Joe Aribo 2019/20 – scout report
Rangers have had a mixed campaign under Steven Gerrard this season. In the first half of the season, the Gers were in flying form, only losing one league clash out of the 19 games they played in the Scottish Premiership, beating Celtic in the last game to leave them within two points of the Hoops going into the winter break. After this stellar run, Rangers’ league form took a nose dive while their rivals flourished, pushing the gap at the top to 13 points before the league was ceased. Gerrard and his side would have welcomed the break as pressure was mounting on the former Liverpool player and his side as the Gers’ form and performance levels were poor, which caused questions over the Rangers manager’s future.
What Rangers can be positive about is the emergence of talented players like Joe Aribo. The midfielder started his career at Staines Town academy, were he was spotted and signed by Charlton Athletic in 2015, and where he became an integral player in Lee Bowyer’s side who were promoted to the Championship in the 2018/2019 season. Having been impressed by his performances, Rangers signed him that summer for this season’s campaign.
Aribo has been an instant hit at Ibrox and has had a fantastic breakout season in Scotland. He has been one of Rangers’ most consistent players and a crucial figure in Gerrard’s midfield and attack this season. The 23-year-old’s performances for The Gers has earned him a call up to the Nigerian national team for the first time, and there, he has excelled as well. In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we will examine how Joe Aribo has become such an influential player for Rangers. The report will also outline key attributes that make the 23-year-old an effective player at the heart of Rangers’ attacking play this season.
Initially, Steven Gerrard played Aribo as a left central midfielder in a midfield three in a 4-3-3 formation as he has the physical attributes to play this position. Standing at 183cm tall, he has the strength and athleticism to command the middle. The midfielder is also comfortable receiving the ball and playing in tight areas with opposition players surrounding him at all times.
The former Charlton player is able to evade such pressure as he uses strength and positions his body to protect/retain the ball. He uses his exquisite ball control, coupled with his athleticism, by applying a great burst of pace to drive by opponents and advance into space, setting up an opportunity from which to create a dangerous attacking opportunity.
The 23-year-old excels in terms of driving Gerrard’s side forward, which is reflected in him registering 2.92 progressive runs p/90. He is one of the best players in the league in carrying the ball forward and only Liam Millar, Matthew Kennedy and his teammate Glen Kamara have more progressive runs per game this season.
Aribo showed his ability to evade pressure and drive by multiple opponents to create a chance on goal in the game against Kilmarnock. The Rangers midfielder receives the ball in midfield where he is instantly pressured by an opposition player. But Aribo is able to evade this pressure easily with his great close control coupled with an injection of pace to drive into space.
The midfielder is then met by three defenders where it looks like they will win the ball back off him as he is surrounded. But he uses his intricate close ball control to manoeuvre his way out of the congested area and into the space inside where he is able to take a shot on goal.
To capitalise on Aribo’s ability to go by players with ease, Gerrard employed the Nigerian international in a more advanced position, playing him on the right of the front three, which under the manager’s tactics means he is basically an inside forward as the full-backs create the width for the side.
Since his switch to this position, Aribo has flourished as he is afforded more 1v1 opportunities with opposition defenders in this position. The 23-year-old does not have to beat multiple players to create an opportunity and with his great dribbling ability, where attempts 5.56 dribbles p/90 with a 55.4% success rate, he has become a dangerous attacking outlet for Rangers.
The threat that Aribo causes when he is faced with a 1v1 situation is evident below in the example against Motherwell. The Nigerian international drifts out into space out on the right-wing where he receives the ball and drives with it into the box. The Motherwell left-back tries to stop the Rangers midfielder. Aribo uses his close ball control, balance and a body feint to deceive the defender into thinking his going to the by-line (black arrow).
The Rangers midfielder has great centre of gravity to change direction quickly, which puts the defender off balance and Aribo is easily able to progress past him. His action causes the left-central defender to come across to stop him, which opens up space for Alfredo Morelos and the midfielder has the composure to play the ball into the striker for him to score.
The former Charlton player not only creates chances for his team just through running at the opposition and beating players, but he is also very adept at finding his teammates with incisive passes. The majority of the time he makes the right decision as he picks his situations well in terms of when to dribble and when to pass to a teammate in a better position.
Aribo is one of Rangers’ main creative catalysts in the team and has only got better since his move to a more advanced position. He looks to cut in from the right on his left foot and find teammates like Morelos and Jermain Defoe who play on the shoulder with through passes in behind. The 23-year-old unlocks defences with his passing, supplying his teammates with chances and is 6th in the league in terms of key passes.
The midfielder’s creativity and vision created a chance for Rangers in the game against Motherwell. We see below that he receives the ball in an advanced position and looks to drive forward with it but due his threat in a 1v1 situation, as mentioned above, Motherwell decide to double up on him. This resulting double up leaves space in the central position where Kent is looking for a ball in behind.
Aribo cleverly slows up, baiting the players further in trying to win the ball back while also waiting for Kent to complete his run and the right time to release the ball so the pass is more effective in behind. The midfielder also intelligently switches the ball to his weaker right foot which changes and creates a better angle in which to play the ball through for Kent.
The left-footer is extremely effective in a more advanced position where he has an 86% pass accuracy rate in the final third with only Callum McGregor and Kamara having a better accuracy rate. Aribo is very comfortable playing in congested areas, as mentioned previously in this analysis, and this also equates to his passing in tight areas in the box where he has great vision with the awareness to thread passes to his teammates.
