How Arteta’s tactics will evolve in the long-term
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Since replacing Unai Emery as Arsenal Head Coach, Mikel Arteta has demonstrated his clear tactical understanding and nous as he looks to imprint his own footballing philosophy on what was a disjointed team lacking direction. So far, the Spaniard has introduced a clear structure to the team which has given players defined roles and installed faith from them in his abilities. However, whilst in certain aspects we have improved- much better at retaining possession and thus limiting the opponent’s threat on our goal- there are still many elements of our game that need improving.
Here are three areas in which I think Arteta will evolve his tactics as he looks to build in the future…
Thus far, Arteta has implemented a 4-2-3-1 formation, introducing some of his own structural ideas, whilst adapting them to the personnel at his disposal. This has seen some imbalances in the team, particularly in the midfield and on the right-hand side.
With an opportunity to bring in new players in the upcoming transfer window, and with more time working with his team, I expect him to revert to the more progressive system used at both Manchester City and Liverpool, a 4-3-3. Whilst I think the 3-5-2 shape formed whilst in possession may be upheld, the initial 4-3-3 will alter where people appear in this structure.
This formation will enable Arteta to build on the offensive side, whilst also making a cohesive pressing system more attainable.
With this structural change will come different roles for different personnel.
Two of the flat midfield three will be what are called 'mezzalas'- offensive players who occupy the half spaces and link up with the wide players to create attacking overloads. These eights will also uphold defensive responsibilities, and will be key to cutting off passing lanes in the press.
We currently lack players who can fill these roles. Mesut Ozil doesn’t possess the defensive abilities to be deployed in one of these positions. Whilst the perception that the German is ‘lazy’ is unfair- he does indeed apply pressure on a perpetual basis- when he gets into these positions to apply defensive actions, he struggles in carrying out these actions (basically he’s bad at tackling and one on one defending). Dani Ceballos is unlikely to remain at the club next season, but would certainly have been capable of filling one of these roles, whilst Joe Willock is still too raw to be relied upon week in week out here.
The number six will not only be able to break up play, they will also possess immense physical attributes and be able to distribute and progress the ball effectively. This sort of player is extremely hard to come by, given the significance of their role, although it appears as though Arsenal may well be targeting certain players who can fulfil it, with links to Thomas Partey increasing of late.
Matteo Guendouzi currently lacks the positional awareness to be deployed as the number six, as well as not possessing the creative abilities to operate in such advanced roles you’d expect your mezzala to occupy. Granit Xhaka has the on the ball attributes to be well suited to being that deep lying player, but lacks the mobility and athleticism to really thrive there. Lucas Torreira has the defensive abilities to be deployed as the number six, but may not have the required distribution skillset that Arteta demands to fill this void, nor be as physically imposing as you’d like.
The inverted full-back, wing-back, winger and inside forward roles will be similar to what we have seen thus far.
Arteta has thus far implemented a possession based style that relies on the deep ball distributors to create for the 'front five', and relies on retaining possession to limit the opposition threat. This has worked to varying degrees so far.
I expect him to work on creating more of a coherent and intense pressing system to prevent the counter transition our defence is often exposed to. The progress of this system will be entirely dependent on bringing in new personnel and more time spent on it.
I also expect him to work heavily on offensive combinations and will want his 'mezzalas' to play a greater role in chance creation, with the ball being moved at a much greater pace and with more purpose. The influence of the wide players in his system will undoubtedly grow, and he will expect them to increase their final third output next campaign.
We don’t know what the future holds at the moment, but we do know that Arteta will already be working on how to evolve his tactics, and I, for one, can’t wait to see how he does it.