Young, versatile, and brilliant on the ball, it’s no surprise Mikel Arteta identified Jurrien Timber as a defender who can improve Arsenal this season.
When it comes to player attributes, ticking those three boxes is fast becoming one of the Spaniard’s non-negotiables.
Its crystal clear he wants a squad packed with adaptable talents with their best years ahead of them.
So, the fast developing 22-year-old Netherlands international, who has been excellent for Ajax and his national team, should fit right in, from the off.
What sort of player is he?
First up, Timber is ridiculously comfortable in possession.
It helps when you play for a top side like Ajax – and the Dutch Eredivisie can be a touch nicey-nicey compared to the aggressive cut-and-thrust of the Premier League – but his numbers from last season are eye-catching to say the least.
No one in the Dutch top-flight made more passes or passed with greater accuracy than Arsenal’s latest recruit.
Timber is an elite distributor, and certainly no crab-like sideways merchant either.
Topping the list for forward passes, passes into the final third, and for carrying the ball progressively towards the opposition goal, there is a real drive and purpose around his decision-making too.
Jurrien Timber stats – 2022/23 season
- Pass completion – 91.6 per cent – Eredivisie rank – 1
- Successful passes – 2501 – Eredivisie rank – 1
- Passes into final third – 329 – Eredivisie rank – 1
- Touches – 3050 – Eredivisie rank – 1
- Progressive carrying distance – 7439m – Eredivisie rank – 1
- Forward passes – 902 – Eredivisie rank – 1
Wherever Timber plays, and we will get to that shortly, Arteta knows he’s a defender that will feed the ball into his star attackers quicker than most.
The earlier they receive a quality pass, the more space those talents should have to go and hurt rival teams.
This is why quality progression from the back is so important to Arteta.
Ajax primarily deployed Timber as a right-sided centre-back, but for the Netherlands he is often a right full-back or used on the right of a back three.
That range is tactically appealing if you’re the Arsenal boss, but there’s also a school of thought the youngster can slot into central midfield when they build from the back too.
The Gunners’ shape is a 3-2-5 when they have control of possession, and we’ve seen how effective Oleksandar Zinchenko is when sliding infield to play a left back/midfield hybrid role.
In a world where Timber starts at right-back and the Ukrainian is on the left, we could see those two rotating the strike when it comes to joining in as an auxiliary engine room player.
This unpredictability has potential to befuddle their opponents.
It sounds radical, but it’s also not implausible to imagine Timber and Zinchenko both slipping into midfield, with Arsenal’s defensive midfielder dropping back into the centre of the back three.
Arteta wants his best, most progressive passers in that key central position and those two are among the cream of the crop.
Competition for Ben White
Hand on heart it’s impossible to envisage Timber ousting William Saliba from his spot as a regular centre-back partner to Gabriel.
His injury absence was the most tangible reason behind Arsenal’s costly late-season stutter, and because he’s so imperious, fitness permitting the Frenchman must start.
The new £40million recruit will provide significantly stronger cover for the France star than Rob Holding did, but if Timber wants regular game time it’s more likely to come at full-back.
Ben White was superb as a brand new right-back in the 2022-23 campaign, forging great chemistry with Bukayo Saka down that wing, but he’ll know he has a fight on his hands to stay in the team from now on.
Watching those two – and Takehiro Tomiyasu – battle for a starting berth should be fun, and from the managers’ perspective, he’ll expect standards to be raised.
Lisandro Martinez comparisons
Just like his former Ajax teammate Lisandro Martinez, the gifted Timber is vertically challenged by normal centre-back standards!
Just an inch taller than the Argentine, at 5ft 10in, the Gunners new boy lacks a physical presence.
His defending is snappy and based on speed and sound positioning, but he is nowhere near as aggressive as the Manchester United star, in the air or on the deck.
Therefore, Arsenal’s opponents this season will try and target his aerial weakness.
While they are by no means identikit players, it’s fair to make comparisons between Martinez and Timber because of their height, versatility and technical ability.
If anything, the World Cup winners’ success at Old Trafford should give the ex-Ajax man added confidence that he’ll quickly adapt to English football and thrive.
Erik ten Hag clearly thought Timber can cut it in the Premier League.
It’s widely acknowledged he chased the youngster’s signature as Manchester United boss a year ago, before eventually settling on Martinez instead.
One for now and the future
Wearing red and white is normal for Jurrien Timber, and stylistically he does feel a natural fit at the Arsenal.
Boasting a wealth of Champions League experience, he is a title winner who markedly enhances the squad depth ahead of a huge campaign.
The Gunners need to be much better at the back, and his arrival strengthens Arteta’s options.
Last season, 14 of the 22 players who featured for at least 150 Premier League minutes for Arsenal were full internationals aged 26 or under.
The arrivals of Kai Havertz and Timber this summer – along with the incoming club-record signing of Declan Rice – have added three more names to that list.
There are still some sceptics around who believe the Gunners were one season wonders.
That doesn’t make sense to me.
With so many highly regarded young talents on board, Arsenal have no excuses not to challenge for the title again this season.