The Benfica Triangle Mystery

Arteta’s formation for tomorrow’s game?

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.



23 Responses to The Benfica Triangle Mystery

  1. RA says:

    I am glad you are not holding your breath, Rocky, because we do not have a back up sub for RC if you implode — anyway, good morning to you, and thank you for the post, and I do love stories of ‘fairies, goblins and such like waving’ their magic triangles. 😁

    Auba has now fallen into the humongous salary bracket, and so will not be sold as the cost of a transfer for an older player would be too much for other clubs — ipso facto — Arteta’s implied promise of a team shakeup in the summer means Laca will get the chop. In my book he is a better all round player than Auba, but really there is a case for bringing thru yet more youngsters, and getting rid of both, as neither are setting the goal standards we need for the top 4.

  2. RA says:

    After yesterday’s ‘trial by blogger’, Rocky, I admire your determination to ignore Belli’s guilty verdict, and to see something special in him, especially as you said;

    — “Other players can contribute by adding tangents (notably Aubameyang and Bellerin) but it’s the triangle that holds the key.” — clearly you subconsciously recognise Auba, and especially Bellerin, are not part of the Magic Triangle masons — unlike the other tangent triumvirate in waiting, KT, Patrick and Ceba. 😜

    [I got that from GB’s camel’s mouth – not that GB has a mouth like a camel – but …. ] 🙄

  3. RA says:

    As no other blighter seems to be around, I will give you a magical mystery tour go my own.

    Starting in an anticlockwise direction her it is, and if it strikes anyone that it resembles Stone Henge, they would be right;

    Saka, to Xhaka to KT to Ceba to Patrick to Rowe to Laca

    That is definitely a mystery hidden in a non-triangle. 😜

  4. RC78 says:

    Thanks Rocky for the post 🙂

    I agree that our forward line seems to play better when Saka, ESR and Laca are involved.

    There is space for one more player and that player could be Auba, Martinelli or Pepe.

    Based on our string of decent results only, I d say Pepe should get the nod the left side..but then again, Pepe has also disappointed many times too…

    If we are to play in a 4231 set up and if Arteta insists on playing Auba as our CF, then I think the missing player in that front 4 is Martinelli and I would not play Martinelli on the left wing but right behind Auba…

    Leno – Cedric, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Pepe – Laca

    Leno – Cedric, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, Martinelli, ESR – Auba

    I think Martinelli and Auba would link-up really well if played in the middle because Martinelli has a good overall game and he has good timing also for runs in the box so Auba could move to first post and Martinelli to second post.

    One player that I think will be key for us is Ceballos. I think we should rather invest in him than in Odegaard. Odegaard is promising but I find Ceba’s passing and defensive contribution more valuable.

  5. RC78 says:

    @RA and others – please feel free to send in posts…Rocky and I cannot possibly be the only ones posting for the remaining of the season so don’t be shy

  6. RC78 says:

    @rockylives – I think I scared the bloggers away…lol

  7. RC78 says:

    here are some trios that provided dynamism to our squad in the last few years:

    – Cole – Pires – Henry
    – Vieira – Ljungberg – Bergkamp
    – Petit – Overmars – Bergkamp
    – Vierra – Parlour – Wright (Anelka)

  8. LBG says:

    Thanks as always for your efforts this morning, Rocky.
    More speculation relevant to your post. Reports that exclusion of Laca and Nketiah from starting line ups suggest Mikel is set to sell both in the Summer to raise almost 50m ( doubtful, I’d say). I think myself that it is Aubang who could be released, and that Laca has proved more consistently both his link up with the young stars, but also his central “hold up” skills that Aubang has never had.
    Interested also in AAers opinions of apparently agreed terms with…….Coutinho……for summer move. Would disappoint me, I’m afraid.

  9. RA says:


    I really had a chuckle re your invitation to send in Posts, for 2 reasons — even tho the invites were sensible.

    First, (and you seem to have forgotten) I was the one who cajoled you, a number of times, into submitting Posts yourself, because they were really extensions of your clever comments. So, the wheel has turned 😉

    Secondly, apart from the occasional visits from Rasper and GIE, I do not think anyone now on the blog, other than Rocky, LB, and I, have been on here since shortly after the blog was first launched by Peaches many years ago.

    I used to write Posts (mainly based on science and humour – well my version of humour) and they went down like lead balloons with the lads and lasses — so I stopped.

    When Chas was running the show, I occasionally wrote for him, when I was around.

    I hope some of our regulars will write Posts because it is a drag for Rocky and you. 👍

    I will not write anymore Posts — it only takes me between 5 and 10 minutes to churn something out — but I could not inflict such purgatory on my fellow bloggers — because I love them all too much!! 😛

  10. RockyLives says:

    RC 😀

    They are fainthearts RC!

  11. RockyLives says:


    I miss your posts.

    No-one writes quite like you and a completely heterodox take on matters Arsenal is always more fun than the same old arguments gone over again and again and again.

  12. RockyLives says:

    Bonus points today for anyone who read the headline and thought of Barry Manilow.

  13. jjgsol says:

    I have no doubt at all that the “Triangle” is the antithesis of Arteta’s much-preferred style.

    It came about almost by accident and he is trying to dismantle it slowly but surely.

    He has tinkered with it so it has become increasingly less effective and will, no doubt, finally bring it to rest in the next few games, leaving us with the same boring rubbish that he had before.

    The whole point of the style that defeated Chel$ki was its creativity and unpredictability.

