Arteta’s Tactical Tweaks That Will Take Arsenal To The Next Level
Following two wins in two Premier League games to start the season, Arteta’s Arsenal now face sterner tests to prove their mettle with Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester, and Manchester United all on the agenda in the next five league games.
Arsenal effectively had the creative nous of a wet paper bag last season, and perhaps even the paper bag would have had better statistics.
The question is how did a team that under Wenger built a reputation all around the world as a potent force that carved teams up for fun but was good at little else, create fewer chances than relegated Watford?
Struggling to find balance
You can theorise about multiple things including a very sour end to Unai Emery’s tenure that resulted in the worst-performing Arsenal team since the ’90s, having three managers in one season which will undoubtedly make gaining momentum more difficult, and potentially just lacking quality players.
When Arteta took over Arsenal, we were 10th in the Premier League with just 22 points in December and already seven points adrift of fourth-place Chelsea.
Even under the Spaniard, who has breathed new life into this Arsenal team, we’ve still struggled to create chances anywhere near an acceptable rate for a team of our level.
How Arteta created a solid base
Arteta’s improvements were more defensively than offensively focused, the fact Arsenal either kept a clean sheet or conceded only one goal in 25 out of the 31 games since the Spaniard took over is testament to that.
However, problems in convincingly beating the smaller teams have plagued us even with Arteta and the fact we could beat Liverpool and Man City in the same week just to lose to Aston Villa shows the problem.
Of course, part of the solution will be in recruitment and the signing of Willian, a player who was seventh for chances created in the Premier League last season, could prove to be astute.
Changes tactically will also play a big part and it seems Arteta is already making these changes.
Among the problems has been a noted focus in building only from wide areas rather than centrally – you could attribute that partially down to wanting a structured midfield defensively.
Arteta’s first few months utilised mostly a 4-2-3-1 system but with Ozil tied to the right-hand-side to create 2 vs 1 situations with Pepe.
Along with that, Xhaka was something of a utility left-back to allow Saka to get up the pitch into advanced areas which required Ceballos to play a disciplined role in central midfield.
As football returned, Arteta switched to a 3-4-3 for even greater defensive structure with Xhaka and Ceballos not given much freedom to move from their positions and still a reliance on the wing-backs and front three to create chances.
Flooding the half-spaces
However, the start of this season has seen the first signs to go in another direction – in the game versus West Ham, we played much more of a defined four-at-the-back in possession with Saka and Willian both occupying the half-spaces.
Seeing Ceballos having the licence to go from central midfield to the opposition penalty box to create the winning goal is more signs that he is perhaps being given more freedom.
Arteta’s new system resembles a variation of a 4-2-2-2 with Aubameyang providing width on the left and Bellerin providing width on the right.
This keeps Aubameyang facing the game and allows him to run from outside to in which suits him but the main question is can we be fluid enough to create the space for him to come central in the right moments.
Saka, Lacazette and Willian create a three between the lines in the attacking third which gives defenders and central midfielders multiple angles to break lines and find them in the pockets.
Saka and Willian either receive on the half-turn or Lacazette will work hard to create an angle to pass to him where he can bounce it off to one of the aforementioned two who will then be able to drive forward.
With the links to Aouar and Partey, you’re looking at either a player who can receive in the half-space in Aouar or a player that can break lines to get it to those players (through dribbling as well as passing) in Partey.
I think both profiles of player are needed if we are to go to the next level, although I think it’s unrealistic to expect both profiles to arrive in this window.
No doubt Arteta will keep attempting to evolve the Arsenal squad and the recent tactical tweaks should be viewed with great optimism that we can once again find the offensive fear factor we haven’t seen for a long time.