This article was written on 11th March
On December 20, 2019, Arsenal hired their third manager (two permanent and one on an interim basis) in 18 months since the departure of the legendary Arsene Wenger but this time it feels different, it feels that the long-suffering Gunners fans may have found their Messiah. Arteta – who is a former Arsenal player – is showing signs that not only is he prepared to handle this massive rebuild job but he has ideas that can make the Gunners a Premier league contender in a couple of seasons. Arsenal have played 15 games under Arteta with 8 wins, 5 draws and just two defeats. This also included elimination from the Europa League against Olympiacos at home but there are many signs that Arteta will make Arsenal great once again. We will discuss the Spaniard’s idea of football, how he wants the Gunners to attack and what led to this thinking.
Having spent three and a half years as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City, it is not surprising that Arteta’s football is very similar to his Spanish mentor. Even though there are numerous structural similarities, Arteta is not copying everything that Manchester City have done in their historic era of dominance in English football. Arsenal want to play possession-based attacking football with high pressing and counter-pressing, they also apply inverted full-backs like City, their attacking shape is also a 2-3-5 but due to the players available at Arteta’s disposal, Arsenal’s attacking setup is a little different to City.
Arteta has opted for the 4-2-3-1 system in London
Bellerin Sokratis Luiz Saka
Pepe Ozil Aubameyang
Arsenal’s buildup shape is 3-2-1-4
Sokratis Luiz Xakka
Pepe Aubameyang Saka
Things to understand about this setup –
– Granit Xakka becomes a makeshift centre-back during the buildup phase which allows the left-back (Saka or Kolasinac) to play as a winger from the left-wing.
– David Luiz has players on either side as cover, so the Brazilian uses his amazing passing range to play long diagonals. Luiz thrived in Antonio Conte’s 5-2-3 at Chelsea and this buildup shape is very similar.
– Bellerin offers the balance in midfield after Xhaka becomes a temporary centre-back. The right-back and a midfielder (Guendouzi or Ceballos) will help in building the attack by offering passing options and sometimes playing the ball directly into the forwards.
– Even though Aubameyang starts from wide, he moves infield which pulls the opposition right-back narrow, this creates space for the Arsenal left-back to bomb forward.
– Ozil operates between the lines, he has the freedom to roam around to aid the buildup.
Arsenal’s shape in the final third is 2-3-5
Bellerin Guendouzi Xakkae
Pepe Ozil Aubameyang Saka
Benefits of Arteta’s system
As you can see above, there is defensive cover against counter-attacks. Since Arteta wants the Gunners to play possession football, teams naturally look to hit them on the break. Arsenal are a ‘Top six’ club so they regularly face teams (Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Wolves) who will defend deep and look for fast breaks. In attack, Arsenal do not have a proper right-footed winger so Aubameyang starts from wide.
Alexandre Lacazette is the reason that Aubamayang is played out of position but being a striker, his natural movement is towards the goal so Arteta uses his left-back to create width and deliver crosses from the left side of the attack. Teenager Saka, who has played as the left-back, has 9 assists this season. Arsenal’s record signing, Nicolas Pepe is naturally a wide player who can beat defenders one-on-one and cuts in from the right, he controls the entire wing.
Kindly keep in mind that football matches are not played on a board or a piece of paper so, Arsenal’s shape does change from time to time and the right-back does make overlapping runs, for example, Arsenal’s second goal in the 2-0 win against Manchester United in the league came from a corner that was won by Maitland-Niles’s burst from full-back. But broadly speaking, this is how Arsenal play under Arteta.
Man City have popularized the use of inverted full-backs but they have the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernando Silva, so it is understandable that they want the amazing midfielders to play with freedom but Arteta is not blessed with such options. Even though Arsenal target all the similar zones in attack (two players on either side to stretch the opposition defense, two players in half-spaces and one central striker) they use different players. Mesut Ozil lacks the work rate of Kevin de Bruyne or Bernando Silva, so, playing the German as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 and asking him to defend is not wise.
The 4-2-3-1 offers great balance for Arsenal in attack and defense, finding the right balance is something that Unai Emery had massive problems with during his time in the capital which ultimately, lead to his downfall. If a team is structurally balanced, in attack and defense, then they will be extremely hard to beat, even on days when they don’t perform up to their abilities.
This has been clear so far with just two defeats in 15 games under the new coach. Arsenal have conceded just 12 goals and scored 23 times in 15 games under Arteta. Aside from learning extremely valuable lessons from Pep Guardiola, Arteta seems to have learned from Unai Emery’s mistakes as well, all this shows that he is a quick learner with amazing potential to become a very successful coach.
Mikel Arteta deserves a lot of credit for A) understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the available players B) finding a system which allows the player to utilize their best skills, such as Mesut Ozil in a free role, Aubameyang closer to the goal (even if he has to start from wide), Lacazette through the middle, utilizing David Luiz’s long-range passing as well as Xakka and Guendouzi to build attacks and still be in a position to break-up the opposition’s attacks.
Individual defensive mistakes have cost Arsenal for many seasons and it is no different under Mikel Arteta. He has to be given credit for getting a tune out of the players available at his disposal and if Arsenal give him money to spend in the summer, then the Gunners will definitely finish in the top four next season and even fight for the Premier league in some time. Mistakes from Mustafi and Luiz (on multiple occasions) as well as other players have turned wins into draws and draws into defeats such as the 1-2 loss against Olympiacos but Arteta has shown a lot of positive signs.
Written by Hammad Pervez
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