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Tactical Analysis: What Scotland Friendlies Tell us about Arsenal ’21 – In Possession

“Usually move towards the vacated left space when receiving from the back. What will happen is the forward will move deeper to deny an easy passback, which is your trigger to… [Insert tactical droning]”

Arsenal Twitter had a minor meltdown, when a picture of Mikel Arteta doing us all dirty by doing tactics was caught, ON CAMERA!

As a repeat offender, Arteta should have known better, but now the cats out of the bag, I’ve been awarded the inside knowledge that a lot of the foreign managers in the Premier League are secretly doing it too, albeit behind closed doors. Luckily, only a small handful of English managers has been found doing the same, so if your favourite teams manager is English, don’t be afraid, you can rest assure they are not doing tactics behind your back*.

*As an example see Inter Miami FCs play.

Jokes aside, Arsenal’s pre-season was unfortunately cut short by the pesky pandemic, leaving all arsenal fans and bloggers dry for content.

In such times, the best you can do is take on a project that is way over your paygrade, curl up like a ball and roll down the rock jagged hill that is, interpreting tactics.

As such, I’ve watched both matches in the Scotland tour, trying to derive what we might expect Arteta to instruct his team to do.

In possession

Last year we saw Arsenal being content with sharing possession in most games, showing a newly acquired trust in their defensive capabilities. This should also show a greater focus on creating shots on goal – something that wasn’t achieved to the satisfaction of many of us, even though the xG and xGA looked better under Arteta than they did under Emery.

Defensive Third

A few of the blogging coaches noticed something last season, especially when we played Bellerin on the right.

What would happen was, as soon as the ball was played into a CB, the right back would already be revving up the engine and readying a mad dash forward. This would force a central midfielder to drop back and help the buildup, forcing even more changes up top.

What Arteta seems to be trying to implement is a very simple “one FB drops one pushes” approach, usually using the LB to push high, which allows the in-form Pépé to get his touchline wide starting position for himself.

Last season, we would usually see Xhaka drop into the LB position, which would allow the RB to push high as well, but either Arteta is trying to keep his CMs in those central positions as much as possible, or this is a test to find a way to play without Xhaka, should he be missing.

What’s interesting was that, during the Hibernian game, Kolasinac would usually be the one to drop and Cedric would push high. This didn’t really work for neither though.

Midfield Third

This is my attempt at trying to convey what I see into some tactical sense. Most obvious is the fact that the 325/334 positioning continues, but the individual jobs and instructions change.

What it looks like is that Arteta has identified a weak part of Arsenals play was penetrating teams when transitioning from the midfield third to the attacking third, allowing the opposition to drop into a compact low block. By keeping five players forward, you give yourself more possible targets to pass to and transition into the attacking third. This further leads to more potential runners in transition.

Though none of these things are completely unique, it’s a way to maximize the performance of the individual assets. In both Tavares and Tierney we have hard running, no bullshit, types of players. Their width allows Pépé to receive wide and move central.

The system might be flipped, though I’m not sure as to who we have bar Pépé who can play that inverted wing role.

Attacking third

As we move into the attacking third of the pitch, the general movement becomes a lot more difficult to actually draw without drawing several maps.
And thus, it’s maybe easier to keep an “Arteta Checklist”, which could look like this:

Arteta’s Checklist for positional awareness™

  • One player on each of the 5 spaces
  • Midfield occupies the space between the defense and attack
  • Fullbacks generally occupies the widest space
  • Wide players moves into the half space and looks to combine with fullbacks and midfielders
  • Central attackers looks to drop back and drag defenders with them
  • Midfield stays deeper, but is allowed to drive forward on occasions

Arsenal has a glaring problem, at the moment, in that we don’t have many players who like to score goals. This means we either have to get our assets into the right positions to score the goals or create so many chances that, statistically, one will go in. For the moment we persist with Aubameyang and Lacazette, both who have had a bad year in front of goal last season, which means getting them, along with Pépé, into positions where they can be dangerous.

As such, Smith Rowe and Lacazette are usually the industrious ones here, trying to create space on either the left or the right flank.

The forward 3 has the license to interchange positions, either going wide to overload or cover centrally for drifting forwards


So this was the first part of a three part series, because why not over analyze two pre-season games. I wanted to get the basic movement in possession out of the way before going into the thing everyone wants to read about, creating chances and defensive works.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t at all a deep dive into the numerous different variations on the concept, but an attempt to convey some of the things we could learn from Arteta’s general idea of roles and transitions.

In the end, friendlies are a way to try out players and tactics before the league games come at you with supersonic speed.

Tune in for the next part where we’ll look into chance creation in the Arteta System.

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