How Arsenal could line up with returning Jurrien Timber

  • Jurrien Timber is set to return from injury after March international break
  • Timber has recovered from torn ACL sustained in August
  • Versatility gives Mikel Arteta an array of options

Jurrien Timber is scheduled to return after the international break
Jurrien Timber is scheduled to return after the international break / ANP/GettyImages

It was a debut campaign destined to promise so much, but an ACL tear on Matchday 1 of the 2023/24 Premier League season has seen Jurrien Timber spend much of the season in recovery.

The Dutch defender joined from Ajax last summer in one of the more understated deals of the window. In north London, the discourse generally surrounded a questionable move for Kai Havertz and the pursuit of Declan Rice.

But Timber's arrival was significant nonetheless, with the Dutchman's talent quickly manifesting during pre-season.

“I think you’ve seen tonight he’s a really versatile player. We can use him in different positions within those positions,” Mikel Arteta beamed in the summer, clearly excited at the prospect of working with the 22-year-old. Timber has been out of action since August, but a return from injury is imminent.

With Timber slated to make his comeback after the international break, here's how Arsenal could line up in defence with the Dutchman involved.

Jurrien Timber at left-back

Jurrien Timber
Timber had been used at left-back to start the season / Julian Finney/GettyImages

Oleksandr Zinchenko played such a crucial role in Arsenal's rise last season, inverting from left-back to partner the holding midfielder in the middle of the park. His technical brilliance allowed the Gunners to control and retain, as well as efficiently progress through the thirds.

However, Zinchenko's campaign has so far been blighted by injuries and the dynamic has altered with Jakub Kiwior filling in impressively. While the Pole has the freedom to take up more advanced positions when necessary, Kiwior does not drift into the zones often frequented by Zinchenko.

Kiwior's form means he'll take some usurping, but Timber had started out his Arsenal career at left-back. There wasn't much by way of inversion from the left flank, but the Dutchman certainly has the capacity to do so. With Ben White on the opposite flank, Arteta could use a fluid system in which either full-back could invert depending on where the ball is on the pitch.

Potential lineup with Timber: White - Saliba - Gabriel - Timber

Jurrien Timber at right-back

Ben White
Ben White will not be relinquishing his right-back position / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Fan favourite Ben White will not be relinquishing his right-back berth anytime soon. The Englishman has been one of the Gunners' standout performers in 2024, with his role shifting following Kiwior's inclusion at left-back.

White's function is incredibly fluid and subtly different by the game. What's clear, however, is that he's comfortable operating in midfield and remains a creative force for the Gunners in the final third - whether that's crossing from a deeper position in the half-space, or getting around Bukayo Saka on the overlap.

While Timber is undoubtedly a superior defender, Arteta is not going to use the Dutchman in favour of White during the run-in. Timber will only be a candidate for the right-back berth if White succumbs to injury.

White, however, is almost always available (touch wood!). Still, should the English defender be forced to sit out, Timber has the talent to replicate White's all-encompassing right-back role while offering greater security in one-v-one situations.

Potential lineup with Timber: Timber - Saliba - Gabriel - Kiwior / Timber - Saliba - Gabriel - Tomiyasu / Timber- Saliba - Gabriel - Zinchenko

Jurrien Timber at centre-back

William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes
Arsenal's centre-back monsters have been in superb form this season / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

Again, this is a scenario Arsenal supporters won't want to envision. Not because Timber isn't up to standard, but due to the brilliance William Saliba and Gabriel have manifested in tandem this season.

An injury to Saliba killed Arsenal down the stretch last term, but should either of the Gunners' centre-back monsters pick up a knock (Gabriel is dealing with a foot injury) and miss a game, Arteta is better equipped to mitigate their absence.

Timber has operated as a centre-back in a back three, primarily on the right-side, and a back four. He can do it all. For what he lacks in height he more than makes up for in speed and physicality. Timber's an excellent recovery defender with natural instincts for the position. Arsenal would be in good hands if Arteta's forced to deploy the returning Dutchman centrally.

His role in possession would depend on the absentee. He'd perhaps be better suited to Saliba's role on the right side of the three when the Gunners have possession. Timber's certainly comfortable operating in such zones.

Potential lineups with Timber: White - Timber - Gabriel - Kiwior / White - Saliba - Timber - Zinchenko / White - Timber - Gabriel - Tomiyasu