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Jesus the final piece of Arteta’s Pressing Jigsaw?

Jesus

The final cog in the pressing wheel

With the media praising Arsenal’s early transfer business and with the obvious excitement over the addition of Gabriel Jesus, in particular, there will undoubtedly be pressure applied on Mikel Arteta. As an ardent supporter of our cool Spanish manager, when I consider this, I have no issue with it. Because Arteta has, over several transfer windows now, been backed by the club and he is close to the position of calling the squad entirely his own. I am also fine with the level of expectation being raised because I know that Mikel Arteta has the same of himself and his carefully assembled squad.

The new confidence I feel, and the reason for the acceptance of a new pressure on Arteta to deliver in 22/23, is based on the obvious fact that the final pieces of the jigsaw have been or are about to be added to the squad, which will allow the Spaniard to play football the way he wants Arsenal to play. Until now there have always been constraints on the formation and playing style, given the personnel he inherited.

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Arteta got his man (photo Stu Macfarlane AFC)

Arteta for too long played systems to suit the players he had available, 3421 in 19/20 to win the FA Cup for example, or, in the main 4231, whilst always wanting to play 433 with a pressing style. Arsenal’s young coach has never made any secret of the fact he hoped to implement his own variation of 433 and as we approach the new season, certainly in attack the final tools are in his box.

For a pressing 433, or 4141 out of possession to be effective, needs all the attacking players able and willing, not only to sustain pressure for a match but also to understand why they are doing so and therefore how to press. It is often about forcing the opposition to play the ball where you want them to by narrowing angles, as much as harrying to win back possession high up the pitch. If you consider the front three in the FA Cup Final of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe, these were not players likely to be able or willing to adapt to Arteta’s desired philosophy. The fact, that with so little experience, he adjusted his principles to find a system to suit those individual and win was a huge credit to him in my view.

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Weak link in 2021 press

Last season, in the home straight we saw a glimpse of the desired system with Nketiah replacing Lacazette in the centre of the front three. Saka and of course Martinelli (and Smith Rowe) all understood the press and were excellent exponents of it, with the fitness to sustain, and they were joined by Odegaard, the most advanced 8, whose middle name is ‘Press’. The senior Frenchman simply did not fit the profile of a pressing centre forward, not having the fitness or the inclination to do what the team needed, and unless all the attacking players are synchronised and consistent the press will never work.

A vastly improved Nketiah was able to provide the missing link but Arteta was obviously going to seek an upgrade or competitor for the young Englishman, once he had committed to stay on the project. So, whilst much of the fanbase were calling for a tall target man such as Ivan Toney or Calvert-Lewin, the Arsenal manager already knew the perfect man for the role he envisaged for his high press 433. That man was a player he knew well, Gabriel Jesus, a mobile, energetic 9 who – having played for Pep Guardiola for so long – would require no coaching for the role.

With Martinelli/Smith Rowe, Jesus/Nketiah, and Saka, backed up by Odegaard, Arteta now has a young, willing group of attacking players, all of whom can maintain the press in a coordinated fashion, so I think we will see a quite different Arsenal in 22/23. A team able to pressurise opposition teams into losing the ball in their own half or be forced into passing long or centrally with Arsenal’s fullback backing up their wingers.

A pressing troop

There may yet be another wide attacking addition to support the three mentioned above and we now have Vieira to back up our potential new skipper Odegaard, so with the new five substitution system, we will be able to play the way Arteta wants us to play for the whole 90 minutes, even if the personnel change in the second half. Jesus is a game changer for Arteta, Arsenal and the fanbase, because he is the final piece in the jigsaw, and the reason our manager and us supporters should welcome the heightened pressure and expectation. The Brazilian, desperate to play in the World Cup, finally allowed to play in his preferred role, will, as his own manager has predicted, will reap chaos and I cannot wait to see it.

 

This is the full, unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Fan View column.

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