A triangle with special – perhaps supernatural – powers has the potential to see us comfortably past our Portuguese opposition tomorrow night. But there’s a mystery.
The mystery is that our young manager will probably not use this magical, three-sided phenomenon that has the power to make opposition hopes disappear.
The triangle to which I am referring involves three players: Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Alexandre Lacazette. When they are set up with Laca as the point, Saka as the right hand corner and ESR as the left we play our most devastating football.
Other players can contribute by adding tangents (notably Aubameyang and Bellerin) but it’s the triangle that holds the key.
It all started when injuries, illness, quarantining and suspensions forced El Patron to have a rethink about personnel and tactics for the league game against Chelsea in late December.
Lacazette’s lonely struggles up front were suddenly eased when he had a truly creative player behind (ESR) and a gifted young superstar (Saka) playing in his ideal position of wide right. The three clicked almost immediately and vastly improved performances followed.
Their mutual interplay allowed us to pierce the most recalcitrant of defences with fast, incisive movement and one-touch passing.
So much for the history, what about the mystery?
With the caveat that I’m sure Mikel Arteta and his backroom staff are trying to be careful with the playing time of an injury-troubled youngster like Smith Rowe, it has been surprising to see El Patron mess around with the successful formation he stumbled across: a bit like a gold prospector finding a great big nugget in a certain location one day, then deciding to search somewhere completely different the next.
Since the arrival on loan of Martin Odegaard young Emile has been shunted out to the wing. Odegaard has shown some nice skill and Arteta has spoken very positively about him: he clearly has potential. But he had a pretty ineffectual game against Manchester City. Smith Rowe, on the other hand, has been in excellent form and looked better than Odegaard when he came on as a sub against the light blue Mancs.
On form alone Smith Rowe should be keeping his place as an attacking central midfielder, quite apart from the fact that it does not make sense to prioritise a loan player who will likely be off in the summer over a very viable home grown option.
Then there’s Saka. He has been devastating when cutting inside from the right and playing give-and-go football with ESR, Lacazette and others. But in some recent games he has been moved to the left side. There may be understandable tactical reasons for this, but it still feels like a waste.
Finally, I get a sense that El Patron is now favouring Aubameyang as the central striker ahead of Lacazette. Auba can certainly score as we all know, but he is just not as good at link-up play as the Frenchman. When Auba starts, one side of our Power Triangle is missing.
All our most successful teams have had these magical patterns where a few key players are on the same wavelength and work wonders together: Cole-Pires-Henry and Rocastle-Thomas-Merson spring to mind. If you get a combo that works, stick with it.
I hope Arteta sees the sense of this, but I’m not holding my breath.