Mikel Arteta became Arsenal’s head coach on Dec 20. 2019 after a string of poor results and discontentment from the Arsenal fan base, which ultimately led to Unai Emery’s departure from the club. Arteta was an interesting choice from the Arsenal hierarchy, with some Arsenal fans excited to have a coach who was mentored by Pep Guardiola. Others were concerned by his lack of experience and didn’t want to see a coach who ultimately would not be ready for the job.
Though he hasn’t made an instant impact in terms of results, many of the more apprehensive Arsenal fans are pleasantly surprised to see a big improvement on what they had seen under Emery. Arteta himself spoke about making small changes in the environment and culture within the club to help lift spirits, and has acknowledged his own lack of managerial experience.
“I won’t convince the players I have experience, you know I will convince the players that I know certain things we have to do that are non-negotiable that will bring success.”Mikel Arteta – Dec 20. 2019
So what key changes have been made? What differences can we already see from this Arsenal team that justifies the promise of the up-and-coming head coach that Arsenal fans want to see?
Playing out from the back
Firstly, it is clear that Arsenal are much more competent at playing out from the back. Under Emery, every decision looked like it was being made one pass at a time but now the players seem more aware of the movements they need to make. There’s more fluidity in the movements and whilst their shape is still very structured, the subtle changes in body positioning and movement have helped create spaces for players to play through. Consequently, the attacks start at a much higher tempo.
Attacking lanes and increased freedom going forward
Mesut Ozil always appears to have time on the ball and space to attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is able to attack the inside left channel knowing that the left back is attacking the wide area outside him. Nicolas Pepe is able to get into more 1v1 situations now that there’s more space on his side of the pitch. Arteta favours an attacking approach that utilizes 5 attacking lanes. In the Arsenal team, that usually manifests itself in Pepe on the far right lane, Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette interchanging between the right channel and the centre of the pitch, Aubameyang on the left channel and Bukayo Saka on the far left. This creates a problem for teams that defend in a back four as it’s difficult to mark all 5 people without help from their midfielders. Finally, this leaves the midfield free for Arsenal to build their attacks and maintain control of the game.
Improvement off the ball
This cohesion within the team is also evident when Arsenal don’t have the ball. They press as a complete unit rather than in small units, looking for triggers to attack more aggressively and forcing mistakes from the opposition. Once the team improve their physical fitness and stamina, they should be even more effective in this aspect of their game.
In addition to their pressing, the players also defend in a very compact manner when the initial press is beaten. They often force their opponents to play the ball wide and cross, which plays into the strengths of David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi as they are both highly adept at dealing with crosses and aerial duels.
Despite all of these improvements though, it’s clear that the team needs to do more. They aren’t yet capable of playing on the front foot for 90 minutes because of the high physical demands of this new brand of football. There are also still question marks over certain players as to whether or not they’re capable of maintaining the high standards Arteta is demanding.
Hopefully the players are doing the physical work during the quarantine so that they come back to the training ground fit and ready to win games. If they return fully fit and show a drive to learn and continue their development, then Arteta should be very pleased with the players he has to work with.
Header photo: cfcunofficial (2020)