Southampton’s summer recruitment has been promising. They have been opting for younger talent, with the eldest at 26, and biggest of those signings being midfielder Joe Aribo. Bought from Scottish side Rangers, Aribo finally has a chance to prove himself in the Premier League. And with there only being a year left on his Rangers contract, Southampton paid a mere £6m, with add ons.
Aribo offers Southampton a versatile and creative profile, which will add necessary quality and depth to their attacking ranks this season. Aribo’s adeptness in an array of roles and shapes, and in-game traits could benefit Southampton’s tactical aims too.
Aribo likes to have freedom to roam and influence attacking moves across the pitch, he’s seemingly not intent on staying in one specific area of the pitch as his team looks to create chances.
But before officially signing for the club, Aribo was asked where he likes to play by manager Ralph Hassenhutl, and Aribo said “Just behind the striker in the right forward position.”
A right forward position was often where Aribo was stationed for Rangers, notably when the side would set-up in a 4-3-2-1 under Steven Gerrard. From the right, Aribo can combine with the right-back, isolate defenders and create space for himself and others when looking to receive the ball and dribble forward, and cut inside and shoot at goal, whilst still drifting across the pitch.
Aribo scored on multiple occasions when having cut inside, but also scored after arriving late into the box. If Rangers were attacking down one side of the pitch, Aribo would move into the box, often unmarked.
The Nigerian’s eye for goal, although playing outside of the “big five” leagues, is an improvement on most of those who may be seen as direct comparisons amongst the current squad.
Goals scored since the 2017-18 season:
- Mohamed Elyonoussi: 47 goals
- Joe Aribo: 42 goals
- Stuart Armstrong: 22 goals
- Nathan Redmond: 22 goals
- Moussa Djenepo: 16 goals
Aribo’s goal return in recent seasons is literally better than Armstrong’s, Redmond’s, and Djenepo’s. So although Aribo scores goals from varying situations, what does need to be considered is the tactics adopted by Southampton in comparison with Rangers, how exactly the mentioned players are used, and Southampton facing better opposition on a regular basis.
Nevertheless, the 4.97 touches in the box per 90 that Aribo averaged in the Europa League last season is testament to his aims to maraud into the box.
Aribo did also start games as a makeshift no.9 for Rangers, notably in the Europa League semi-final second-leg against RB Leipzig. Aribo could bring teammates into play when holding onto possession, but also when having drifted out wide.
In the lead up to Rangers’ second goal against Leipzig, Aribo had moved over to the right-flank, with Wright having tucked inside. Midfielder Glen Kamara was in possession, and the initial option was to pass the short pass forward to Wright. But Wright was crowded by four Leipzig players, who seemed keen to close down passing lanes in the centre.
Though Aribo was free out wide, where the switch of play could be made, and the attack could keep going. Kamara passed out wide to Aribo, who was not tracked by the nearest defender.
Aribo had attracted two defenders as he dribbled forward, and then passed to Wright, who was now inside the box. And instead of holding onto the ball and find an angle from with to shoot, Wright quickly laid the ball off to Kamara, who scored with a first-time shot.
Then in the final against Eintracht Frankfurt, another German outfit, Aribo pounced on a loose ball following one defenders slip, to go through on goal and convert a low shot into the corner to give Rangers an initial 0-1 lead.
The match itself was one in which Rangers struggled to create as many big chances otherwise for large periods of the game. They had the majority of possession, but didn’t necessarily control the game, eventually losing on penalties.
Arguably the most natural fit for Aribo in Southampton’s accustom 4-2-2-2 does seem playing as one of two advanced midfielders, which would be mean Aribo playing as more of a wide 10, rather than out and out winger. He’d be able to drift infield, receive the ball between the lines, where he would be able to dribble at defences.
Aribo’s goal last season against St Mirren is a perfect example of receiving in between the lines and then scoring.
