Arsenal and Manchester United managers have boldly redeployed their defensive players in adapted roles
It was in the heat of summer that Mikel Arteta finally decided to press the button on a strategy he had been brewing for almost a year. For much of the previous season he had become convinced that Ben White was a right-back in the making: quick, calm on the ball and blessed with sound positional sense and a high level of tactical intelligence. The problem was everyone else. None of the squad, he decided, was capable of replacing White in the centre of defence.
For some time Arteta had been searching for full-backs who could play his way: stepping up into a narrower role when Arsenal had the ball, effectively mutating into central midfielders. Over his three seasons at the club he had tried and discarded Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Héctor Bellerín on the right, Nuno Tavares and even Bukayo Saka on the left.
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