Emi Buendia scout report: Arteta’s solution to Arsenal’s creative struggles?
After a challenging Championship season with a very tight schedule, Norwich City were the team to show consistency and earn promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. With a few of their players topping the charts for best performers in their positions, the team showed character and drive to get back to the top tier of English football.
Apart from Teemu Pukki who proved to be their best performer, scoring 26 goals in the 2020/21 season, an unexpected turn of events saw the 24-year-old Emiliano Buendía in his best form yet, showing his quality consistently, after having struggled at various points during his previous two seasons in England.
Despite being linked with a few teams, the Argentinean failed to find a new club after Norwich’s relegation to the Championship. A year later, having shown even more of his abilities and helping the team immensely in their road to the title, Buendía is still rumoured to see the exit sign and join another club in the summer transfer window.
He is most heavily linked with Arsenal, who seem like the main contenders for his signature in their search for a new creative figure in attack. Despite the strong individuals in their forward line, the Gunners have been struggling in their attacking actions due to the lack of a creative good passer who can create chances for them as well as take advantage of these chances himself.
Although the right-wing seems to be reserved for Nicolas Pépé, who scored five goals in four games at the end of the campaign, Buendía still looks like a great option for increasing the team’s efficiency in the final third and creating more goalscoring opportunities.
Position and main traits
The Argentine is an attacking midfielder who is most frequently used on the right. He plays as a RAMF in Norwich’s 4-2-3-1 formation, being used both as a support to Pukki, the centre forward and as a direct threat too.
His ability to occupy both the wide areas, the half-spaces and also move centrally is highly valued since this allows him to use his creative passing to support his teammates in attack but also to move into goalscoring positions and creating chances. Buendía has good control of the ball and is a strong asset in the final third when it comes to taking on the defenders and delivering the ball into quality positions.
He scored 15 goals and assisted 17 more in Norwich’s title-winning season, being very beneficial for their attacking set-up. He was one of the team’s main traits in the box but what made him even more important was his long shot ability. Providing additional threat from outside the box was key for their successful forward actions.
The 24-year-old is a valuable addition to the squad due to his versatility. He could be used on the left-wing as well and he could also be deployed as a CAM if necessary.
While he is mainly focused on his actions in the advanced areas, his defensive contribution has proved very important for the team, as he tends to drop back in his own half and provide additional support during transitions.
Buendía’s key asset is his creative passing. His confidence on the ball and great control allow him to move into quality positions, where his football intelligence and spatial awareness help him in boosting the team’s creativity and providing smart passes and through balls frequently. His successful passing efforts often dismiss the opposition’s defensive line and set his teammates up into goalscoring positions.
His positioning is a key part of his successful passing and in his efficiency when it comes to supporting his teammates. His tendency to cut inside or occupy the half-spaces allows him to drag players out of position and to exploit the gaps that occurred, where then his strong-decision making results in risky but efficient passes that find his teammates in the perfect positions.
His ability to read the game well gives him confidence on and off the ball which results in creating quality chances for his team. Whenever he is with the ball his control would allow him to pass through his markers and deliver it to the advanced areas where he could contribute with one-two pass combinations or directly send a through ball to his fellow attackers.
His importance off the ball is immense too. His spatial awareness allows him to occupy the advanced areas smartly and make late runs to get to an end of crossed delivered by the full-backs. It is exactly Norwich’s full-backs involvement in attack that gives him the freedom to roam centrally. Although he does move out wide too, he would rarely commit to crossing since his strengths are providing passing options and direct threat centrally.
Using his creativity in and around the box has increased Noriwch’s efficiency in attack since it allows a lot of movement and different combinations between the forward players.
The Argentine leads the league charts in terms of Through balls per 90, setting up his teammates 3.07 times on average per game. That underlines both his strong positioning but also his awareness and passing abilities. He also excels in smart passing as his 3.04 efforts per game increase the team’s creativity and often break defensive structures.
He doesn’t only rely on short passing though. His strong vision often results in long diagonal balls targeting a teammate in the underloaded side of the pitch. He often combines his long balls with off the ball runs after that, where he can position in the box and receive the ball again, creating a goalscoring opportunity.
His positioning and decision-making are crucial for providing a direct threat. Although he is employed as a RAMF on paper, he most frequently drifts towards the central areas which makes him a great direct threat. Relying on his strong decision-making and shooting abilities the team have increased their efficiency in front of the goal immensely.
His ability to both move to the box without the ball but also deliver the ball there through dribbling and taking advantage of these opportunities have resulted in him scoring 15 times, becoming the team’s second-best goalscorer.
He tends to hold on to the ball which is a result of his dribbling abilities that allow him to progress the ball and take on defenders easily. Whenever he receives the ball either centrally or through crossing his control and confidence allow him to make the best decision and pass to a better-positioned teammate or directly shoot.
He is very beneficial against opponents employing low blocks or overloading the penalty area due to his long-shot ability. Providing additional threat from outside the box has proved to be a valuable asset whenever the opposition’s defensive structure doesn’t allow moving into quality goalscoring positions. His shooting ability is equally strong both from close range and from distance which made him crucial for the team’s efforts on the goal.
What makes him even more valuable in front of the goal is his ability to play with both feet. Although he is considered right-footed, he is seen scoring goals with his left foot too, which shows his ability to not waste on opportunities.
