How Arteta and Arsenal dismantled Nuno’s Spurs inside 33 minutes!
Arsenal were set up inside a 3-2 build-up with Tomiyasu as a third CB. Previously, against Burnley, the LCM role was a fluid role where Ø moved high and between the lines. However, on my podcast, I suggested that Arteta should revert to a 3-2 build-up with Xhaka in the pivot because it improves the overload in the build-up & compactness in defensive transition but also because Xhaka adds a calming temperament that Arsenal need in possession amongst all of their youthful signings. So, the build-up dismantled Spurs’ press as a result of that overload.
Further up the pitch, Tierney moved high on the left wing enabling Smith-Rowe to come inside into the left half space. Saka, on the other hand, held the width on the right wing w/ Ødergaard in the right half space. All 4 of these players combined well & excelled in 1v1s all game.
This was again afforded by the top positional play Arteta afforded Arsenal. Everything was simple for the gunners. The passing distances in the build-up were short, and the passing distances in the final third were short. ARS only played 6% of their passes long in the first half.
The short passing distances were seen when Arsenal were 1) building through Spurs’ press/when building play in general and 2) in the third where they could easily combine on the sides and swith the play with ease to exploit Spurs’ narrow block. Again, elite positional play.
There were triangles and short passing distances everywhere – when building play, when combining on the left, the right or centrally. The overrriding point here is that the structure is good, and it’s always been good, but it hasn’t been obvious because Arteta has had bad players.
Now Arteta has good players within his first XI, it’s easy to see that the structure is good too, & it enabled Arsenal to play efficient and aesthetically pleasing football.
However, Arteta won’t be completely pleased. Arsenal averaged 47% possession – he’ll want more than that.
Early on Arsenal pressed Spurs off the park and it’s actually how they scored their first goal – off the back of counterpressing. Ødegaard’s intensity and positioning was aggressive and enabled Arsenal’s block to press Spurs to a top standard. However, that faded.
Ødegaard has a bad habit of dropping too deep when defending. He often drops all the way into the midfield line making the 4-4-2 off-ball shape a 4-5-1 shape, which isn’t conducive to pressing nor is it conducive to breaking quickly in transition – Aubameyang became isolated.
Ødegaard is a good, intense presser when pressing high but that tendency to drop too deep killed Arsenal’s control on the game for periods. Spurs had too much of the ball and although gamestate meant that they had even more of it, they still had lots of the ball in the first 45.
If Ødegaard maintains his aggressive starting position when pressing Arsenal will be able to have more of the ball and thus have more control and more attacks. Typically, with the amount of attacks they had today, they wouldn’t score 3 goals.
So it’s imperative Arsenal’s settled press improves. If it does Arteta’s best XI will explode and dominate games from minute 1-90. As it stands, they lack maturity to deal with pressure but also a relentless press. The press is good but not aggressive enough. Ø has to stay high.
The pressure structure itself is good but Ødegaard’s conservative positioning within it must stop happening – the good thing is it’s an easy fix.
Overall, Arsenal’s structure was elite and it embarrassed Nuno’s subpar 4-3-3 high press, and I feel personally vindicated.
I’ve done a plethora of threads and podcasts as to why Spurs’ 4-3-3 isn’t good enough and as to why Arteta is building something special with Arsenal, and today that reality reared its head. The positional play and plan overall was flawless & when Ø improves, Arsenal will be OK.