in Arsenal’s history under Wenger’s tenure to fall foul to the November injury jinx. The Dutchman has been in sparkling form at the tip of the 4-3-3, scoring seven goals and providing seven assists and it’s this double role that has seen him become a key figure in Arsenal’s newly found system of cutting edge.
But van Persie’s self-analysis before suffering ankle ligament damage should mean his replacement, Eduardo endures a seamless transition into the central role. “The weeks before, I was constantly taking defensive actions, hunting and pressurising,” said van Persie. “In the same games I missed some good chances. When I listed them, I came to the conclusion that, through all that work and bustle, I had missed the primary focus of my role. The coach thought the same thing. He said I had my moments to make better choices. In recent weeks, I think it is all better balanced.”
Although predominantly thought of as a goalscorer, what Eduardo brings to the Arsenal side is more than just goals. His calm demeanor is infectious as one of the captains of the team, his expertise in the craft instills confidence to those around him but most crucially he makes things happen. “It was a good team performance, ” Wenger enthused after Eduardo’s comeback last season in a 4-0 win over Cardiff. “Dynamic, convincing, the kind of game we like to play, with added drive going forward and Eduardo played a big part in that.” Since that victory, the club has seen only a smattering of involvement from the Croatian striker who’s biggest challenge will be to see if he can last the whole distance in van Persie’s absence.
And that itself should be the only concern that fans have over whether Eduardo can apply himself in the role because in terms of movement, there is little better, whether that’s creating space for himself or for others. “I’m feeling good,” he said. “At the beginning of the season I had a few injury niggles but I am OK now and ready to help the team rise to the top of the table, as well as progress in the Champions League. The boss knows our qualities and how they can fit into a formation. For me it is fine to play on the left or the right, no problem, the most important thing is to help the team and I feel good in those positions. It is a formation that gives us more movement and more creativity through the middle, although it is not easy because we have to balance defence and attack and that can be difficult.”
With Eduardo in the centre it will offer Arsenal plenty of movement up front and if he engages the central defenders as well as it is envisaged, it could open up the space in front of the backline for one of the midfielders to take advantage from in “between the lines.”
Another albeit radical plan would be to involve Arshavin or even Abou Diaby as the central point of attack but in doing so would probably create the most false number nine in history. Granted, the Russian would feel his best position is as a second striker and it is expected he will get an opportunity to lead the line although that is likely to be during or at the start of a certain attacking phase rather than from the off.
But Arshavin should fret not if he doesn’t get the central role because the real danger may lay in him or one of the other wide forwards getting in to the forward position by cutting inside. “When forwards attack from wide to inside, they are far more dangerous,” says Sir Alex Ferguson. “When [Thierry] Henry played as a striker, and sometimes when Wayne [Rooney] does, they try to escape and create space by drifting from the centre to wide positions, when that actually makes them less dangerous.”
Brazil displayed this type of danger against England in Doha as central striker Luis Fabiano constantly dropped deep, pulling one of the central defenders out, leaving Wes Brown as right back mulling over whether to stick with the left forward of Nilmar. Brown was punished for his uncertainty, as first Nilmar got in between him and centre-back Upson to head in the only goal of the game before doing the same to nick a backpass away from Foster to win a penalty.
And indeed against AZ Alkmaar, Arsenal produced the same movements – three times to be precise – to pull the Dutch side’s marking system all over the place in their 4-1 win. Eduardo was involved in that match, coming off the bench to play a part in the fourth with his ingenuity and that is his greatest strength.