Starting this match in an midfield role, with licence to drift across, Wright had perhaps too much time to pass to Aribo, but made the right choice, nonetheless.
Aribo did well with his back to goal, by turning past his marker, and then rifling the ball into the top right corner.
Aribo could not only play as a wide 10, but could also play deeper, as part of a double pivot. Aribo did his fair share off of the ball, applying pressure to opposing defences, though numbers may been affected by Aribo playing in a more advanced position. Nevertheless, his work off of the ball is impressive, and his versatility may come in handy if it is felt a plan B is needed, or if teammates suffer injuries.
Defensive numbers in the 2021-22 Europa League
- Pressures: 20.36 per 90
- Tackles: 1.71 per 90
- Interceptions: 1.71 per 90
- Clearances: 1.06 per 90
Aribo has also played in a midfield three, either in a 4-D-2, or a 3-5-2, excelling as the most advanced midfielder within the trident, where he had licence to move forward, so he could combine with attackers and arrive late into the box.
Although the Saints have mostly set up in a 4–2-2-2 in recent seasons, last season did see them utilise back three shapes, including a 3-4-3 and a 3-5-2. This may see Aribo play in his preferred position of just behind the centre-forward, or in a midfield three as he often did for both Rangers, and previously at Charlton Athletic.
Threat from set-pieces is another benefit of acquiring Aribo’s services. A recurring move was to stick Aribo close to the near goalpost, where he could either flick the ball onwards to the crowd looking to attack the ball, or header the ball goal bound himself. This played its part in Aribo averaging 3.18 aerials won per 90 last season.
Right-back James Tavernier would play out-swinging corners into the box, towards Aribo.
Aribo was heavily involved in two of Rangers’ four goals away to Borussia Dortmund in the opening leg of their Europa League Quarter-Final test. The first, was the result of the aforementioned corner routine.
Again Tavernier, played an out-swinger into the box. It was flicked on by Aribo to meet centre-forward Alfredo Morelos.
It may make you wonder if Aribo could help improve on the 14 goals Southampton scored from set-pieces last season.
Following Gio van Bronckhorst’s appointment as Rangers manager, the Gers have alternated between opting for a safer game, and aggressively pressing the opposition. Rangers had recently started to field a 4-2-3-1 when going up against Dortmund. The previous game, yet another Old Firm Derby, ended in costly defeat, but Rangers kept the shape, and it was good they did. Here, Rangers pressed and attacked via transitions, which led to the fourth goal.
Winger Ryan Kent regained possession inside Dortmund’s half.
With an chance to attack and with Alfredo Morelos in space, Kent quickly passed to him, whilst Aribo made a third-man run from a slightly deeper position to provide support.
With Aribo having made the run ahead, Morelos laid the ball off to Aribo, before making a run of his own.
Dortmund’s back line dropped closer to the penalty-area, and this gave Aribo space to dribble forward, which may have been hard to defend against. Aribo then fed the ball through to meet Morelos’s run on the blindside of the nearest defender.
Morelos timed his run well, and ran into clear space where he had time to take a shot, which deflected off of centre-back Dan-Axel Zagadou to put Rangers three goals ahead.
Pre-season games for Southampton have also shown off Aribo’s quality when with the ball in tight spaces good, and his ball-carrying. A second-half substitute in a 3-1 against Monaco, Aribo drove into the box and played low cross, unfortunate to not be met by anybody. But then was able to assist Stuart Armstrong. Aribo kept that attack alive from the right flank in that instance.
The Saints May have lost Villarreal, but the only thing anybody seems to talk about from that game was Aribo’s sensational solo effort, which provided heavy insight into what he can bring to the side in the coming season.
Southampton have toyed with differing shapes and how they approach games both last season, and now in pre-season, having fielded a 5-3-2 against both Monaco and Villarreal. It can be useful to have alternatives if the main plan isn’t working, but there will be a need for Southampton to find consistency this season, in playing style, and in converting chances. Aribo could prove key to that.