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Conducting Play Between the Lines – The Premier League’s Best Number 10s



The mysterious role of the archetypal ‘number 10’ has been a vital one across multiple footballing generations. With the overall trend in recent times moving towards intricate passing play and maintaining possession at all costs, the value that adept players in this position hold has sky-rocketed. There are a multitude of stars to choose from in the Premier League alone, tasked primarily with feeding the strikers and making their side tick. Below, I have explained my top 5 in this role. Feel free to comment at the end of the article or on twitter @TBRFootball with your opinions.

Santi Cazorla:

As one of the most naturally two-footed players you could ever wish to observe, Santi Cazorla’s talents have been both a blessing and a curse during his time at Arsenal. Wenger’s desire for continuous possession lent itself to wingers prone to cutting infield and not holding the desire to hug the touchline. Cazorla is a prime example of this type of player but while being stuck out on the left for the majority of his Emirates experience to date, it was often the case that games could pass him by.

With the physical requirements and necessity to make ground up and down the wing for 90 minutes, the former Malaga trickster struggled to impose himself on proceedings. Often overpowered and imposed upon by bigger defenders, his skill could go under-appreciated. Fortunately enough for Cazorla, Mesut Ozil’s long-term injury lay-off has proved a blessing in disguise as it provided Wenger with the urgency he clearly needed to shift the Spaniard infield. And how he has flourished.

6 goals and an equal number of assists this season from midfield speaks for itself. Although his form and contribution to Arsenal’s recent run of good results has been easily up there with any other member of the squad, Cazorla’s display against Manchester City at The Etihad is one that simply has to be marvelled at. He ran the show against the highly combative defensive duo of Fernando and Fernandinho and not for one instant did he shirk his responsibility. The sight of him chasing back towards his own box and putting in a sliding challenge that any midfield enforcer would be proud of was incredible. All of this only added to the usual astonishing set-piece delivery with either foot and absolute poise in and around the 18 yard box.

Arsenal’s defeat against Spurs cannot be put down to one factor alone, but the almost anonymous Santi Cazorla is certainly a highly important one. German World Cup winner Ozil has returned from his lay-off and as such, Arsenal’s build-up and attacking intent did not revolve around Cazorla. Finding himself on the periphery of proceedings somewhat, the Gunners were given a stark reminder of the Spaniard’s paramount importance to their side’s fortunes this season.

Re-invigorated. Santi Cazorla has captured his best form for Arsenal in the centre of the pitch.

Reinvigorated. Santi Cazorla has captured his best form for Arsenal in the centre of the pitch.

David Silva:

The only naturally left-footed player in this top five, David Silva is a mercurial talent who has graced Premier League pitches since his arrival in the blue half of Manchester in the summer of 2010. Finding himself used in several different attacking midfield roles through the years under a few managers, Silva has been played more centrally this year than most. Something of an injury crisis in the striking department at The Etihad led to the usual two up front being swapped for a primary forward and one man off him; more often than not being David Silva.

The ex-Valencia midfielder is very prone to coming infield to do his damage anyway, regardless of his apparent starting position. It is almost as if the game is being played in slow-motion when Silva has the ball at his feet, having all the time in the world to pick out a pass when all looks congested in front of him. He seems to glide across the pitch at times, escaping the grasp of defenders aplenty.

Furthermore, the 29 year old Spaniard has added an impressive new string to his bow this campaign. At the absolute worst of the injury crisis in Manchester City’s front line, there was no recognised striker to be seen and David Silva stepped up to fill the hardly insignificant boots of Aguero, Dzeko, and Jovetic. Operating in a false nine role made famous in modern times by Lionel Messi, the goals of Silva secured many a victory for The Citizens in a testing time. As a player not at all well known for converting chances into goals, the 7 successful strikes that he has racked up already put him well on the way to breaking his record for one season.

Christian Eriksen:

Spurs’ Great Dane has been absolutely key to everything positive from the North Londoner’s season to date. Somewhat overshadowed by the blistering goal-scoring form of local lad Harry Kane in recent weeks, the invaluable contribution of Christian Eriksen from the first breaths of the current campaign.

The ex-Ajax attacking midfielder has started every single one of Tottenham’s 25 matches since the start of the season and has already topped the 2000 minute mark. This is not something to be sniffed at, especially for a player often targeted by defenders and also one not shirking his responsibility in the Europa League campaign at White Hart Lane.

For someone who has only just turned 23 years of age, such levels of consistency week after week are highly impressive. A goal tally of 9 at this stage of the campaign is far greater than expected for someone not known for his ruthless finishing. Operating primarily from the left for significant parts of the year so far, Premier League star Eriksen is not shy in venturing infield to pick up dangerous areas that strike fear into the hearts of opposition defences.

One of the most obvious skills that the Danish international possesses is an unerring ability at any and every dead-ball situation. Not only producing regularly high quality deliveries from corners, the expectation when Eriksen lines up a direct free-kick is that the ball is inevitably going to end up in the net. To have that threat is a significant asset for Spurs and one that should not be underestimated.

Eriksen’s surprising lack of direct assists; only 1 to date, is one area of his game that may require some work but his efforts in attacking areas indirectly create space for others. His tireless work right to the final whistle have won several games for Spurs already this year, with the North London side becoming the specialists at picking up points late on. The number 23 has notched up many a strike himself in the dying minutes and is undoubtedly the most successful of the batch of signings brought in by AVB 18 months ago to replace Gareth Bale.

