Jurrien Timber boost for Arsenal – Why £40m man’s return could be transformative for Mikel Arteta

Jurrien Timber playing for Arsenal in pre-season
Jurrien Timber impressed during pre-season with Arsenal after his move from Ajax - Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

Mikel Arteta is optimistic Jurrien Timber will return to full fitness before the end of the season, but stopped short of placing an exact date on the defender’s comeback to first-team action.

The Arsenal manager revealed Timber has been recovering well since suffering an ACL injury on the opening day of the season at home to Nottingham Forest in August.

When asked whether the Netherlands international will play again this season, Arteta said: “I really hope so. He’s doing really well. He’s been with some players on the pitch.

“He’s going to do some bits with us on the pitch in the next week or so. Then we have to see how that evolves, his confidence levels, his fitness levels and hopefully then the answer is ‘yes’.”

Timber signed for Arsenal in July from Ajax in a deal that could ultimately be worth about £39 million, after spending four years in Amsterdam, where he won two league titles.

The full-back, who has also won 15 caps for the Netherlands, was tipped to be a crucial component of Arteta’s plans this season, and earned many plaudits for his pre-season performances before his injury.

Timber receives treatment on the pitch from an Arsenal physio
Timber receives treatment after injuring his ACL against Nottingham Forest in August - Clive Mason/Getty Images

Arteta spoke in the summer about the attributes Timber brought to the Arsenal first-team squad, not just as a player, but as a leader off the pitch, and lamented his absence as a “huge blow”.

“Everyone could see from day one what he was going to bring to the team,” Arteta said earlier this season. “The versatility, the quality, the leadership. And an ability that we did not have in the backline.”

Partey, Jesus and Zinchenko also close to returns

Meanwhile, Arteta said Thomas Partey and Gabriel Jesus are “very close” to making their returns from injury, while Oleksandr Zinchenko is also expected to come back in the coming weeks.

Partey has not played since October because of a serious thigh problem, but Arteta suggested he might be in contention for Saturday’s meeting with Newcastle United.

“We have another session today and obviously he’s been out for many, many months now and we need to really nail the timing and when he has enough in the tank to compete, but I think he’s very close,” said Arteta.

Why £40m man’s return could be transformative for Mikel Arteta’s master plan

Can you miss something you never had? For Arsenal’s supporters, at least, the absence through injury of Jurrien Timber this season has not been as hard to stomach as the loss of more recognised players. Arsenal fans simply have not seen Timber in their club’s shirt for any meaningful amount of time.

For Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff, though, the situation is very different. Arsenal paid almost £40 million to sign the Dutch defender from Ajax and they did so because they believed his presence would allow the team to evolve in a meaningful way, to become more unpredictable.

Timber managed 50 minutes of action in the Premier League before suffering a serious ACL injury against Nottingham Forest on the opening day. From the moment he limped off, Arteta was forced to shelve some of his more ambitious tactical plans for the campaign.

It would therefore be an enormous boost for Arsenal, as they once again compete for the league title, if Timber is able to return before the end of the season. The master plan, at last, would be back on track.

What made Timber such an important addition for Arsenal? Firstly, his technical ability on the ball. Secondly, his versatility and adaptability. Timber can play as a right-back, centre-back and left-back. He can roll into midfield, like Oleksandr Zinchenko, or he can defend in a more traditional style.

Telegraph Sport understands that the plan was to use Timber in a similar way to Zinchenko, but on the other side of the back four. Coming inside from the right, just as Zinchenko does from the left. In his absence, Arteta originally tried to use Thomas Partey in that role. More recently, he has deployed Ben White there.

In short, Timber is not just another defensive option. He is a player who, when fit, can theoretically transform the entire structure and offensive patterns of Arteta’s team. Arsenal will have more variety and more threat when he is available.

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