A dismal second half dragged on for Arsenal at the Etihad last weekend. Manchester City’s reliable talisman Sergio Agüero had just put the home side 3-1 up against the Gunners; albeit in controversial circumstances, and Unai Emery was frantic for a change.
The clock hit 66 minutes and there is movement from the bench. The famous red shirt of the North London outfit was pulled over the player in question’s head; “Denis Suárez” proudly manifested above the number 22. Could the 25-year-old make an impact in his Premier League debut against the side that refused to give him the very same opportunity eight years prior?
No. City romped to victory to set up the chance to go top of the table during the week which they duly did against Everton and Arsenal failed to even muster an effort on goal. But, with more time on the pitch, could Denis Suárez be an integral part in the Gunners’ effort to achieve a top-four finish this season? Absolutely.
Arsenal’s sole acquisition this past transfer window certainly has quality, although his chances to demonstrate that quality this season have been few and far between. Suárez’ cameo at the Etihad on Sunday was his fifth appearance since August; originating from the dugout like the other four and culminating in a grand total of 65 minutes on a football pitch this season, making it understandable that he wasn’t expected to make an astonishing impact considering his lack of game time.
However, as the Vigo native accumulates some more playing time, he can certainly be a shot in the arm for Arsenal going forward. Whilst the Spaniard normally occupied the centre of the park in his two-and-a-half seasons in Barcelona’s first team, often fulfilling the role of Andres Iniesta’s understudy, Suárez’ versatility allowed Emery to deploy him on the right of midfield – a role the midfielder played often during his proficient loan spell at an Emery-led Sevilla side in 2014/15 – in an altered 4-2-3-1 formation before changing to a midfield diamond with Suárez shifting more to his natural position.
Denis’ versatility is certainly a key reason for Emery bringing him to the Emirates as the one-time Spanish international is malleable enough to slot into central midfield to conduct the passing play; sit just behind Aubameyang and/or Lacazette to play neat through balls or play deep on either wing and drill balls into the box – providing vital squad depth for an injury-prone Arsenal whose late-season revival is essential after falling to 6th place at the weekend.
Whilst playing away to former club Manchester City is certainly not the easiest circumstance to make a mark, it’s certainly possible for Denis Suárez to inhibit that same role on the right side of midfield throughout the season and provide Arsenal with a technically-adept width to their play that could be argued has been missing for them this season under Emery. As a consummate passer of the ball, Suárez’ crossing has often been touted as a standout factor of his play – shown in his limited appearances in Catalonia – as he is able to both loft and drill the ball with precision into dangerous areas; a style that hasn’t featured much for the Gunners under Unai Emery, as shown by defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka completing the most crosses for Arsenal this season; a whole 102 crosses behind Everton’s Lucas Digne.
Suárez’ crossing could provide another avenue to utilise Aubameyang’s formidable positioning to increase Arsenal’s goal tally. Furthermore, the loanee’s outstanding ball control and his ability to thrive in one-on-one situations with defenders makes Emery’s firepower in the final third of the pitch even more dangerous, as Suárez provides another option to penetrate opposition defence – especially against sides at the bottom end of the table who sit deep and try to nullify Arsenal’s attack like Cardiff attempted to do at the Emirates – and opens up the opportunity for lay-offs to the clinical finishers playing alongside him.
Alternatively, with Mesut Özil falling out of favour, Suárez may feel more comfortable slotting into a much more central role like he has done at both Barcelona and Villarreal. It’s no secret that the Galician’s passing ability is of an upper echelon and most likely led Arsenal to acquire him in the first place as a quality playmaker, making it plausible that he may play along the halfway line next to Guendouzi and Torreira in a flat midfield three or behind the strikers in a diamond formation; working to assist the rapid Arsenal attack in an Özil-esque role.
Denis Suárez’ natural talent to weight a pass perfectly to its recipient, as well as attributing the ball with enough speed to evade interceptors, even led former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique to compare the 25-year-old to a budding Andres Iniesta – a comparison anchored further by Suárez’ fierce work ethic off the ball and intelligence to make runs forward into pockets of space to overload the defence.
In a more conservative position in the midfield, when given the space Suárez is known to drive the ball forward before distributing the ball either out wide or to charging attackers if the opportunity arises. The Spaniard will certainly cement himself as a playmaker rather than an additional goal-threat, however, as his finishing can often leave much to be desired – although his unexpected ghosting runs into the box whilst at Barcelona have previously evaded defenders and left Suárez free to poke home a rare goal.
With the rampant injury bug stripping Arsenal of key players and the lethargic and stagnant performance of the once-deified Mesut Özil leaving a void in the central attacking midfield role that is yearning to be filled, Denis Suárez has a window of opportunity like no other to make a mark in an Arsenal shirt and establish himself as a first-rate Premier League player; something he was limited from doing at Manchester City. Does Suárez guarantee that the Gunners will finish in a Champions League spot come May? No. Will he automatically transform the Gunners into a dominant and rampant team? Probably not. But does Denis Suárez have the potential to make a huge impact in his loan spell at Arsenal?