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How Arteta Has Made Arsenal Feel Like Arsenal Again


Arsenal 3-0 Fulham. Music to the ears, really.

That is not to say that any of us felt we were in danger of coming away from Craven Cottage empty-handed. Perhaps so much more the opposite.

Saturday’s result against our yet-again promoted west London opponents was so much more than just the result, but the manner in which it was crafted.

As Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal looks to build on the results of last term – and re-establishing a culture of success – how we go about garnering results is once again as important as the result itself.

It is not to say that we must only operate one way only, either. The nature of progressive thinkers on the tactical front continues to evolve as football moves forward. Though Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side for a period wrote the book on forcing your way to a result, tactics at this current landscape are defined by flexibility.

With Arteta, we have a manager who demands both. He wants to play his way, and he will stand by it. But in that light, he also demands flexibility – options. Our ability to build from the back but also go for the throat. That is far more reminiscent of Bayern Munich and Manchester City under Arteta’s friend and former superior.

This has never been more evident than under current management. When first setting up tent on the Emirates touchline, Arteta operated us in a 4-2-3-1. By my estimation, this was partly done to not rock the boat too much, while also making use of the players who were at his disposal at the time. But after lockdown, and getting his teeth sunk into the playing personnel, we have since switched to a 3-4-3 and there are no signs of it ending any time soon.

Such a switch was a key catalyst for our laundry-list of credible results during the run-in to last campaign, including the FA Cup win. But what is most telling about our tactical transformation is that the same principles we saw being formulated under Arteta at the start are being perfected in a schematic that is so often associated with counter-attacking football.

The reason behind this? Identity.

One of the most vital ingredients to any club that has aspirations of cementing itself at the highest level(s), who you are and what you’re about both on and off the pitch is an essential part of building a football club.

Under Arsène Wenger, what we were was undeniable. We played the best football in the country, arguably on the continent at times. We exhibited technical excellence. We had youthful exuberance blended with veteran leadership and determination. On our day, there was no stopping us. And we had our day more often than not.

Comparisons can be drawn with the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliant Manchester United sides, Guardiola’s varied charges, and other European giants from various nations and recent periods.

When the bubble truly began to burst and we began our period of regression, one of the biggest talking points from the fanbase was that now (in)famous phrase “we want our Arsenal back”.

Depending on who you would ask regarding what that sentiment meant to them, you would receive a variety of answers. But at the very core of that rallying cry was the notion that we had lacked an identity for quite some time.

From the waning Wenger years to the relative turmoil under Unai Emery, we all struggled to readily-identify an ethos on the pitch.

Similar criticisms have been levied in recent years about some of our rivals as well. Tottenham under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea with Frank Lampard at the helm, and – until recently – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all came under similar scrutiny from both their respective fanbases and pundits all the same.

This is what separated Liverpool and City apart from the rest of the pack. It’s why Wolves have been so impressive since their promotion. Why – though negative overall – Burnley have overachieved on balance.

Perhaps the most glaring example of supporting evidence to the notion that Arteta has us happily singing from his hymn sheet are Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s near-identical goals from the FA Cup final and our matchday one win over Fulham.

It was more than just the way he took his goal, and even more so than the incredibly similar final positions of both Kieran Tierney and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. It was the way Arsenal built from the back – ever so patiently – creeping up the right side of the pitch with efficient utilisation of the passing network, only to switch gears at a moment’s notice once we hit midfield. The resulting diagonal balls from Bukayo Saka and debutant Willian to find Auba in space for what is becoming a trademark finish at the club.

This was Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal summarised in a matter of seconds on two occasions. Evidence that we have our Arsenal back; an identity we can truly be proud of. One that pays homage to days past.

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