Jurrien Timber: Bringing versatility and completing the Arsenal defence

Jurrien Timber enhances Arsenal’s tactical operation while allowing Mikel Arteta to use his defensive structure meaningfully.

Fans and tactics have a lot of imagination when a new player arrives. The ideas start flowing, and then everyone starts determining where the star could fit in. With Jurrien Timber, there has been a lot of optimism about where he might play, but nothing seems set for the former Ajax star.

Named as the Eredivisie’s Player of the Season during their title-winning campaign under Erik ten Hag, there is no wonder the Dutch tactician wanted Timber right after coming to Old Trafford. The Dutch defender brings so much to the pitch, and that’s the reason why the Manchester United boss wanted him before anyone else.

Ten Hag ended up signing Lisandro Martinez instead, a player Mikel Arteta wanted desperately but decided against a bidding war. With Timber, the Spaniard, has a similar option to the Argentine. The area of the pitch is the only major difference in their profiles, but the Dutchman could have much more to offer.

It is a masterstroke from Edu Gaspar in his pursuit of excellence, signed from Ajax for a reported fee of £40 million, including bonuses. The squad building exercise that began in 2021 has taken another massive step towards completion. It will probably take another big window to succeed in the quest.

Arsenal have taken a massive step towards having a near-complete defence at Arteta’s disposal with Timber. The 22-year-old’s arrival could even offset Kieran Tierney’s reported departure without finding a good replacement for the Scotsman.

Arteta and Edu have repeatedly highlighted the character and personality of a signing concerning what they look for in a player. Upon Kai Havertz’s arrival, this is what Edu said about him, “We’re excited to bring Kai to the club and great work by everyone to get this deal complete. Kai is an exciting addition to our squad who will bring great attacking quality and versatility.”

“As an experienced 24-year-old, his signing represents another important step in strengthening our young core of talented players we have at Arsenal. We look forward to working with Kai.”

Emphasising the ‘experienced 24-year-old’ bit, it is clear that Arteta and Edu are seeking players who are young with loads of experience playing at the top level. We have already dwelled into what Havertz offers to this side. Timber represents a player with similar characteristics and profile, changing how Arsenal tactically arrange themselves.

Meanwhile, this is what Arteta said on Timber, “Jurrien will fit into our system and provide our squad with so much added quality. Jurrien is young but has already achieved so much. He has experienced what it’s like to go to a major international tournament, as well as the trophies he has won with Ajax.”

Overall, the 22-year-old, who could enhance them tactically, seems like a tactical masterclass signing by Arsenal. However, he also comes with deficiencies, albeit nothing that cannot improve with good coaching and awareness.

Where does Jurrien Timber fit in?

This is probably the most important question, as Timber can potentially occupy at least three positions on the pitch. He has predominantly featured in a centre-back role for Ajax, but he is equally capable of playing right-back.

In the Ajax system that plays a back four, Timber slotted in as the RCB. But often for the Netherlands, he features as the RCB in a back three. So, in theory, he can easily play the full-back role and even slot in that inverted role that Arteta so desires.

When Timber got asked where he could play, he said, “I’m lucky to say I can play as a central defender, as a right full-back, sometimes even midfield. That’s a good thing, and I need to keep that. I like the way Arsenal play. I see a lot of similarities in the way Arsenal and Ajax want to play.”

With his arrival, things have become more complicated in a good way, and there is a visible tactical enhancement to the Arsenal defence. Arteta has an Oleksandr Zinchenko replica to rely upon on the right-hand side. He will be quite a handful when the Ukrainian international misses games, considering he was out of 17 games last season.

Ben White will probably remain the starting right-back, and there might be no changes to the back four when the season starts. But in games when the defence needed a tactical tweak, Arteta could not manoeuvre due to a lack of options last season.

With Timber, he has a new option for the central and wide areas along with the inverting role. His ball-carrying ability remained unmatched among all defenders in Eredivisie last season. Only Edson Alvarez excels in that stat.

It is a crucial attribute for Arsenal, considering they faced some limitations from Ben White. The English defender often progresses the ball with his passing. But with TImber, there is the ability to dribble it past opponents and take it into the final third.

The versatile defender also offers pace and can get coached to provide better final balls. He could become a key component of Arteta’s tactical plan heading into the new season. However, as a player, like everyone else, Timber carries deficiencies in his game.

Timber’s shortcomings would need proper coaching.

While Timber seems like the perfect profile of a player, capable of winning duels and strong on the ball while in possession, he does have a few characteristics that go against Arteta’s liking. He likes to dribble a lot for a centre-back and often loses possession.

On paper, he lost possession a lot during the last season, but compared to how much he had the ball, that statistic would seem minimal. Then again, his overall style of play often gets deemed as ‘risky’ for how he likes to progress the ball.

Even defensively, he sometimes tends to push high up the pitch, and when losing possession, the pace of the opposition could hurt him. Timber does possess plenty of pace, but he could get exposed against an elite winger in transition.

However, at Arsenal, there are many players to protect the backline in such scenarios. William Saliba excels in that kind of situation, while record signing Declan Rice could also provide ample cover if Timber would like to go forward.

The biggest worry surrounding Timber would be his transition and adaptability to the Premier League. One could point towards Manchester United’s Martinez as an example of how quickly players from the Eredivisie can settle in; Timber could yet face minor problems in that aspect.

For instance, unlike Martinez, who was starting games right from the start, Timber might take some time. Moreover, some of his defensive numbers got boosted by the limitations of the Eredivisie attackers. He was constantly exposed when facing someone near the elite levels.

Timber would need time and space to adapt to the Premier League. Arteta can afford to give him that, considering the depth in quality in this Arsenal defence. The 22-year-old offers more tactical enhancement than his deficiencies in profile.

He seems like an astute purchase, given he only cost £38-40 million, including bonuses. He could become a future star in the Premier League and at Arsenal. There is a waiting game on our hands to patiently see how he adapts to the rigours of the English division and how Arteta manages to get the best out of him.

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