Mikel Arteta has used the summer window to correct a vulnerability that saw the Gunners slip last season after the injury to William Saliba. The gaffer clearly wants to go into the new campaign with deeper reinforcements in defense, and has spent £34m on highly-rated Jurrien Timber from Ajax, who can deploy in a number of positions across the back.
Let’s take a closer look at the Netherlands international, and how he might fit in at the Emirates.
Born on the 17th of June 2001, Timber began his early footballing career at Utrecht-based club DVSU. At the age of four, he joined the club alongside his twin brother Quinten and elder brother Dylan Timber. The brothers stayed at DVSU for two years before moving to Feyenoord club academy in 2008. They decided to move to Feyenoord despite interest from Ajax and Utrecht because it was easier for their mother to keep a close eye on them at Feyenoord.
The brothers quickly rose through the ranks and garnered a lot of attention due to their obvious talent. In the year 2014, the twins moved to Ajax. The move to Ajax proved to be a testing one for the twin brothers, as they both were forced to deal with injuries. But rather than becoming discouraged, the twin brothers worked with physios and equipped their family home with gym equipment, which helped them develop the strength and durability to deal with the daily rigours of professional football.
Jurrien Timber made his senior debut for Ajax on the 7th of March 2020 in a 3-1 victory over SC Heerenveen. Timber would make no other appearance for Ajax that season. But the youngster helped Ajax seal the Dutch league title the following season, making 20 appearances in all competitions.
That 2021-22 season proved to be Timber’s best season to date as he not only helped Ajax successfully defend its league title, but also took home a number of personal honours. The Netherland international picked up the Curacao Player of the Year, Eredivise Talent of the Year, Eredivise Player of the Year, and the Marco Van Basten award.
What is Timber’s Style of Play?
Standing at 1.82m, Timbers is a combative defender who was one of the best in the Dutch League. According to Whoscored, Timber’s major strengths are passing, tackling and concentration. He rarely caught ball-watching. Brave on the ball, dynamic, and extremely progressive, the young man also has leadership qualities — Manchester United’s Erik Ten Hag has tipped him to become a captain someday.
Originally a centre-back, the Dutch defender was a very versatile player for Ajax and will be an option for Arteta in multiple positions. When asked to name his favourite position after he was unveiled by the Gunners, the defender said:
“ For me it doesn’t really matter, I think that I’m lucky to say that I can play as a central defender, as a right full-back, sometimes even on the midfield.”
Timber’s ability on the ball is one of the major reasons Arteta was determined to add him to the Gunners’ backline. Timbers recorded 780 ball carries last season; only teammate Edson Alvarez recorded more across the entire Eredivisie last season. Of those 780 carries, 487 were progressive, 76 more than any other player in the league. Timber also had the most touches in the Eredivisie last season, with 3,120. He lost possession just 297 times (a rate of 9.4%), the second-lowest in league among players with at least 500 touches. These stats illustrate his comfort with building out from the back.
While clearly talented, Timber is far from a finished product. Timber’s aggressive style of play makes him susceptible to committing fouls. While he adapts to the faster pace of football in the Premier League, bookings could be an issue. His progressive ball-carrying style also means he might occasionally lose the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch. A perfect example of this is the goal that Ecuador scored against the Netherlands in the last World Cup after Timber was dispossessed in his own half while trying to carry the ball forward.
How Will Timber Fit In At Arsenal?
Timber’s versatility offers Mikel Arteta the opportunity to use different systems in the Arsenal backline. Timber will be expected to slot in at right back, but his arrival could have knock-on effects for others. Last season, the Gunners deployed a back four in which Zinchenko often inverted into midfield, leaving three defenders behind to hold the fort. But often Ben White also left the defensive line to gallop down the wing to support Bukayo Saka, leaving the Gunners short at the back and susceptible to counterattacks.
At Liverpool, the decision for Alexander Arnold to invert into midfield meant that Andrew Robertson stayed mired in defense, drastically reducing his forays forward to tuck in as a third centre-back. Timber’s positional versatility and ball skills give Arteta the option to allow Zinchenko to invert while Timbers minds the store in defense, or to task Timber with inverting while the left back stays home to join the back three.
Timber’s ability on the ball allowed him to play the inverted right-back role to perfection for Ajax last season. With Zinchenko being suspect defensively, this season Timber might be the fullback who inverts, while a more natural defender like Kieran Tierney, Jakub Kiwior or Tomiyasu fills the left-back position.
Timber’s versatility means he could challenge for a spot in a number of positions. However, the presence of Thomas Partey, Declan Rice and Jorginho means he’s unlikely to get a game at the base of midfield. And Arteta’s preferred centre-back pairing of William Saliba and Gabriel Malgaheas seems unlikely to be disrupted.
This means Timber will have to slug it out with Ben White and Tomiyasu for the right-back position. His superior ball-playing abilities mean he’s likely to be the preferred option among the trio. Consequently he’ll play an important role in the Gunners build-up play and will be given freedom to go forward.
This should result in assists and maybe even goals. Priced at £5m, if Timber can lock down the right back spot in Arsenal’s lineup, then he’ll be an attractive fantasy asset for managers seeking defenders with good potential for attacking returns as well as clean sheets.
What are your thoughts on Arsenal’s new Dutch defender? Are you tempted to bring him in sooner rather than later? Please log in and tell us what you think in the comments below!