Aribo shows glimpses of his street football past since he is very tricky and skilful and is a truly refreshing sight to see. He uses this skillset very well and creates opportunities for teammates in tight areas, like in the game against Livingston. Rangers are on the attack with Kent on the left and he plays the ball into Aribo in the box.
The midfielder is surrounded by Livingston players but Aribo has great vison and awareness and sees Morelos on his left, slightly in front of him, in space. With his first touch, he ,improvises and flicks the ball through for Morelos, setting him up but his shot is straight at the keeper.
The Nigerian international has amassed six assists and has also registered six second assists which is the joint best in the league and shows how crucial the midfielder is in terms of contributing and creating goals for Gerrard and his Rangers side. What makes this more impressive is the fact this it is Aribo’s first season in Scotland and he has adapted really well.
Movement into space
In a more advanced position, Aribo loves to roam from his wide position into a central one and will also at times drop deeper to receive the ball or create space for himself or his teammates to attack into. Gerrard gives him the free reign to drift around the pitch as he trusts Aribo to get into positions to hurt the opposition. With him roaming around the pitch, it is difficult for the opposition to mark and keep tabs on him.
The 23-year-old has great game intelligence, the ability to identify space and great timing to make a run into and receive the ball in the space to create an opportunity. This was evident in the game against Kilmarnock, which you can see below. Rangers are on the attack and Aribo drops deep into the right centre-midfield position but the ball is progressed out to the left-wing to Kamara. Aribo is behind the play at this stage and identifies the space in the right half-space.
The midfielder cleverly slows down his run which looks like he is disinterested as it lacks any intensity. This enables him to ghost into the space as the defensive and midfield lines’ attention is not drawn to his run. When the ball is played to a central position to Ryan Jack, Aribo is free inside the box and in space.
Jack plays the ball into the former Charlton player whose first touch is impeccable, which gives him more space and time, and he has the vision and awareness to thread a ball through a tight gap into Morelos, who is able to finish past the Kilmarnock keeper.
Coupled with his ability to run from deep, Airbo is also effective at identifying space in more advanced starting positions. The right-winger is extremely versatile and will regularly switch positons with the left-winger or the striker. His movement and switching of positions will cause confusion and disorganisation in the defensive line, thus creating space in which to attack into and create a goa- scoring chance.
The Nigerian international’s movement, identification of space and the timing of his run to create a chance from an advanced starting position was evident in the game against Hearts. Rangers have progressed the ball in an advanced position on the right through right-back James Tavernier. Aribo’s starting position is in the centre but he drifts out slightly to the right while also staying in an onside position so he is out of sight of the Hearts’ left centre-back.
The Rangers midfielder has identified the oceans of space in behind in the right half-space. When Tavernier plays the ball back to Scott Arfield, this triggers Airbo to make a blindside run off the left-centre back into this space and he cleverly curves his run to stay onside as he is played in behind.
The ball from Arfield in behind is slightly overhit but Aribo recovers the ball well before it goes over the end line as he keeps the move alive with his signature move and body feints to the right (black arrow), throwing the defender off balance and opening up the space to cut the ball back to Kent to finish past the Hearts keeper.
Area of improvement
One area the Rangers player should look to improve on is his conversion of big chances. Aribo’s great game intelligence and identification of space is very good, as mentioned in the previous point, and this results in him being positioned in dangerous areas and gifts him with chances to score. In the league, he has a conversion rate of 9.6% and considering 87% of shots are from inside the box, that is a pretty poor return.
The 23-year-old lacks the same composure he does when he is dribbling, passing and setting up his teammates in congested areas as he seems to rush his shot and miss glorious chances, like in the game against Hibernian. Rangers have a corner kick and Airbo is positioned just in front of the keeper, as highlighted by the red circle below.
The corner is delivered to the centre of the box where Conor Goldson heads the ball down and it drops at the feet of Airbo. All the midfielder has to do is swivel, which he does, but instead of calmly finishing it to the net, he swipes at the ball and it goes over the bar from six yards out.
The Nigerian is showing his level of finishing in cup games and on the European stage, scoring six goals, but he has not brought the same level of consistency to the league and this is something he needs to transfer across. It is not like he’s shooting from difficult angles since his xG per shot is 0.14, which is 0.03 off the highest rate in the league this season. The midfielder is just not striking the ball cleanly and so this has affected his shot accuracy.
This was evident in the game against Kilmarnock where he has drifted in space and he is free inside the box. The ball eventually gets played to Aribo and his first touch is fantastic and opens his body out in one motion so he does not have to slow down.
However, when it comes to striking the ball, this part of the move lets him down. As he looks to generate great power in his shot, this puts him off balance and coupled with the fact he does not connect cleanly with the ball, his shot goes wide of the near post by a distance.
Joe Aribo has made a huge impact in his breakout season for Rangers. The 23-year-old has become a key figure for Steven Gerrard’s side in progressing the ball forward, being an attacking threat and creating chances for his side, as outlined in the analysis.
The former Charlton player has fantastic ball control, strength, pace and incisive passing which, coupled with such intelligence, awareness and identification of space, is an absolute joy to watch. If he continues to preform under the pressure, which comes with playing in the blue shirt, he will have teams south of the border looking for his signature.
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