Deadly Dane. Christian Eriksen has really come to the fore for Spurs this season.

Deadly Dane. Christian Eriksen has really come to the fore for Spurs this season.

Philippe Coutinho:

Liverpool’s little Brazilian with dazzlingly quick feet has been a crucial part of The Reds’ return to form since the turn of the year. In the newly adopted 3-4-3 formation under Brendan Rodgers, Philippe Coutinho has lined up on the left of the front three more often than not. As if in response to prior criticism, he has found a way to not forgo his defensive responsibilities while always retaining his availability in offensive areas.

Whilst Raheem Sterling has been deployed as a nominal central striker, a fantastic understanding has been built up between the pair. Both diminutive figures have the quality and desire to play the game in tight spaces, and their relationship was shown most clearly against Burnley. The cutest of instant flicks over the top of the Turf Moor side’s defence released Sterling into space to finish and Coutinho’s vision made the goal possible.

He also seems to be consistently able of finding Alberto Moreno; Liverpool’s left wing-back, in dangerous areas after venturing inside himself. Creating the space for the Spaniard to exploit is one thing, but possessing the quality to find him time after time is the defining factor. Coutinho’s ability to find an accurate pass regardless of defenders’ proximity drew praise from Daniel Sturridge upon his return from injury against West Ham United. The English striker said “I knew that all I had to do was make the run and he would find me with the pass”. That utter confidence teammates have in Coutinho speaks volumes for the 22 year old’s recent form, finding 4 direct assists for goals in the Premier League.

While highly impressive in the last couple of months, Philippe Coutinho does still have areas of his game that require improvement. Having already seemingly overcome his stamina problem and issue with a lack of constant intensity, he now needs to look at adding more goals to his game. Only 3 goals from the slight Brazilian in all competitions this year is not up to the level required and his recent stunning winner versus Bolton notwithstanding, Coutinho needs to contribute with goals more frequently. He does not lack the natural striking ability, always developing a great deal of power from little back-lift, but his finishing leaves a lot to be desired at times. For example, a terrific jink and shuffle released him through on Courtois’ goal in the semi-final second leg but he failed to convert one on one. Add goals to his game, and Liverpool will have a potential world-beater on their hands.

Juan Mata:

Twice voted Chelsea FC Player of the Year, Juan Mata has all the technical ability and guile needed to play in the position just off a front man. However, when Mourinho saw fit to rather gracelessly ‘encourage’ a move away from Stamford Bridge, it was the common belief that his team ethic was the critical factor. With Manchester United all too keen to snap Chelsea’s hand off for multi-million pound transfer fee, for a while at least, it seemed like a steal.

Under the stewardship of Louis Van Gaal, the Spaniard has flourished to a degree but again does not seem to possess the complete faith of his manager. The formation now played at Old Trafford suits Juan Mata down to the ground. Wayne Rooney playing a deeper role freed up the position behind the striker. Furthermore, there are plenty of Manchester United bodies are always around him to find with intricate passes and occupy the attention of defenders, allowing him to pop up in pockets of space. In particular, Mata seems to have built up quite a fruitful understanding with Radamel Falcao, benefitting the previously struggling poacher immensely. In 17 league starts this campaign, the 26 year old Spanish star has notched up 5 goals and 3 assists – figures not to be sniffed at especially when you consider how frequently he is substituted. There are plenty of Premier League centre forwards who would be jealous of that goal to game ratio. For a player tasked with producing killer balls, to also boast an almost 90% passing accuracy is impressive.

Despite all of this however, LVG can often leave out the diminutive Spaniard in favour of Angel Di Maria now that the Argentinian World Cup finalist has returned from a spell on the sidelines. Mata certainly allows for a more ‘beautiful’ style of play by adding copious amounts of guile to the mix, but clearly offers nothing like the defensive qualities of Di Maria tracking back towards his own goal. Guile and trickery are apparent in everything he does, but as Van Gaal demonstrated to the global audience at the World Cup, players for him need something extra. While other managers may feel it worthwhile to accept a so called ‘luxury player’ for the match-winning moments they provide, it is not enough for the Dutchman. Stars of the side Robben and Sneijder worked just as hard as everyone else; not exactly a frequent sight for such mercurial talents. Should Mata really be unable to change his approach to getting about the pitch, it is the unfortunate truth that we will not see as many magic moments from him as we would like.


Luxury item. Is Juan Mata’s talent enough for a regular place in the side?

Do you agree with this suggestion, or perhaps believe that a player such as Oscar should have made the list? Let us know in the comments section or on twitter @TBRFootball and get debating!

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.


Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive

Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.



Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.

But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.

Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.

Tottenham Hotspur’s English midfielder Dele Alli (2L) is booked for a dive during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.

Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.

But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.

After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:

“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.

“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”


“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”

With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.

When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.

Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.

But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.

Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…

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AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex

Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.

The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.

Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.

Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.

For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?

It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.

He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.

The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.

Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.

Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.

After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.

Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.

Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.

Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Brighton take a massive step towards safety 

The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.

This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.

Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.

Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.

Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.

In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.

Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal 

Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.

And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.

In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.

A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.

Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.

Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.

Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.

Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.

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