Learning from the Invincibles: why Transitional Identity is Vital if Arsenal are to Progress

Think back to the Invincibles Era and try to remember the brilliant moments that have come to encapsulate it. I’m guessing most had some modicum of direct, forward-thinking play that progressed us rapidly into the next phase of attack: how I define Transitional Play.

It seems the best teams of late have had a clear transitional identity. A distinguishable way to change phases quickly for the betterment of the team. All teams are able to offer variety in this area over the course of the season, but generally one style becomes embedded in their historical identity.

Looking at the last 3 league champions, Chelsea in 14/15 and 16/17 and Leicester in 15/16, embraced a counter attacking style predicated on defending deep, ball winning, and quickly releasing their playmakers into space. Man City, this season’s eventual champion, has a transitional approach that appears to be twofold: First, look to press high and get creative players on the ball in advanced areas. Second, expand the pitch in order to play through the thirds with technical playmakers on the inside and wingers on the outside.

Arsenal are in need of a transitional identity. The last 5+ years can best be characterized by a mostly sterile, possession-centric approach mixed with bits of intermittent technical brilliance leading to goals. We’ve had no clear, identifiable playing style or exit strategy to the next phase of attack.

Against Everton on Saturday, and often at the Emirates this season, we’ve been able to move into the attacking third quickly with the help of one-touch passing, creators between lines, and dynamic movement off the ball.

Expressionism through technicality has been the basis of Arsenal’s identity under Wenger, especially over the last decade. Without a doubt, this will hold true until he walks away. I feel our current squad can cultivate a great understanding together but I can’t help think of what our next manager could bring in regards to transitional identity. The Invincibles prolific ability to break phases with variety make them the perfect squad to illustrate 5 possible transitional identities I would like the next great Arsenal team to embody.


Counter Attack:

Start from a compressed shape and find a way to get speedy playmakers in advanced areas. Short-term it’s finding ways to release Aubameyang in behind, but long-term it would take a manager with a clear commitment to an “off-the-ball” identity.

Counter Press:

Pressing right after losing the ball or after kicking long to the opponent in order to win the ball in advanced areas. When successful, it results in not having to build play from deeper areas and quickly getting into the final third against an often disorganized defense.


Creation of Space Through Width:

Finding ways to get the ball into wide areas opens up the game and lets it “breathe” centrally. Short-term it means our current fullbacks making advanced runs and/or creators drifting wide. Long-term it takes a manager with belief in playing true wingers.


Balling Winning/Quick Distribution:

One of the best times to attack in football is directly after your opponent loses the ball. It requires ball winners, quick-passing decision making, and the ability of players to be spaced accordingly in order to quickly progress forward.


Technical Leaders Between Lines:

All teams have players capable of finding space between the lines, but oftentimes transitioning through the thirds is not what a team is remembered by (you could Argue Man City of 13/14). This is most closely associated with our current Arsenal side, especially since Ozil joined in 2013.

The counter vs Spurs at The Lane, Pires’ lob against Southampton, Henry’s swerving screamer against Manchester United, Henry’s solo run against Spurs, and Pires’ curler against Liverpool are the moments that jump out to me. Each one receiving its origin from some semblance of transitional play. We will embark upon a brave new world in time, one wonders what that will entail.

Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10

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