As many of you already know, Arnaut Danjuma was added to Luis Van Gaal’s Netherlands camp ahead of their match with Gibralter. This is very well deserved, as the former Bournemouth man has been absolutel sensational in his start to life in Spain. Further, being taken into the Dutch fold at this crucial time in his career could prove beneficial for Villarreal, as the winger still has an option for a one time switch to the Nigerian national side, something that would take him away from his club in crucial weeks of this coming January. That problem is altogether avoided if he remains a member of the Oranje.
What exactly is it, though, that makes Danjumagic so potent against La Liga opposition? Well, for starters, his positioning in Unai Emery’s scheme has given us a whole new dimension on the left flank. Last season, Moi Gomez spent a lot of time as a nominal left wing who would drift inside, and the season before that, Santi Cazorla filled a similar role. Both Spaniards were effective in their own way, but neither was pacey and neither forced the defense to extend all the way to the touchline. As this heatmap from Wyscout shows, Danjuma is much more the traditional winger:
What’s very interesting to me is that Emery has inserted this traditional winger into his system without compromising possession. For much of the last two seasons, part of how we possessed the ball is that often the left sided player would drift inside to aid with buildup, providing an extra passing outlet to the true CMs. I think the reason why that is not necessary with Danjuma is that he poses such a threat on runs down the flank that opposing defenses cannot commit to putting as much pressure on our CMs.
I, for one, entertain thoughts of Danjuma running down one flank on a break with a healthy Samu Chukwueze brought on at the hour mark running down the other, and all manner of havoc being brought down upon tired back lines.
Besides his general positioning, a big part of what has made Danjuma so very effective in Unai Emery’s system is that he is a quick-acting player in a side that has struggled in the past being too meticulous in buildup. We’ve all see so many instances where we just wish the midfielders would get the ball out of their feet faster, but instead we spend minutes dinking the ball around a low block. Danjuma revolts against this idea. He is a good dribbler, but not overly flashy with it. He wants to go directly by you, make his pass, and then immediately make the next run to get it back and make another quick decision with it. So many of his goals this year have come from simply making a decisive, fully committed run right at the moment we recover the ball, thus allowing him a better chance to score.
Playing across from Yeremy Pino has greatly helped in this respect as well. Pino is a willing presser and a quick thinker on the ball himself, and multiple goals already this year have come from a Pino ball recovery leading straight to a pass to Danjuma or Yeremy receiving a long ball that he immediately recycles to someone who drops it off to Danjuma. The midfield is still careful and meticulous- which helps us against teams that press- but these two wide attackers are react quickly and in deadly fashion against opposing defenses.
This goal against Atletico is a perfect example. Both Yeremy and Danjuma work hard to recover the ball, then are both decisive in their runs and passes:
The final thing that makes Danjuma so dangerous is the fact that he is remarkably two footed. Las season at Bournemouth, he did take 53 out of his 74 shots with his right foot (just one with his head), but over his 17 league goals, 9 were right footed and 8 where left footed. This year, 12 shots have come off his right, 7 on his left, but he has two goals with each foot. If you compare these numbers to other wingers he’s remarkably well balanced.
Danjuma’s stunning early season form is no fluke, it comes from a player bringing the exact qualities his new club needed to the table match after match. He’s not even outperforming his expected goals so far this season, he is simply taking the chances provided to him. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, we will be able to see this offense full flow, with a healthy Gerard in the starting lineup and a healthy Samu coming off the bench. If that happens, this Villarreal side can be truly dangerous, with a front line in which the Ballon D’or nominee Gerard might not even be the most dangerous player.