What we are seeing under Mikel Arteta is a man who has a clear vision/style of football that he is looking to install. Despite the lack of managerial experience, we have seen countless examples of how he has tactically outsmarted top level coaches by drilling his team effectively in and out of possession. Patterns of play, structure and balance can easily be identified when we see our players on the pitch.
Tactics pre lockdown
Over recent weeks, a lot more respect has been placed on Mikel Arteta’s name, particularly after winning his first piece of silverware back in August. But the early signs were there that he could implement a system that suits the current profile of players, as well as installing the correct tactics. With Mesut Ozil playing regularly, Arteta utilised a 4-2-3-1, with the German playing in the whole, drifting in between the lines. Offensively, we transitioned into a 3-2-5/2-3-5 shape as we progressed towards the final third, with overloads created through our left hand side. Xhaka was tasked to fill in on the left, which gave licence to either Saka or Kolasinac to advance forward and provide the influence offensively. We saw this work well on a number of occasions.
Our game against Sheffield United at home was another example where our 2-3-5 attacking system proved successful in breaking down Chris Wilders stubborn backline. Ainsley Maitland Niles plays the inverted role, tucking into midfield alongside Torriera. Xhaka, who isn’t in the picture below, covers the space vacated by Saka on the left.
One of the big problems under Emery was transition. The lack of structure, balance and organisation was clear. When possession was lost further forward, teams were able to transition from defence to attack far too easily, hence why Leno was continuously overworked. Watford away is a great example to show this, with the home side managing an astonishing 31 shots.
However, under our former captain, we saw defensive improvements immediately. Rather than both full backs playing as conventional ones, Maitland Niles or Bellerin, dependent on who was playing, would tuck in and play the inverted role. Not only does this help aid playing out from the back, since they provide another simple passing option to the centre backs and goalkeeper, they provide cover in midfield. As shown in previous annotated diagrams, with Xhaka filling in at left back, our right back would invert and maintain the pivot, helping us deal with transitional turnovers. Statistically, we were averaging six shots fewer with Arteta in charge before lockdown.
Drilled brilliantly out of possession
Mesut Ozil’s absence meant that we lacked a player who could play in those pockets of space, between the lines. Again, Mikel Arteta showed that he was capable of implementing a system that suited the current personal, which was the 3-4-3 formation. Defensively, there still wasn’t the confidence that our current crop of centre backs would provide sustainability in a back four. Instead, a back three along with a midfield pivot and wing backs, ensured that the central defenders would be provided with enough protection. We can see in the annotated diagrams below of how organisation and discipline was a regular feature in our performances defensively, against both Manchester City and Liverpool.
Wolves away, Liverpool at home and Chelsea in the FA cup final are other examples where our 5-4-1 shape proved to be successful in limiting the amount of chances created. Arteta showed that, despite being extremely inexperienced as a manager, he could drill a group of players effectively when we didn’t have the ball and nullify attacking patterns of play implemented by top level coaches.
Many haven’t spoken about the clear improvements in our pressing. Its calculated, with every player knowing their roles. Whether its Lacazette or Nketiah leading the line, they are the focal point of the press, with the two inside forwards tasked to take positions that eliminate passing lanes. If the ball is played into middle, one of our central midfielders will push forward, be aggressive, and look to make it uncomfortable for the receiver. Below is an example against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final.
Liverpool at home in the Premier League was an example where we were rewarded from our press, capitalising on the two opportunities that came our way.
Even In other games (Southampton and Norwich in the Premier League), we have seen us score goals through pressing. Our ‘off the ball’ performances have been a huge critique over the years, under both Wenger and Emery. But with Arteta, he stresses the importance of pressing in an organised and collective manner, always providing high levels of energy and intensity.
Clear patterns of play
From my perspective, I am thoroughly enjoying the football on show when we are in possession. What I love is the flexibility and fluidity in our play. On countless occasions, we have seen us score outstanding teams goals with clear patterns of play that have been rehearsed and repeated in training.
Our first goal against Manchester City contained so many eye catching elements which must be dissected. Initially, we look to build out from the back in a 4-3-3 formation. Both Mustafi and Luiz take wide positions, with Xhaka and Ceballos dropping deep, providing a simple passing option, and drawing opposing City players.
Following from the initial phase, we then see Luiz’s involvement in the build up to the goal.
Tierney plays a great ball, into Lacazette’s feet. Our French no.9 plays a pivotal role in how he drops between the lines, occupies players and allows Bellerin to advance forward. Notice the position of Ainsley Maitland Niles, who in possession is tucking into central midfield.
We then see the final action for the goal. Bellerin and Pepe develop an offensive partnership, with the latter delivering a brilliant in swinging cross for Aubameyang to meet at the back post.
Whats really important to note is that we have seen us create chances using this particular route on many occasions. Another example is against Watford on the final day of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign.
In recent weeks, a more notable passage of play that has brought us success is the build up pattern for Aubameyang’s goal against Liverpool in the Community Shield.
Once again, despite playing with three centre backs, we are deploying a 4-3-3 shape during the build up phase. Notice Xhaka in the annotated diagram below on his influence, always instructing his teammates on which pass to play.
Hector’s influence in the build up was massive, with his ball to Saka eliminating the influence Robertson can have in the build up.
The next passage of play see’s Saka providing a great cross-field ball for Aubameyang. Nketiah takes a position which occupies Gomez and Ainsley transitions to a central role, as we progress forward.
Overloads are created on the left hand side. Tierney transitions from a left sided centre back to a conventional attacking full back, tasked to provide width. Maitland Niles makes a central run, with both players creating a partnership with Aubameyang, who brilliantly finds the far corner.
Against Fulham on the Saturday, we saw this pattern of play successfully repeated for our third goal. These passages of play installed into the team by Arteta aren’t just coincidences. They have clearly been worked on and repeated.
Words can’t describe how impressed I have been with Mikel Arteta. Patterns of play, clear defensive improvements, pressing are all aspects that have improved significantly in our play since the Spaniard took over. If we are able to bring in two central midfielders of different profiles, I believe that we will be a real force this season and certainly strong enough to compete for a top four finish.
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23 years of age, 23 years as a Gooner. Arsenal runs through my veins and it pains me to see the current position and state of the club. Reading many football articles over the years has inspired me to write blogs containing Arsenal analysis. I’ve always wanted my fellow Gooners to be aware of my thoughts and opinions of ‘The Arsenal’ and thanks to Dave and Paul, I now have a platform which makes this possible.