Tactical tweaks and flexibility are key to Arteta’s Arsenal
It’s clear for all to see that Arteta has improved us defensively. It was only a few months ago that this group of players was being described as ‘uncoachable’ and totally written off. Although I’m under no illusions as to our current standing as a top half club as opposed to a top four club, I believe it to more of a temporary situation, rather than a long-term decline.
Where I believe we’re seeing the best work from Arteta and his coaching staff is how we make our opposition move around us, rather than getting dragged out of position ourselves. The system isn’t perfect but looking back over the end part of the season we can begin to see it bearing fruit.
Take the Wolves game for example. Adama Traoré wanted to make diagonal runs and pull our full back into a narrow position, allowing space along our flank or a shooting chance for himself.
As you can see from the picture above, he managed it a couple of times throughout the game, but that was it. I noticed that Tierney and Maitland Niles were very quick to get to him when he received the ball, not necessarily to try to tackle him, but to shepherd him wide.
From there the threat of his pace was largely nullified and it also meant the he couldn’t play through balls into Jiménez. His contribution was largely limited to out swinging crosses, (which messed up the timing of Jiménez’s runs as he was expecting an in-swinger or through ball).
Football isn’t an exact science, but the Arteta and his coaches have begun looking at ways to nullify the opposing threats directly, rather than indirectly (e.g. Wenger used to push our full backs forward in the hopes that it would force the opposing wingers back).
Against Spurs, we were set up to avoid having Harry Kane in the box. To be fair to him, he is very accurate without needing much space. We also know he looks for any excuse to go down and con the ref into giving a penalty. Aside from a couple of Mustafi errors our defence kept him largely quiet.
Losing the game due to a defensive error and a set piece hurt but are understandable at this stage of Arteta’s tenure.
Against Liverpool we did the opposite, we moved them out of wide positions where we’ve seen Alexander-Arnold and Robertson wreak havoc, and into congested central positions where we crowded them out.
3 defenders facing off against 2 wide players, forcing them back inside.
I’ve also noticed that we seem to be trying to show attacking wingers onto their weaker foot more than ever, (like how all our opposition try to show Pepe onto his right). We’re also making the right decisions on when to press attacking players. I’ve been saying for years that a rushed pass in a bad one, especially when played with the weaker foot. The players seem to be using that to their advantage.
One last thing to note about how we’re defending is our shape.
Our back line get themselves organised quickly, and as you may have noticed, they attack crosses that come in between the lines;
What’s also interesting is that Arteta has drilled the players so that they can switch between a back 3, 4 or 5. This level of flexibility will become more obvious next season when the squad are more adapted to it. I’d imagine that we’ll go into away games with a back 5 and a more pragmatic approach.
There’s still a long way to go.
We must learn to deal better under pressure and to see out games. We’ve dropped too many points from winning positions, which we can’t afford to do next season if we want to finish in the top 4, but the signs are there.
We finished 10 points off 3rd and 4th, and I believe that those points can be made up by cutting out some of our basic errors and holding on to leads when we have them. Onwards and upwards from here.
Now let’s smash Chelsea and win the Cup again.
I’m a lifelong Arsenal fan. I got my first kit at 3 years old and my dad put a nail in my wall and hung it there rather than in my wardrobe. Mum was furious.