Signing Tomiyasu Could Confirm New System For Arteta
As deadline day came around once again all felt quiet on Arsenal’s transfer radar. Signing a right-back had been on the agenda all summer but with selling current options proving difficult nothing appeared to materialise.
That was until Hector Bellerin agreed to a loan move to La Liga side Real Betis and from then within a few hours, a new signing for Arsenal came from the unknown to practically done.
Who is Takehiro Tomiyasu?
Takehiro Tomiyasu is a 22-year-old Japanese defender who played for Serie A side Bologna. Since joining the Rossoblù in 2019 from the Belgian Pro League he’s become known for his versatility, tactical intelligence, passing, ability to play with both feet and strength in the duels – especially aerially.
In terms of body type and some stats, he has a slightly similar profile to Calum Chambers but it wouldn’t be fair to say they were particularly similar players.
Both are versatile enough to play at centre-back and right-back, both are taller than the average full-back and both have good technical ability but most comparisons stop there.
Tomiyasu is more nimble in smaller spaces, enjoys taking people on, plays more progressive passes from deep and is very good at defending 1 vs 1 whereas Chambers creates more chances with his passing/crossing ability in the final third.
When giving an interview to Serie A in February, Tomiyasu said this to describe himself:
“Even though I am a central defender I also like to build up attacking plays from the back by making the first pass.”
Where will Tomiyasu play for Arsenal?
In his 60 Serie A appearances for Bologna, Tomiyasu has played all across the back four but his main positions are centre-back and right-back.
He spent the large majority of the 2019/2020 season playing in a right-back berth and frequently took up more narrow positions.
In the 2020/21 season, he started the season playing as a left centre-back in a back four but around the turn of the new year returned to playing right-back.
I would speculate that Arteta sees Tomiyasu as an ideal option for the current right-back role we’ve seen deployed in the last two games (West Brom in the EFL Cup and Man City in the league) – when in possession we built attacks as a three at the back and out of possession the right centre-back shuffles over to right-back and it becomes a back four.
How will this affect Ben White?
Ben White played last season almost exclusively on the right of a back three for Graham Potter’s Brighton team so it would be reasonable to think that if Arteta was to pursue a system that includes something of a back three that White would take up that right centre-back role but that may not be the case.
When playing for Bielsa’s Leeds team in the Championship in 2019/20, White played in a centre-back partnership with Liam Cooper and revelled in more of a quarterback role.
Playing for Leeds saw him attempt and complete more long balls (2.8 per 90 with 42% overall accuracy vs 2.3 per 90 with 41% overall accuracy) and chipped passes (2.0 per 90 with 46% overall accuracy vs 1.9 per 90 with 41% overall accuracy) than he did for Brighton last season.
With two taller players either side of him in 6’2” Tomiyasu and 6’3″ Gabriel, it could be easier to protect White from being isolated in aerial duels and also allow him to be more central where he can step out of the back three during build-up and use his passing range and ball carrying abilities in a way more akin to how David Luiz played at the centre of Conte’s back three in their 2016/17 Premier League-winning campaign.
Signs of a new system?
Throughout Mikel Arteta’s tenure, we’ve seen a reoccurrence of an inverted right-back position but the method of it seems to have changed recently.
Arteta has used the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Hector Bellerin and Calum Chambers as right-backs that he’s asked to take up central positions in midfield and mostly when Arteta wants to build with a back three he’ll ask a central midfielder to drop into the defensive line (Usually Xhaka or Elneny).
However, in the last few games, it’s been a much more defined back three with the right-back dropping into it rather than one of the midfielders.
The main difference between the West Brom and Manchester City games was that when we played The Baggies, we had a two-man central midfield pivot and when we played City it was Xhaka playing as a single pivot in midfield to allow Martin Ødegaard and Emile Smith-Rowe to get higher up the pitch into the half-spaces.
Playing with either midfield shape gives Arsenal a multitude of vertical passing options for the back three to find all over the pitch.
The potential pitfall to the single-pivot midfield we played against Manchester City is that when Arsenal are caught in transition, having a central midfielder who struggles with mobility like Xhaka is dangerous because he struggles to cover areas laterally quick enough without support.
The optimism would be that if you replace Chambers with Tomiyasu, Holding with White, Kolasinac with Gabriel, Xhaka with Partey and Cedric with Pepe you have a team that can move between a back three and back four while having the mobility to press higher and deal better with issues in transition.
Getting the best out of Pepe
Under Arteta, Pepe has been mostly asked to retain width on the right-hand side and then dribble towards the box – we’ve seen flashes of brilliance but he is yet to fully convince.
Part of attacking with a back three and defending with a back four will be linked to getting more consistency out of the Ivorian.
Building with a back three gives Pepe the freedom to move up and down that flank at will, while defending with a back four limits his defensive responsibilities a bit more.
One factor is the partnership between Pepe and Ødegaard since he signed last January was really promising so seeing the Norweigian join permanently should’ve made Pepe as excited as the fans were.
Ødegaard’s ability to attract players and then play through them gives Pepe more open space to run into which makes him more effective.
Their blossoming link-up was topped off by an Ødegaard assist for Pepe’s final goal of last season vs Brighton which made it five goals in his last three Premier League starts.
If the signing of Takehiro Tomiyasu is a sign that Arsenal will look to build with a back three more permanently it gives a lot of options all over a squad that now feels like it has a good amount of depth in most areas.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Arteta decided to throw a lot of his newly fit/signed players straight into the fire for the next game vs Norwich at the Emirates to enjoy the added pace and really test the credentials of what could be a very new-look Arsenal team that will hopefully springboard us up the table.