    But that is not what he wants. He needs to control every single action of every single player so that everyone does what he is told, to the letter and when he has been told to do it.

  14. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky. Great post that somehow makes me think of Barry Manilow, but I can’t for the life of me think why?

    Firstly, I personally dont link Odegaard starting the City game and ESR starting on the bench as representing anything negative.

    ESR, Odegaard and Saka all showed in the Leeds game they could play effectively together as a 3 behind the striker so it doesn’t have to be about one or the other. It is likely that ESR just needed a breather from starting the game. After all we don’t want to burn him out.

    Possibly it may even be that Arteta saw the Benfica game as more important so was keeping ESR fresh for that. This would see him actually being higher in the pecking order, but either way I dont think the City line up was an indication of ESR being below Odegaard on the pecking order.

    It may seem strange to some but I saw the City game as a but of a freeby. You could play your strongest side and still lose, and we need longer before we can go toe to toe with them, so that game wasnt definitive to our season.

    I actually felt that at some point Arteta could have risked experimenting with City because of this. Currently we play with 2 holding midfielders and then a number 10 and 2 wing forward types behind a striker.

    I would still like to see how we would be with 1 holding midfield player and then 4 behind the striker

    Maybe the 2 HM’s with the attacking 3 would link better with Lacazette who can hold the ball better and lay it off to the 3 with back to goal. It is slightly narrower in the attacking 3rd so all 3 play closer to the central striker.

    Auba largely prefers to operate from the centre to the left and tracks diagonally through the game in this channel. If you had 4 attackers behind him then the one on the left can interchange with Auba going centrally when Auba goes to the left. Martinelli could develop a partnership and understanding with Auba in this way.

    The question is can any of our HM’s play the defensive midfield role alone? However look at City and they often play just 1 holding midfielder, Rodri, and the others are all a mix of attacking and box to box type midfielders of varying degrees.

    The thing is though that all those players, even the technical ones, put in a defensive shift so Rodri is never isolated defensively with it being his sole responsibility. De Bruyne, Gundogan, Foden, Silva etc, all help out defensively.

    We can expect the same from our youngsters and in fact we already know that ESR, Saka and Martinelli all do this anyway so we could line up with 1 less holding midfield player.

    This would allow more width to our attacking play but would also give us the extra out ball to the wide areas to break the high press, which we struggled with against City. It would have been a great game to try it in as we were losing anyway and not expected to win.

    Cedric —- Holding —- Gabriel —– Tierney
    ——–Odegaard ————- ESR
    Saka ————— Auba ————— Martinelli

    This line up almost matches how City line up with 1 holding midfielder and the rest being a mix of attacking central and attacking wide midfielders that can do a bit of everything.

    Not that we should not play with 2 HM’s and a 3 behind the striker but it would be nice to try out the 1 HM and 4 behind the striker as well.

  15. RA says:

    Wow, Gooner-B-Damned-Good, did you type all that without taking a breath?? And did that deuced camel help you?

    I so like your rationalising of the tactical Doo Dahs –and speaking of Posts, I see a tactical door opening for you to create a Post from your elaborate comments that command a great deal of interest among bloggerdom. 😎

    Go – GB 🦒

    (I couldn’t find a camel) 🙄

  16. RA says:

    Oh, Come on!!!

    Are we interested in buying/loaning Diego Costa — or not??

    I leave you alone for a while, when I am trying to earn a living, and what do I get for a very interesting possible addition to our ranks? Nothing – Nada – Zero.

    Sheesh kebab!!

  17. RA says:

    And speaking of my favourites,
    Arsenal are reportedly ready to hand a long-term contract to exciting prospect Miguel Azeez, who has been dubbed the ‘new Fabregas’.

    18-year-old midfielder Azeez was handed his senior debut as a substitute in the 4-2 win at Dundalk last December.

    The England youth international is out of contract in the summer, despite impressing at every age category in the club’s academy system.

    And according to the Sun, he is set to be tied down to the Gunners for the long-term as negotiations over his future take place.

    Arsenal do not want to lose Azeez on a free transfer, and are hoping they can secure his services as he hits his peak.

    Great, Great.

  18. RockyLives says:


    Diego Costa – nah.

    Azeez 👍

  19. RC78 says:

    RA – I think we all miss your posts. Don’t be shy 🙂

    Arsenal also trying to secure Balogun but may sell Nketiah.

  20. Gööner In Exile says:

    Rocky I couldn’t agree more, I don’t get the Oderhard thing unless we are trying to convince him to sign a permanent deal.

    I think him with Saka and ESR would work well, I also think you are right that Laca is preferable to PEA in that position.

    My only reasoning for the selection against City is Laca has had a lot of games, as has ESR, ESR is not quite ready for an extended spell without a break and Laca should not be expected to be able to run his socks off week in week out without taking a tests. Maybe Arteta is prioritising the Europa, it is the only viable route into CL football, and maybe against City he surmised that PEA could explode on the counter.

    At the moment where ESR and Odergard differ is on their individual movement, ESR is a runner as well as a passer, Odergard appears to be more of the killer pass type player. That is probably not enough in the PL, but with the right bodies around him, and that could be ESR and Saka and Martinelli going wherever they want as a front three in front of him. He could be a very useful addition.

  21. LBG says:

    Further proof of what Douzi learnt from Xhaka recently! Diving in his own box! It’s a mad mad mad mad World is footie!
    Azeez and Balogun please Mikel. Baby yoof!

  22. RC78 says:

    Hi Rocky – I ll quickly put a post up

  23. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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