Although often being quite risky, Buendía’s defensive actions do provide additional support to the team during transitions. His contribution to Norwich’s pressing efforts has been noticeable, and while his actions could often result in committing fouls he is an important figure in providing defensive solidity and in recovering the ball.
He dived into 8.09 defensive duels per 90 on average with a 50% success rate, which is a quite satisfying performance having in mind his advanced position. Recovering the ball 5.85 times per game also added up well to the team’s defensive efforts.
Last season, Norwich focused their efforts on having more of the ball, resulting in 60% of average possession. They would often try to recover the ball in the advanced areas by pressing high, where the Argentine played an important role. His ability to anticipate the opposite players’ movement helps him in intercepting the ball 4.54 times on average per game too.
Does he have a chance at Arsenal?
A few things need to be considered looking at his chances to succeed at Arsenal. Do they need a player in this position? Do they need a player with his strengths? Does he fit Arteta’s strategy? Is he a better performer than their current options in this position?
Arsenal are in desperate need of a creative player who can operate on the edge of the final third and create chances for his teammates. While they do have some force in the forward line, there is no distinguished passer behind them who could exploit spaces and send through balls. It is only Emile Smith-Rowe of their midfield players that is a natural attacker and could provide quality support in the advanced areas. When it comes to right-sided players, Bukayo Saka is the one that was most frequently used in a RAMF role, although he would continuously be switched to the left wing-back and left attacking midfielder position. He has even been employed as a left-back. While he was among the Londoners’ best performers, he finished the Premier League season with only five goals and three assists in 32 games and he wasn’t used to his strengths.
Having Buendía in the squad could make Arsenal’s second most used formation 3-4-3 more efficient. This might see Saka as a permanent option for the right wing-backs with the Argentine in front of him, which would allow the team to get use of Saka’s dribbling and crossing abilities on the flank, while the 24-year-old would have the freedom to move centrally. This would provide Arsenal with more options in and around the box, hence possibly increase their creativity and efficiency in front of the goal.
Using their favoured 4-2-3-1 is also an option, although the ex-Manchester City assistant coach might find it difficult to choose the right starting XI, especially with the lack of quality attacking options on the left. Considering Buendía’s qualities, though, he could complement the other players’ movement and actions pretty well. He could provide a direct threat by receiving crosses. He could also be a great additional passing option centrally for one-two combinations with Smith-Rowe and Alexandre Lacazette, who can play well with his back to the goal.
His passing abilities and spatial awareness could be perfect for setting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up in the penalty area and pushing him back to his old form. The box is the least occupied area by the Arsenal players and they often lack someone with strong spatial awareness and off the ball movement who could make runs and break defences. This makes the 24-year-old the perfect option for better coverage in these areas.
Arsenal rarely create quality goalscoring opportunities from distance too. Buendía will provide additional explosiveness with his tendency to shoot from outside the box, especially in cases where the other attackers get isolated by the oppositions’ defensive structures.
It seems that moving him into a No. 10 position could be the most beneficial for Arsenal, especially in their 4-2-3-1 formation. This will give the opportunity to still have Saka or Pépé on the right-wing. This wouldn’t make huge of a difference in Buendía’s performance as he would get the freedom to roam centrally as per usual, without necessarily having responsibilities in the wide areas.
“On the pitch, he (the coach) gives me the chance to feel the freedom to try my football, creating chances for my teammates. I try to do my best in the final third. At first, I played on the right-wing, but with the freedom, I can move around. For most of my life, my position has been the number ten behind the striker, but with this system, it doesn’t matter for me if I’m there or on the left or right-wing.” said the Argentine in an interview for Norwich’s official website, confirming that he feels comfortable in each position and it wouldn’t affect his style of play.
As the last section in our analysis, we did a data comparison. In the above chart, we exported data for all attacking Arsenal players that have played on the right side and compared their average numbers to Buendía’s numbers from last season.
We picked a few different indicators that show their contribution to the attacking actions and their goalscoring involvement. Looking at the stats that indicate creativity, we can see that the Argentine excels both in Smart passes per 90 and Through passes per 90 compared to the Arsenal players. Their low numbers show the need for a creative force in the final third. This is also an area that Buendía leads in. He sends 7.75 passes to the final third on average, while Saka and the ex-Chelsea player Willian have the second-best numbers (2.54) which are way lower than the Norwich player.
His tendency to occupy the central areas is underlined by his low crossing numbers. He completes 0.66 crosses per 90. Reiss Nelson and Saka are the ones who focus on crossing most frequently for Arsenal. Nelson also leads in terms of dribbling efforts due to his ball progression involvement on the right. Buendía attempts 3.73 dribbles per game.
It’s evident that the Argentine creates the most goalscoring opportunities out of all, not only due to his creative passing but also due to his shooting abilities. He shoots 2.74 times on average, which is the highest number compared to the Arsenal players in this position.
We also included a sum-up of their defensive performance by using their Successful defensive actions per 90 rates. Buendía excels in that area too, clearly being the most successful in providing support to his team’s defence.
Buendia could be a good solution to Arsenal’s creative struggles, especially in terms of occupying the central areas and providing additional options there. His smart passing and spatial awareness could help Arsenal increase their efficiency in front of the goal where he could both create chances for his teammates and also provide a direct threat. His defensive contribution will also be very useful for the team in transitions and will increase their awareness in defensive situations.