Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are one of the most exciting teams in world football, and they’re due to explode. In the below mega-thread I discuss why Arteta’s tactics are conducive to enabling the team to do just that once they mature and blossom from kids into men.
Against Spurs, Arsenal started well pressing wise which enabled them to assert their technical quality on the game which saw them go 2-0 up before scoring a 3rd shortly after. However, in the 2nd half, Spurs had 62% of the ball & forced the passive Arsenal back into a deep block.
The theme continued in the next game against Brighton where Arsenal started well pressing wise because the game was in its most frantic period (the start of the game when everybody is fully fit) before being forced back into a deeper block & having only 42% of the ball overall.
Arsenal’s pressing structure was flawed against Brighton’s 3 at the back system as The Seagulls had a spare man each time when building play. This combined with Arsenal’s lack of aggression to get back up the pitch and press high saw Brighton dominate proceedings.
This worrying trend continued when Arsenal started well yet again pressing/aggression wise against Crystal Palace before being forced back into a deep block yet again where The Gunners accumulated only 43% of the ball at The Emirates against a Palace side without Zaha and Eze.
This is where concerns arose surrounding Arteta’s tactics – there is simply no way a weakened & technically average C. Palace side should be dominating the ball against Arsenal away from home, particularly when their tactics didn’t even afford them an overload in the build-up.
However, in the next game against Villa, Arsenal produced their most complete performance of Arteta’s reign by directly addressing the structural pressing issues against back 3 teams but also, and more importantly, vastly improving upon their lack of aggression in previous games.
ARS pressing high enabled the team to reliably use tactical qualities that Arteta affords the team such as an overload in the build-up, positional play in the final third, etc, etc, to good effect thanks to the signings Arteta made in the summer which added top technical quality.
In previous seasons, Arsenal could only produce high quality moments as opposed to performances because his team didn’t have the required physical or technical level to control games as a whole despite the top tactics Arteta afforded the team. Now, player quality ain’t an issue.
However, despite Arsenal’s win against Leicester, the negative trend in which The Gunners started well pressing wise which saw them control the game with the ball continued, & it saw them go 2-0 up, but they were far too easily pushed back for a possession based team after that.
Leicester had 64% of the ball and from Arsenal’s perspective that is not good enough for their possession based ideology.
However, there was a clear difference in this game compared to other previous games. Arteta’s Arsenal showed intent to be more aggressive late on.
Leicester sustained pressure with far too much ease & Arsenal were living dangerously in the beginning of the second half but when Arsenal did eventually get out thanks to Ramsdale’s top technical quality, they stayed out & took control away from Leicester in the 70-80th minute.
Arsenal controlled the game with & without the ball within this time period which is a stark contrast between the majority of the aforementioned games where they defended deep in these late moments. Arsenal pressed Leicester high which enabled the team to get out & keep the ball.
It’s crucial to note that pressing isn’t the be all and end all of football but it’s a staple philosophy within any possession based team. There is not a single team in world football who play out from the back and don’t press high. Why? Because the two go hand in hand.
The key aspect of possession based football centres around control and if a team builds play out from the back only to fall back into a deep block as soon as possession is lost then they have no sustainment of attacks, pressure or control. It defeats the purpose.
Pressing enables teams to get the ball back as quickly as possible, and with the ball this is when good possession based teams are in control, as stated by Guardiola below.
So, to those who say Arteta intentionally defends deep late on, I can assure you that that notion is false.
It is absolutely normal to defend deep at some moment in every game. Every team in world football has to do it. However, the difference between the top teams centres around their intent to get out and to stay out to stamp their control on games. They are dangerous at all times.
The likes of City & Liverpool defend deep in moments, but they always have the intent to get back up the pitch & to press high again, & this can be seen in the sense that they are always dangerous & can score in any moment – the same cannot be said for Arsenal when defending deep
So, why aren’t Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal aggressive enough when he knows that the team must be aggressive and consistently press high because they’re a possession based team? Because the squad lacks experience. They will carry out the managers instructions as they grow together.
Saka, for example, lacks the experience to be a reliable outlet at the highest level. Smith-Rowe is the same. They fade from games – more experienced players don’t. Gabriel doesn’t have the experience to control a high line and to maintain aggression positionally for 90 minutes.
On an individual level, Arsenal’s players are capable of anything, but none of Tomiyasu, Saka, Smith-Rowe, White, Gabriel, etc, etc have ever reliably competed at the elite level and they are central cogs in Arteta’s system. They are needed to maintain the teams aggressive threat
If Saka and Smith-Rowe aren’t reliable outlets, Arsenal can’t get out. If Gabriel isn’t holding the line as high as he should, Arsenal fall back and become too passive. It requires experience and braveness to push up the pitch and press high. It’s easy to fall back & be passive.
Falling back into a deep block is a way of shirking responsibility. Arsenal’s players aren’t doing that, but they merely lack the experience at the highest level to carry out their roles reliably which in turn sees the entire unit suffer & sit back when Arteta wants to press.
However, this is nothing but a positive. Arsenal’s squad are capable of doing the hardest things but merely lack the mental experience to carry it out at this exact moment, but they’re all on the same career trajectory. This squad will peak together, and the players are special.
Arteta wants Arsenal to press high and control games with the ball. The structure is there and the players all have the technical & physical qualities to do it along with top mentalities to improve individually. However, they all lack experience, but given time, they’ll explode.