A deeper dive into Tomiyasu and his role in Arsenal’s victory against Watford

Arsenal get one over Tottenham with Takehiro Tomiyasu signing

Prior to the season commencing, there was no denying that Arsenal were in desperate need of a right back.

But not just any right back, someone who possessed a profile that stylistically suited the plan Mikel Arteta had in mind.

Max Aarons and Emerson Royal were linked with moves to the Emirates, but neither of these two had the required attributes to slot directly into the current system.

On deadline day, however, a surprise package was added to the frame and it went by the name of Takehiro Tomiyasu, who was signed for a fee believed to be in the region of £18 million from Serie A outfit Bologna.

There wasn’t a plethora of knowledge many had of the Japanese international initially, which left a large section of the ever-divisive Arsenal fanbase perplexed by this acquisition.

Cries of “yet another panic buy” were echoed loudly, but so far it’s fair to say that the 23-year-old is proving his critics wrong and has maintained a level of consistency not many envisaged he could produce, with his latest eye-catching display coming against Watford Football Club.

Role when in possession

When diving into the finer details, the acquisition of Tomiyasu made perfect sense since the role he fulfilled in Italy was almost identical to the one Arteta demands from his right-sided full-back, which is to essentially offer ball progression through the 1st and 2nd phase.

Previously against Aston Villa and Leicester, Arteta favoured a 2-4-4 shape during build-up, with both Thomas Partey and Sambi Lokonga operating within close proximity to each other. Full-backs Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares occupied the flanks in order to stretch the opposition laterally and free up central spaces.


On Sunday however, whilst the Spaniard favoured frequent rotations within his in possession structure, Tomiyasu primarily dropped into the familiar right centre back role as illustrated in the frame below.


But what’s worth mentioning is that regardless of where he is positioned, his role remains unchanged- which is to explore avenues in which final third access is achieved.

Footballing intelligence

A technically competent competitor, but Tomiyasu’s appreciation of space and understanding of the game are aspects he doesn’t usually receive enough credit for.

Shown below is Watford’s midfield five featuring Josh King, who is operating as the focal point of the attack, with the away side’s intentions clear: prevent Arsenal players along the backline from executing penetrative passes.

Whilst the 4-5-1 mid/low block deployed by the visitors was somewhat disjointed, the positions Tomiyasu occupied enabled greater spaces to be unlocked, which allowed Ben White to drill authoritative forward passes into advantageous areas.

With Lacazette offering himself within the right half-space, the former Bologna defender drives towards the flank, which in turn attracts the attention of Dennis, thereby promoting verticality and allowing White to find the Frenchman, who then takes responsibility for executing the next action of this specific passage of play.


Similarly in the following diagram, instead of advocating half-space progression, Arsenal’s new number 18 this time ensures that the ball can be moved forward around the outside.

Tomiyasu effectively acts as an inverted full-back in this frame, which gave White the opportunity to feed the ball into the feet of Lacazette.


Both examples described eventually lead to the Gunners accessing the final third, but this wouldn’t have occurred had it not have been for Tomiysau recognising the zones his teammates were occupying and acting accordingly to promote fluidity in build-up.

Calmness personified

Influential off-the-ball movement, but the composure Tomiyasu showed in possession last Sunday was even better.

Whether It was a threaded ball fizzed into the feet of an attacker or a well-timed lofted pass delivered in behind, the Japanese defender showcased excellent range and quickened the transition from defence to attack.



Given that the right-back operates with more caution in comparison to his opposite number, it’s imperative that he provides incisive passing characteristics and certainly, Tomiyasu in his short stint in N5 has so far demonstrated impressive line-breaking ability with both feet.

Out of possession solidity

Creativity comes in various different forms, and under Arteta, one method used is to pile on pressure through the art of sustaining attacks and pinning the opposition back deep by winning challenges in advanced positions.

It was a key feature within the Gunners’ play against Watford, but this style of play cannot be performed if the personnel lack fundamental modern-day attributes.

The only way in which a team can gain consistent success in squeezing the opponent for prolonged periods is through the availability of proactive defenders and midfielders who thrive in space covering and are quick to retreat into a defensive position.

This is why the acquisitions of White and Tomiyasu in the summer window were prioritised, as both are comfortable in holding a high line, and certainly the latter was a key cog in preventing Watford from gaining much joy in possession.

Shown below is just one of many scenarios where Tomiyasu anticipates clearances brilliantly and regains possession for his side upfield, which ensured that the frontline were able to receive plenty of touches in the final third.


But when Ranieri’s men did find themselves in situations where counter-attack opportunities arose, White, Gabriel Magalhaes and Tomiyasu were excellent in nullifying the attacking threats of Watford’s dynamic trio, with the following frame illustrating Tomiyasu utilising impressive speed to dispossess Dennis, who had negligible joy at the Emirates against his man.


Final thoughts

Both White and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were showered with immense praise for their vital contributions, and rightly so, with each producing performances that were well worthy of the man of the match reward.

But the performance Tomiyasu delivered shouldn’t go unnoticed and when considering his age and the amount Arsenal needed to acquire his services, it definitely seems that the club have brought in a terrific player.

Hope you enjoyed the read! Please comment below as I’m intrigued to know your thoughts.

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3 Responses to A deeper dive into Tomiyasu and his role in Arsenal’s victory against Watford

  1. Las November 11, 2021 at 11:25 pm #

    Very good analysis, spot on mate. I really enjoyed reading as much as watching Tomi in action.

  2. ray November 12, 2021 at 8:01 am #

    good article

  3. YTSL November 15, 2021 at 4:40 pm #

    “A technically competent competitor, but Tomiyasu’s appreciation of space and understanding of the game are aspects he doesn’t usually receive enough credit for.”

    You nailed it there! Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

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